Jasper Sanfilippo built nut company and an unusual collection of musical instruments

  • Jasper Sanfilippo sits beside the centerpiece of his vast musical instrument collection, an ornate theater organ, originally built in 1927 for the Riviera Theatre in Omaha. Once Sanfilippo acquired it, the console was designed after the original theater organ at Chicago's Paradise Theatre.

    Jasper Sanfilippo sits beside the centerpiece of his vast musical instrument collection, an ornate theater organ, originally built in 1927 for the Riviera Theatre in Omaha. Once Sanfilippo acquired it, the console was designed after the original theater organ at Chicago's Paradise Theatre. Courtesy of Jeffrey Sanfilippo

  • The Festival of Children Foundation holds a fundraiser at the Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills in 2012. Last year, the home welcomed 36 charities.

    The Festival of Children Foundation holds a fundraiser at the Sanfilippo Estate in Barrington Hills in 2012. Last year, the home welcomed 36 charities. Daily Herald file photo August 2012

  • Jasper Sanfilippo

    Jasper Sanfilippo

  • Jasper Sanfilippo

    Jasper Sanfilippo

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 2/3/2020 7:59 AM

Jasper Sanfilippo built his family's nut business into a publicly traded company that last year had $876 million in sales. However, it is his passion for musical instruments, particularly mechanical music machines, that helped shape his legacy.

His Barrington Hills home grew to include several additions to showcase his vast collection. He and his wife, Marian, helped nonprofit organizations raise millions of dollars through welcoming them to host their fundraisers at their estate. Sanfilippo passed away Tuesday. He was 88.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

His son, Jeffrey Sanfilippo, succeeded him as CEO of John B. Sanfilippo & Son Inc. in 2006 and guided the company's move in 2007 from its prior locations in Elk Grove Village, Des Plaines and Arlington Heights to its new corporate headquarters in Elgin.

He dates his father's interest in vintage music machines to a family vacation to Knott's Berry Farm in California in the mid-1970s.  

"There was a 'Main Street USA' section which had vintage nickelodeons," Jeffrey Sanfilippo says. "My father, who was a mechanical engineer, became fascinated with automated music machines. He started collecting them soon after we returned from vacation."

Sanfilippo built an addition to display his collection of automated musical instruments, including music boxes, phonographs, coin-operated pianos and violin machines.

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His favorites were the orchestrions, which married mechanical technology with an orchestra's instrumentation.

The collection grew to include dance organs and calliopes, leading Sanfilippo to acquire a world class theater organ. It was originally built in 1927 for the Riviera Theatre in Omaha and Sanfilippo had it restored to look like the original organ at Chicago's Paradise Theatre.

In 1991, Sanfilippo built an organ room to showcase the rare theater organ and he and his wife began inviting friends and small groups to hear concerts.

"Once he built the organ room, he could have bigger events," Jeffrey Sanfilippo says of the room which now can seat 350, "and help local charities raise money."

By 1997, he added a carousel building for banquet style fundraisers. The centerpiece was an 1890 French salon carousel, but the room also houses steam engines -- which originally powered the carousel -- vintage street clocks, an 1890s Pullman passenger car and a band organ.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Women's and children's organizations were among the first recipients of the couple's generosity, including the Michael Joseph Foundation and St. Anne Church in Barrington. Gradually, they expanded their vision to include charities that also benefitted the arts.

The couple established a family foundation in 2007 to help preserve the collection and manage the charity events.

"My parents' passion was supporting women and children, but they came to see the arts as just as important," Jeffrey Sanfilippo says. "They realized they could educate people about these beautiful instruments and help them learn more about them."

Last year, the home welcomed 36 charities to host events there.

Most now take place in the carousel room, but the couple continued to host -- and up until a year ago, attend -- concerts featuring the theater organ.

Besides his son, Sanfilippo is survived by his wife, Marian, children John (Susan), Jim (Renata), Lisa and Jasper (Laura) Sanfilippo, as well as 14 grandchildren and a great granddaughter.

Visitation will take place from 2:30-9 p.m. Tuesday before an 11 a.m. Mass on Wednesday, both at St. Anne Catholic Community, located at 120 N. Ela St. in Barrington.

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