Friends and co-workers recalled former Chicago Bears general manager and Forest Park Bank Co. and Trust owner Jerry Vainisi as someone who served the Forest Park community, both in his professional and personal life.

Vainisi died on Oct. 4 at age 80. He was the Chicago Bears’ general manager when the team won Super Bowl XX in 1986, and he owned the Forest Park Bank from 1999 until his death. Bank President Dan Watts credited Vainisi with supporting much-needed community development in Forest Park 20 years ago, and lauded his willingness to support local business owners. Forest Park Bank is something of a vanishing breed — a small-town, independent, locally-owned community bank — something that the Vainisi family intends to preserve. 

Jerry Vainisi was born on Oct. 7, 1941. According to his obituary, he spent 15 years with the Chicago Bears in various capacities, working his way up to general manager beginning in 1983. During his four years, the Bears compiled a record of 47-17 and became the Super Bowl champions.

But in Forest Park, Vainisi was probably best known for his role at Forest Park Bank (originally Forest Park National Bank). 

In a statement on its Facebook page, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce said they were “deeply saddened” by Vainisi’s passing.

“His absence leaves a huge void in our community, and our hearts go out to both his family and his bank family during this difficult time. Jerry strongly believed in the importance of supporting local businesses and organizations, and he actively did so on a regular basis. He was also a longtime supporter of, and advocate for, the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, and we will be forever grateful for his generosity and friendship.”

Watts told the Review that, under Vainisi’s leadership, the bank played an important role in revitalizing the Madison Street corridor and attracting businesses such as the originally Oak Park-based Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore, 7419 Madison St.

“He helped with the community revitalization 20 years ago, when he created, with a number of other institutional people in Forest Park, the Main Street Development Group,” he said. “Through that group, [he] helped correct some blighted locations. They personally invested in a number of businesses and buildings so they could be revitalized and repurposed.”

On a smaller scale, Watts said, Vainisi “was always ready and willing” to talk to new business owners and see if he could help them get off the ground. 

Watts lauded Vainisi’s volunteerism, noting his involvement with Sarah’s Inn, a domestic violence victim services organization, as an example. And he said Vainisi worked with Christ the King Jesuit College Prep Academy, a private high school in Chicago’s Austin community, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., giving students there an opportunity to intern at the bank.

Watts said Vainisi “would be greatly missed,” and that his commitment to public service had been an asset to the bank and the community it serves.

“He was a great community servant and someone who advised and helped and worked with all of the neighbors and businesses, and all the public officials in Forest Park and Oak Park and River Forest,” he said. “Those communities will miss his presence.”

Art Jones, Vainisi’s longtime friend and a former District 91 superintendent, worked with him for 12 years. When initially reached by phone, he asked for some time to find words that would do his friend justice. The response he ultimately gave touched on both the personal and the professional.

“Jerry’s [passing] is a tremendous loss for the Forest Park community and to the bank,” Jones said. “He was very supportive of the business community and an effective leader. Those who worked for him respected and admired him. He enjoyed interacting with bank customers. Jerry was very charismatic and a very loyal friend. Jerry’s professional skills served him well throughout many careers. He was a generous and caring individual and will be sadly missed.”

Forest Park Bank stands out as an increasing rarity in the Chicago area as larger chains buy up family-owned banks. Watts said they believe a community bank is a vital asset to a community like Forest Park, since community banks are more in tune with “the opportunity and the risk” inherent in running a small business and understand the community’s particular needs.

“The banker who is running, and working for, a small community bank has a better understanding of the needs that the borrowers and depositors have,” he said. “I think it’s critical for the [welfare] of Forest Park as a community to have a successful Forest Park Bank.”

Watts said Vainisi’s family has no intention to sell.

“The Vainisi family is committed to their father’s mission, and I don’t anticipate any changes to operations or the ownership,” he said.