Sherman, 77, of the South Loop died on Saturday. He is survived by his wife, Barbara, along with their seven children, 20 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, said his son David Sherman, a Beverly resident.
"He was just a big-hearted guy who just really loved his family," said David Sherman, who was shocked by the sudden loss of his father.
Sherman played the role of Gustav Stossel, also known as Opa, for the past five years in the theater's production of "The Christmas Schooner," Stearns said.
He also performed this same role for five years at the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre in Hermosa before the show about a German family moved to the Mercury Theater. The bearded Opa or Gus is the family patriarch who clings to his old-world holiday traditions, Stearns said.
"Jim Sherman is Christmas," he said. "It has been a real shock and crushing sadness to all of us."
His youngest child, David, said his father was always involved in the theater. The earliest he could remember was his father performing with a group at Saint Xavier University in Mount Greenwood.
Sherman grew up in South Shore and raised his family in south suburban Evergreen Park — one block north of Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School.
His career began in education, including a stint teaching history at St. Laurence High School in Burbank. He also worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections, then he worked in politics for former U.S. Rep. Marty Russo (D-3rd) and then as a public relations specialist for several large banks.
To add to his already eclectic resume, Sherman opened a Fontano's Subs franchise in suburban Elmhurst. He opened a second sandwich shop at 2151 W. 95th St. in Beverly around 2002, which he sold last summer.
Fontano's became a gathering place for the Sherman family. Several of the children and grandchildren worked at the shop for years, and a simple lunch could quickly evolve into a family party, David Sherman said.
Peter Coccaro owns the Beverly Hills Garage at 2043 W. 95th St. and is president of the 95th Street Beverly Hills Business Association. He worked closely with Sherman as a fellow business owner and considered him a friend.
"He really didn't get much of a chance to enjoy retirement," said Coccaro, adding that Sherman was just in his shop three weeks ago for an oil change.
The mechanic described Sherman as a humble man and a good business owner. But his true passion was the theater and the role he was born to play came around every Christmas.
"He would start growing his beard out in October," he said.
Visitation for James Sherman will be from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday at the Sisters of St. Joseph Chapel at 1515 W. Ogden Ave., LaGrange Park. For more information, call 708-354-9200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
A memorial service is being planned for a later date.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: