Omaha native Jerry Turner may not have been a household name, but to those in the footwear industry, he was a giant.

The Central High School graduate made one of the most significant contributions to the development of running shoes in the 1970s as president of Brooks Athletic Shoe Company. He is credited with introducing ethylene vinyl acetate, or EVA, to make running shoes lighter and more stable.

“Mr. Turner was an iconic figure and innovator in the sporting goods industry,” said Matt Carlson, president and CEO of the National Sporting Goods Association. “He had an amazing career and was instrumental in the running and fitness boom that started in the 1970s and continues today.”

Turner died July 9 in Los Angeles at age 84, surrounded by family.

He was born in Omaha on May 10, 1935, the oldest child of Nathan and Ruth Turner. He graduated from Central in 1953 and studied finance at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Turner served in the U.S. Army for two years before returning to school to earn an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960.

During his career in footwear, Turner helped build Brooks into a top brand by the 1970s. In addition to introducing EVA, he also introduced the varus wedge, which helps prevent overpronation, which occurs when feet roll too far to the inside.

After leaving Brooks, Turner founded the American Sporting Goods Corporation, which included Turntec, Nevados, Avia, And1 and Ryka brands. In 2011, Turner sold the company to Brown Shoe Company.

Daughter Suzanne Turner said that after they sold their business, Turner and wife Margaret Oung, “literally packed up their car and drove across the country stopping at random places. It was awesome. He loved seeing the world.”

Turner came out of retirement in 2017 to launch Turner Footwear, which he ran until his death.

“He thrived on the creativity, he thrived on the energy,” his daughter said. “It’s kind of like a musician when they hear their song on the radio. He got that same thrill when he saw people wearing his shoes.”

Turner was a 2004 inductee in the Sporting Goods Hall of Fame and a 2014 inductee in the Central High School Hall of Fame. His daughter said he funded a scholarship for a graduate of Central to attend the University of Pennsylvania.

In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by former wife Jo-Ellen Turner; sister Kaye Turner of New York; sons K. Robert Turner of Los Angeles and Jonathan Turner of Charleston, South Carolina; stepdaughter Camille King of Newport Coast, California; and seven grandchildren.

Services were held on Sunday.

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