Tue May 02, 2023
West Side Tractor
The Naper Settlement recently unveiled a new educational center that will serve as a pipeline to agriculture and STEM professionals for future generations. The Mary and Richard Benck Family Agriculture Center will showcase Naperville, Ill.'s rich agricultural history while connecting it to the farming story of the region and the nation.
In tracing the story from subsistence farming to large-scale agribusiness, the Ag Center will show how communities adapted to thrive from grit to greatness. Housed within this building also will be the Learning Lab, which will let students connect virtually with top scientists in Illinois and nationwide. More than 35,000 students across 112 Illinois school districts will come through these doors every year.
West Side Tractor founders Richard and Mary Benck were both raised on family farms in Illinois and Indiana. Rich's family struggled as vegetable farmers and eventually he joined the military, married Mary and they moved to the "big city" to chase the dream of owning their own business. Putting all their savings in, they started a John Deere construction equipment dealership in 1962 on the "west side" of Chicago. Today, West Side Tractor is a third generation family business that serves construction customers across the Midwest.
Rich Benck passed away in May 2021. In the years leading up, the Naper Settlement's vision for an agriculture focused exhibit space in the community became a passion project for Rich and Mary. They wanted the next generation to experience Illinois' agricultural history, but also provide a place to inspire.
"We really find this to be an important part of the legacy of our family and a way to get the next generation into the agricultural industry," said Tom Benck, second generation owner of West Side Tractor. "There's so much technology and changes coming our way that we need the best and brightest people to come into our industry."
On April 23, the Benck family was honored to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the opening along with Naper Settlement leadership and representatives from state legislature, city council, Department of Natural Resources and the Naperville Historical Society. The settlement's new Field Watchers program, which will take place at the Ag Center, will teach 2,500 children in its first year and already has 400 students enrolled.
"Across the agriculture and construction communities, we've been focused on addressing the workforce shortages that we're all experiencing as business owners," said Lauren Coffaro, third generation owner of West Side Tractor. "This new facility is very meaningful to our family in sharing our roots, but also serves as a catalyst for kids to explore future opportunities that might be a good fit for them. It provides a place that they can learn about these important careers in our society — future engineers, data scientists, farm managers and equipment technicians to name a few."