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St. Frances de Sales lectern where Sfire gives the homily.

Featured Article

Grateful By Example

John and Bobbi Sfire Living a Life of Giving Back

Article by Christina Sikorski

Photography by Stephen Neilson and Provided

Originally published in SW Lake Lifestyle

John F. Kennedy said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter the words but to live by them.”

For North Barrington residents John and Bobbi Sfire, living a life of gratitude is deeply personal; they live gratefully by example, generously donating time and resources to serve the broader community of SW Lake.

One of Sfire’s primary influences was his father, Sam, who came to America from Lebanon and instilled in his family the importance of giving back. Sfire recalls him as the type of person who would literally give the shirt off his back. “He gave so much to so many, and he was always thankful, even when life wasn’t great. I’m convinced my benevolences in my life come from my relationship with my father.”

Throughout his childhood, Sfire spent each day with him, working at the family business when he wasn’t at school. Sam passed away when John was just 19 years old. “It was a sadness to lose him, but it was a joy to have him for 19 years,” Sfire says.

Sam prized education. “My father always felt education was the most important thing to give children,” Sfire says, a value the son has deeply embraced. He has supported Lake Zurich School District 95 in many ways, from serving as a founder of the District 95 Foundation and participating in Leadership Summit Roundtable discussions to providing a building to the District that would become the Sfire Family Education Center.

The Foundation’s mission is to “raise funds and provide resources for additional innovations to empower all learners to achieve personal excellence,” beginning with “innovation grants” for teachers and expanding over the years. Sfire continues to work with the Foundation as Trustee Emeritus and speaks glowingly of how it has had a positive impact in the community. John and Bobbi’s children attended District 95 schools, and now their grandchildren do as well; their daughter Niki teaches here also.

Foundation Executive Director Erica Chianelli says, “You will not find more generous people than John and Bobbi Sfire. Their passion and dedication to this community is inspiring. Not only do they share their blessings, but they are active and engaged in the community. We are so lucky to have John on our board as a Trustee Emeritus, where his insight is valued tremendously. The Foundation is so grateful for their continued support.”

In addition to his zeal for education, Sfire has a passion for his Catholic faith, striving to live as Christ taught. In his teens he considered entering seminary, but the death of his father put his spiritual career on hold. Later in life, as Sfire’s construction firm was building the church Our Lady of Lebanon in Lombard, he grew close to its pastor, Father Alfred, and again felt a calling to preach and participate in spiritual life more fully. With Father Alfred’s support he enrolled in classes at Mundelein Seminary, and some years later was ordained a deacon; he currently serves at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church. His favorite ministry is visiting the sick. “To walk into a hospital room and see someone’s eyes lift with a smile is so gratifying,” John says. His pastor, Father David Ryan, says, “In the letter of St. James, if you encounter someone who is cold and has no coat, you can’t just walk by; you need to stop and help. That is what John and Bobbi do. As soon as something comes to their attention, they always stop and help.”

That generosity and support is evidenced outside SW Lake as well. In November 2000, a Lake County food pantry was destroyed by fire. Faith Food Pantry in Zion, founded in 1975 by Rev. Jesse Wallace, had previously fed hundreds of residents, and its leaders were concerned about feeding the hungry that Thanksgiving.

After reading of the disastrous fire in the weekend newspaper, the Sfires called the food pantry asking how they could help. Monday, they drove to Zion and met with Rev. Wallace at the pantry, where the embers were still smoldering.

“I told Bobbi, 'We need to build this man a new pantry.' So I called my son and had him organize our contractors—architect drawings, HVAC, flooring.” Rev. Wallace secured an expedited building permit in 24 hours. With work done by The Fidelity Group (John’s construction business) and donations from the various contractors, the new building was completed in just seventeen days. After being devastated by fire days earlier, the newly-constructed food pantry fed 2,000 families Thanksgiving dinner.

The Sfires were committed to continue supporting families and working toward ending hunger in Lake County. After meeting again with Rev. Wallace, they dove right in. “Giving money is easy, getting involved is harder,” John said. They continued to donate time and food, ultimately leading the organization for more than ten years after the rebuild. “We made the decision: we can’t leave; we have to stay here. So, Bobbi ran the pantry. I drove the forklift, bought the food and sought donations. It was all volunteers, including kids from Zion-Benton High School. Eventually we had to build another warehouse and had four tractor trailers to fit all the pallets of food. We instituted meat pick-ups at local grocers, sometimes 4,000—5,000 pounds of meat weekly. We would pick up 10 or 15 pallets of baked goods from other grocers. None of our clients ever paid for food,” John says. 

John eventually served as President of the Northern Illinois Food Bank for four years. He and Bobbi worked at the pantry three or four days a week, overseeing over 50 volunteers and overhauling the inventory and computer systems. In the eleven years they ran the pantry, they gave away 17 million pounds of food to 875,000 Lake County residents. "We had a budget of about $150,000 annually, and what I didn't raise in donations, we just wrote a check," recalls John.

Rev. Wallace was astounded at the generosity to support and feed the local community. At the time, he told the Daily Herald, “I don’t have words for it. I can’t tell you. I’m about to break into tears right now.”

How can we live a life of gratitude? In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, gratitude, from the Latin root gratus, is defined as a feeling of appreciation or thanks. Sfire expands this definition further. “For me, and I’m just talking about me, being thankful is an outward sign. Gratitude is a constant, a mindset, different than being temporarily thankful. Gratitude is an emotion stirred within us. It needs to be ingrained in you,” John says.

In a challenging time, after more than a year of loss throughout the pandemic, what does gratitude look like? How can we still be grateful? After some serious health challenges, John is grateful to be alive and to continue to grow spiritually. He lives and affirms his gratitude each morning when he wakes up and gives thanks. “If everything didn’t happen this way—the challenges, the heartache, the joys over 76 years—I wouldn’t be in this moment today. We have to share our blessings,” he says.

To live a full life of gratitude, we need to go beyond words to actions. John and Bobbi Sfire live by both, appreciating both the trials and the treasures, sharing their blessings and giving thanks for all of it.


Take a few minutes every day to write down three things you are grateful for. Use a sticky note, a special journal, or an app on your phone. Keep this list handy and feel free to start simple; you can be grateful for a crisp, fall day.

Reach out to your loved ones. Offer a cup of coffee and a long walk. Send an old-fashioned thank you note to a dear friend or a former teacher, coach, or mentor. Smile more. You can still tell someone is smiling, even under a mask.

Volunteer with children, seniors, animals or at local community events. Consider a food donation to the local pantry, like St. Vincent de Paul Pantry in Lake Zurich. Form a group to help pack meals at Feed My Starving Children in Libertyville.

  • Deacon John Sfire.
  • Sfire Family Education Center.
  • John & Bobbi Sfire receiving the Spirit of St. Martin de Porres Award from Bishop George Rassas.
  • St. Frances de Sales School.
  • Volunteering at a local Food Bank: a great way to be grateful by example.
  • St. Frances de Sales lectern where Sfire gives the homily.