Foodie loved his family, animals, the White Sox — and a good time
When Jim Vinicky attended a traditional Swedish Christmas Eve dinner at his high school girlfriend’s house in Hinsdale, he brought a jar of giardiniera.
It was an audacious move. The spiced and brined vegetables clashed with the family’s admittedly bland homemade sausage, pickled herring and hunks of cheese.
It was tolerated by her parents. And secretly heralded by the rest of his future in-laws.
Mr. Vinicky, who grew up in neighboring La Grange and was under the impression that everyone in Hinsdale was rich, mistook his girlfriend’s mother for the family maid the first time he went to their house, the family recalled.
“We were Cubs and Chicago Tribune people, and he came into the family and was a White Sox guy who read the Sun-Times,” said Brenda Lundstrom, Mr. Vinicky’s sister-in-law. “Everyone came to love him,” she said. Mr. Vinicky was the kind of guy who always got in the pool and swam with his kids and grandkids, even though he didn’t know how to swim.
“He’d always kind of wade into the deep end, and I’d be like, ‘Dad, don’t you dare!’ ” said his daughter, Amanda Vinicky.
He was the perennial — and successfully anonymous — Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, the king of dad jokes (How are you feeling? ... With my hands!) and an astute and unprompted imitator of the gravelly siren call of his favorite ballpark beer salesman, a guy named Russell.
Mr. Vinicky died March 5 of leukemia. He was 71.
Mr. Vinicky regularly rose early and filled everyone’s favorite mug with hot water so they’d be warm for coffee when people made their way down to the kitchen.
Years ago, he gave his car to his son, Jimmy Vinicky Jr., when he moved to Florida.
“He was really willing to put other people first,” his son said.
Mr. Vinicky, an electrical supply salesman whose territory included the city and suburbs, prided himself on knowing every mom-and-pop eatery worth visiting — regularly providing the information to friends and family like a pre-internet Yelp.
A few of his favorites were Stacy’s Cafe in Bellwood, El Faro in Summit and Great Wall in Western Springs.
“He was a foodie before there was a word foodie,” said his friend Tim McNally. “You could call him up and tell him you were in any neighborhood in the city or suburbs and he’d give you two or three restaurants to go to.”
A regular Door County vacationer, Mr. Vinicky leaned into Wisconsin’s supper club scene with a passion. One of his favorites was the Greenwood Supper Club in Fish Creek.
The roughly five-hour drive to the lodge they frequented regularly turned into an allday affair, with his wife Sue by his side.
“It would take them all day to get up there because they’d stop at every goofy little town in Wisconsin,” Brenda Lundstrom said. “Who knows what they were doing. They were fun people.”
His son and daughter used to beg Mr. Vinicky to allow them to join him on bowling night.
“Sometimes I would get to write scores. Back in the day, that was tracked on overhead projectors,” his daughter recalled. His high score was 279.
Friends and family also remember Mr. Vinicky’s love for animals, particularly a flea-ridden mutt that scampered under his car one day somewhere on the North Side to escape people who were chasing him. Mr. Vinicky took him home and named him after his car: Lincoln.
The families on Mr. Vinicky’s block in La Grange Highlands where he raised his kids were tight and enjoyed a good time.
Adults regularly decorated each other’s homes with toilet paper to celebrate birthdays. And there were costume parties on Halloween — and not on Halloween.
“I remember coming home from college to go to his 50th birthday party, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! What is going on?’ And it’s my dad wearing a shiny gold Speedo, and the party was in full swing. And he was not a svelte dude who worked out by any means,” said Amanda Vinicky, a political correspondent for WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.”
“I did not grow up in a political family or a family of journalists or writers, but my parents were incredibly supportive of me,” she said. “It’s kind of hilarious, they’d text me, I kid you not, pictures of me on their TV screen whenever I was on the show, which is most weeknights, and they’d just be terrible pictures of me with my eyes closed and my mouth open.”
At the hospital before he passed, Mr. Vinicky got frustrated when he couldn’t get WTTW or White Sox games on the television in his room. His family plans to sprinkle his ashes in a number of places, including Guaranteed Rate Field — in a thoughtful manner.
“He would not want to ruin somebody’s beer,” his daughter said. “He would not be happy about that.”
In addition to his wife and two children, Mr. Vinicky is also survived by his daughterin-law, Blakeley, and two grandchildren.
Family is planning a private memorial.