A squirrel enters a street in a North Shore neighborhood. It stops.
It darts one way, dashes another way.
It stops again.
A car nears the tree-dwelling rodent.
The squirrel hears somebody screaming.
“Look out, squirrel! Look both ways, squirrel!”
There’s no way to determine how many squirrels Regi Carfagnini — a 48-year-old Winnetkan, a mother of two daughters, an assiduous volunteer and an outdoor enthusiast — has saved from perishing with her well-timed yelps.
And it’s not why I had asked her to pick a restaurant and join me for breakfast and an interview. Carfagnini has a joie de vivre that is a joy to experience and highly contagious, and her sense of humor is sneaky and smart and delightfully sarcastic. I had first met her last fall, along with two other tireless women (Ann Adams and Kimberly Romic) who were organizing “Camp Night”, a Northwestern Settlement-backed event held at the Art Institute of Chicago that would raise $495,000 for House in the Wood, a summer camp for Chicago youth in Delavan, Wisconsin.
At the end of a follow-up email, weeks later, I noted the three straight days of soggy September weather we had endured and asked her to do something, anything, about the rain.
Carfagnini’s snappy, fun-loving reply: “Sun dance … on it!”
Last fall was a particularly busy one for Carfagnini, who dubs herself a “serial volunteer.” In addition to co-chairing “Camp Night”, she served as treasurer of the annual Antiques + Modernism Winnetka Show, Winnetka Community House’s primary fundraiser. At the same time, she transported her daughters (Kate, now 14, and Brooke, 12) to their countless AAA hockey practices and games; found time for yoga and meditation sessions; and brainstormed with Brooke for a book (about kindness) they’re co-authoring — all while training for the Chicago Marathon.
Carfagnini ran to raise cancer awareness and funds on Oct. 9. Her aunt, Carol, is a cancer survivor.
“Better busy than bored, right?” says Carfagnini, who had ordered grapefruit juice and an egg-white-and-veggie scramble with a side of tomato slices at the Northfield Restaurant.
In one year, when she was in her 30s, Carfagnini devoted her time and energy to nine — nine! — organizations.
Have heartbeat, will volunteer.
“I come from a family with a commitment to charities,” says Carfagnini, noting her great uncle, Don Lilja, and his sister, Helen, created the Lilja Family Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, which annually awards grants and scholarships totaling $40,000.
“I get my grit from my father [Ed].”
Her creativity and passion?
Carfagnini, an only child, inherited those vital traits from her mother, Linda.
Regi grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas, the largest city in Reno County and home of the Kansas State Fair each year. She attended Trinity Catholic High School, home of the Celtics, and developed passions for horseback riding and debate. After graduating with degrees in economics and political science from the University of Kansas, she landed in Chicago and found work in advertising.
Regi met an adman named Ed Carfagnini, who proposed marriage to her on Montrose Beach after a year-and-a-half courtship. In 2001 they got married in Florence, Italy, and honeymooned in Greece.
“Such a generous man,” Regi says. “My husband would give me the moon if he could grab it from the sky.”
The young lights of her life are her daughters. Carfagnini calls Kate “a free spirit” and Brooke “an observer.” Kate will be a freshman at New Trier in the fall; Brooke enters the seventh grade.
“I blinked, and they had grown up,” Carfagnini, with her head shaking, says. “My daughters are my gifts — my greatest gifts. It’s been fascinating, being a mother, being around them, watching them grow and change, hearing what they have to say. I let them be what they want to be, not what they’re supposed to be. I remind my daughters to always be honest with me, so I can help them.
“If one of them rolls her eyes at something I had said, great; that means she’s developing an opinion about a subject.”
Annual Carfagnini family field trips include a visit to a senior center, a coat drive drop-off at a shelter around Thanksgiving time and a stop at the Wilmette Pet Center to walk a dog or two.
Carfagninis don’t pay lip service to community service.
“I don’t like stuffy. I don’t like pretentious,” says Carfagnini, a Winnetka resident since 2003. “We’re all the same.”
Down the road, when her daughters are in college and protecting frozen-in-the-middle-of-the-road squirrels on campuses, Carfagnini might launch a wellness company.
But it’s still 2017, with plenty of goodies left on her plate (not the one in the restaurant) on this day in late June — from the opportunities to enliven each board on which she serves as a volunteer, to the pages she’ll turn while reading Phil Hogan’s A Pleasure and a Calling, to time spent in her “true vegetable garden” at home, to every precious minute she’ll get to laugh hard with her husband and their daughters.
One of Carfagnini’s few concerns is the ongoing erosion of good ol’ face-to-face interactions with loved ones and friends. People, it seems to her, rely way too much on gadgetry to convey their thoughts and feelings and consequently miss out on some of the joys of life.
“Technology,” Carfagnini laments, “is getting the best of us. It truly is, and it’s sad. What has happened to basic social skills? Remember those? Remember the ones we’d use to get to know somebody better or to learn something from somebody? Actual conversations? I still think people, without even realizing it, need that kind of connection, crave that kind of connection.
“Too often I’ve been around people who are constantly looking down at their phones or using their phones to talk or text. That makes me want to shout, ‘Hey! Real, live person, right here!’ ”