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Ron Bernardi, Man About Town, Turns 69

Northbrook's own and the face of Sunset Foods, celebrated his birthday on Wednesday. In a recent interview with Patch, Bernardi talks about his history with the company, his spirituality and learning to overcome shyness.

Born on Aug. 29, 1943, Ron Bernardi was working at , the first in the franchise, by the time he was 16. 

“53 years ago I started bagging groceries,” Bernardi said. He worked his way up to meat cutter and eventually manager. Today he is Sunset Foods' family representative to the community, though the title of his business card reads Servant. 

That title captures Bernardi's whole attitude. A dedicated Rotarian, he recited the organization's motto — service above self — and said "that’s how I try to live my life. It’s the way we run our business. Just serving the needs of customers, the community."

The first Sunset Foods opened 75 years ago in Highland Park by Bernardi's uncles, four of the Cortesi brothers. Three generations later, there are five Sunset Food locations in Illinois and the business remains in the family. 

"We still have the same business model," Bernardi said. "You find out what the customer wants and you give them what they want. They want quality first, value and service. That’s who we are in a nutshell, it’s not really complicated.”

Today, a Sunset Foods branch carries 50,000 times, but the company tries to maintain the corner grocery store mentality. 

“Northbrook is a community of volunteers," he said. “Usually if there’s an event in Northbrook, Sunset is involved in one way or the other. Either we just show up and be part of it, or donate food or whatever. We give back to the community. We’re so much a part of the community.”

Bernardi did not go to college. Sunset has been his entire career. After bagging groceries, he became a meat cutter and eventually managed the Northbrook store. He still has an office there, but says he's no longer involved with operations. 

“Working at Sunset really helped me understand my strengths," he said. "I liked serving people and they responded to me. I think that served me well, because I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to go in life.”

Lately, Bernardi is an active member of Northbrook Rotary, the , board member at the and a charity auctioneer.

“Auctioneering, that’s one of my passions," he said. "I’ve been doing it for about 30 years. It’s one of my gifts. I love to engage an audience, have them laugh, crack a few jokes.” 

“I love helping non-profits make money," he added.

Bernardi estimates he does about 20 auctions a year, with one scheduled in October for the

He says doing auctions are among his gifts, but unlike some professional auctioneers, he's not always the fastest talker.

"I’m like a musician that doesn’t know a note.” 

And yet, Bernardi was not always this sociable. 

"I used to be very shy," he said. "Over time, I realized that when I get up in front of a crowd people responded. Wherever you are, if there’s fruit, you’re probably in the right orchard. If there’s no fruit, then maybe it doesn’t line up with your gifts and talents.”

Wife and Faith

Bernardi says his wife of almost 40 years, Terry, is more "behind the scenes" but has been supportive of her husband's outgoing lifestyle. 

"She’s the love of my life," Bernardi said. "We have the same values, she’s the best."

He says the two met in a coffee shop and "just hit it off." 

"I think our spirits meshed, because we are both very spiritual and both very much into reading The Bible," Bernardi said. "We still do that today. As a husband and wife, we open The Book, read a psalm, talk about it, and that’s when we have our deepest communication."

Bernardi does not belong to any church, though says he has visited a few in town. He prefers to practice his beliefs privately. 

"I’m not real religious, but I’m very spiritual," he said. "I think I just feed my spirit. I’m more of an independent believer."

Much of those beliefs were learned from studying The Bible over the years. 

"All the answers to life are right in The Book," he said. "I found that to be true in my 69 years and it hasn’t changed."

Bernardi reads both books of The Bible and finds inspiration in one character especially.

"I love the Jewish history, there’s so much richness there," he said. "My favorite character in The Bible is Enoch. We only know one thing about him, he walked with God, that’s all we know. That’s my hero, that’s all I can do. Try to walk every day with Him, and be a reflection of Him and try to be a light. That’s me."

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Bob I August 30, 2012 at 11:50 AM
Happy Birthday Ron!
Lucky Larry August 30, 2012 at 12:57 PM
Happy Birthday Ron. You are and always have been "A man among Men". Keep up the great work. Lucky Larry
C. Marder August 30, 2012 at 02:22 PM
Happy Birthday Ron! Everyone is inspired by your journey. You are a true role model in Northbrook.
Michael Stellato August 30, 2012 at 03:20 PM
Happy Birthday Ron! Thank you for providing the North Shore with a great Grocery Store and your never ending support for the community! Everyone at Ida's Salon
CAROL BERKSON August 30, 2012 at 05:45 PM
carol b......HAPPY BIRTHDAY RON...YOU ARE A ROLE MODEL TO ALL OF US...THANK YOU FOR ALL YOU'VE GIVEN TO ALL COMMUNITIES...
Jenny Stringer August 30, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Ron - you are the BEST!! Happy Birthday!!! Many fond memories from when I was little and now....You are an inspiration to all!! XOXO - Jenny and the entire May crew!
Jennifer Fisher (Editor) August 30, 2012 at 10:31 PM
Happy Birthday, Ron!
Michelle Hinca August 31, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Happy Birthday to Ron Bernardi, "the richest man in town". We love you, too!
Howard Schultz August 31, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Ron has been a board member of the North Suburban Y for the last five years and now serves as Vice-President. He has been a profound influence on our entire approach to how the Yconnects to.community, addresses the needs of our members and guests, and most importantly, Ron has brought the Rotary Code of Service Above Self, and The Greater Good, to life for us at the Y. Happy Birthday Ron, and thank you for ALL you do!!
Laurie Ann Briggs September 02, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Ron, you are a great man and inspiration! Thanks for all you have done for so many. We are inspired by your life. You and your wife have a lot of treasure stored up in heaven. Keep faithful and true.
Ray Bernardi January 05, 2014 at 03:16 PM
Ron just wanted to say how interested this is. My name is Ron Bernardi (go by Ray on facebook after my dad) born 1933 just 10 years before you, in Mass. Just goes to show how small the world of names are.

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