Jack Sandner Was Always There for His Family — and Many Others
By David A.F. Sweet
No doubt if you’re reading this you know of Jack Sandner’s titanic business accomplishments in Chicago, which were well-covered recently by city newspapers after he passed away. At age 38 the youngest chairman in the history of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, he guided what became CME Group to its perch as the world’s largest derivatives marketplace. Always humble about his hard-fought successes, he stayed engaged in business activities until the end came this month at age 79.
Less noted in the obituaries for the captain of industry – whose funeral was held Tuesday at his beloved University of Notre Dame (his two favorite words were “Go Irish!”) – was his dedication to family and the quiet way he helped others.
Family was everything to Jack, perhaps in part because his parents died only months apart in their 50s. He was omnipresent in his support of his children’s and grandchildren’s activities, despite the demands of one of the most high-pressure jobs around. From horse shows to theater productions to speaking contests, Jack showed up again and again for all eight children. More recently, he often watched his son Nick play hours of squash – just friendly club matches, ones that most parents wouldn’t consider bothering with. He told me proudly of his daughter-in-law Katherine’s work launching the MoonFish Swim Club, which helps children and adults with special needs. He enjoyed taking his children to Fighting Irish football games across the country.
“One of the great things to be in life would be one of Jack’s children or grandchildren,” said Andy McKenna, a longtime friend and chairman emeritus of McDonald’s. “If there was a book about being good to your family, it would be about him. He had a great boundless energy.”
All of his children with his wife Carole were adopted. Jack didn’t stop there; he also helped other families adopt children.
In 2007 Sarah Georgi and her husband, Toby, started the adoption process through Easter House (in Illinois, you have to be licensed as a foster parent to adopt a child). About three-quarters of the way into the process, Easter House closed.
A friend told them about a pregnant woman in Wyoming who was willing to give her baby up for adoption. But the State of Illinois said they couldn’t get the Georgis through the bureaucratic system in time for the birth in June of 2008.
They called Jack in April. He promptly contacted Catholic Charities. The Georgis, who already had gone through the majority of steps to become licensed, were approved as foster parents. They are now happily raising 12-year-old Paige in Lake Forest.
“It would not have happened without Jack,” Sarah said. “He said, ‘There’s a family that can be had here.’ For us, it was huge. Without him, our hands were tied.”
Jack embraced helping others. Said his son Chris, “He was available to anyone who sought his counsel or general support. My father never gave up on anyone or anything.”
Though Jack ended up in a beautiful Lake Bluff mansion for his family to enjoy, he certainly didn’t grow up in one. As a boy, his apartment on the South Side was heated by a pot-bellied stove. His mother held two jobs because his father had trouble holding any, while as a teenager Jack himself worked at night.
Crucially, he became a Golden Gloves boxer, a serendipitous outlet for the pugnacious youngster. He finished with a 58-2 mark. Jack’s boxing mentor was Tony Zale, former world middleweight champion. Jack credited a gift from him — Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking –– as turning his life around.
As Zale’s health failed near the end of his life (especially his mind), Jack – young enough to be Zale’s son – stepped in.
“Jack nursed him,” McKenna recalled. “He made sure he had the proper help and attention, and he’d visit with Tony and talk about his championship fights with Rocky Graziano.”
Jack’s friendships were indeed deep and cherished. For more than 40 years, he and Tony McCormick played golf, swapped stories and enjoyed plenty of laughs over long dinners.
“While he received numerous accolades and awards, he will always be remembered by those he loved by the size of his heart,” said McCormick, chief executive officer of BOX Exchange LLC in Chicago. “Family, friends, Notre Dame and the CME were his world, and he crammed 10 lifetimes into one, helping all he could. I will miss him greatly.”
Because of how he grew up, Jack understood the plight of the needy. In 1994, he founded the Amicus Community Outreach Program at CME Group. Traders and others continue to volunteer their time today to help the underprivileged, from the House of the Good Shepherd to the Salvation Army Emergency Lodge. He championed the annual Ringside for Mercy’s Sake, a black-tie event with featured live boxing to help Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, which ministers to families in need (Jack boxed at Mercy Home as a youth).
“He was a great fighter for the needy,” McKenna said. “He had great compassion and really terrific instincts about how to help people – to know who you want to be helpful to and then to get out of the way.” Along the way Jack earned a Points of Light Award from President George H. W. Bush for demonstrating the “transformative power of service.”
Five years ago, Jack gave our sons one of the greatest gifts young hockey-mad boys can receive: he arranged for them to sit on the Florida Panthers bench before a game, which he set up through his friend, owner Vincent Viola. Players talked with them, they appeared on the video board – he gave them an awe-inspiring memory of a lifetime for which our entire family is eternally thankful.
Always quick with a smile, Jack will be deeply missed. But the impact of the “unsung All-American,” as McKenna describes him, will live on.
Unsung Gems columnist David A. F. Sweet can be followed on Twitter @davidafsweet. E-mail him at email@example.com.