Mary Ellen Brady was born in Indiana in 1921. Her family migrated to the North from New Orleans and would eventually settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was one of seven children and life in Milwaukee for a Black family in the 1930s was harsh. She would often credit that oppressive environment for instilling in her a fierce work ethic and self-sufficiency that fueled her businesses and ministry. She married attorney James Strong in 1974 and was known as Mary Ellen Strong for the rest of her life. She received an Honorary Doctorate in 1981 from St. Martin’s College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was ordained as a minister in 1985. After the death of her husband in 1990, she shifted more energy into her ministry and motivational work. She also began other businesses and married Andrew Gaines, in 1996. After Andrew’s death, she relocated to California where she continued to work on her businesses and ministering to others. She died in 2012 at the age of 91.
Mary Ellen Strong would often say that her entrepreneurship was born out of necessity. There were few good jobs for Blacks in Milwaukee and as a result, she started her own businesses.
Her most notable businesses:
-THE NEGRO BUSINESS DIRECTORY was published 1949-1954 was her first endeavor into what would become a lifelong career in publishing, marketing, sales and service in the Black Community.
-THE MILWAUKEE DEFENDER NEWSPAPER was the first Black weekly newspaper in Wisconsin.
-THE WELCOME NEIGHBOR SERVICE was a door-to-door sampling company that operated in underserved, predominantly Black neighborhoods
throughout the United States. Her company held contracts with Kellogg, Proctor and Gamble, Purex, Sears Roebuck, S.C. Johnson and Kimberly Clark.
-BLACK FAMILY MAGAZINE – She founded the magazine in 1980 and continued as its publisher until 1985. The focus of the magazine was to
encourage the preservation of the Black family unit. The magazine set a standard that forced more established magazines to market to Black families
and to develop deeper, more meaningful content.
-GUGI’S GLOBAL FOODS – Long known for her talent as a cook, in 1992 she began a spice company which consisted of two lines of blended seasonings
Miracle Blend and Aunt Cora’s.
Throughout her life, she was an advocate for the Black community. She used her economic influence to empower others. She channeled money to other Black business owners and she encouraged corporations to put money into Black-owned banks. She used her proximity to political power to influence public policies that impacted the Black community.
Mary Ellen Strong was already known as a motivational speaker, publisher, and consultant when she became a minister. She would go on to make a name for herself in the world of ministry as a guest speaker and an adviser to church leaders.
“We were made by God to do better.” -Mary Ellen Strong