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Supporting new research areas through seed funds

BY Alisa King-Klemperer

From the beginning, Kim and Robert Benziger shared a desire to spread positivity and to give back to the community so that others would have the same opportunities. In line with their philanthropy, the Benzigers have given a generous contribution to the Director’s Innovation Fund, which provides seed funds for budding IGB research themes.

Growing up in the Northwest side of Chicago, Kim and Robert Benziger attended the same high school where they were acquainted with each other. It wasn’t until the day when Robert Benziger reunited with Kim Benziger at an Illinois State University school dance that their relationship blossomed. The Benzigers just recently celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary.

Robert and Kim Benziger at SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment) during a 2019 tour of IGB research projects.
Robert and Kim Benziger at SoyFACE (Soybean Free Air Concentration Enrichment) during their 2019 tour of IGB research projects.

“We got married right after Kim finished college, but I still had a semester to go because I took an engineering undergraduate degree and attended law school,” said Robert Benziger. “She supported me for three years while I finished my schooling at Illinois.”

After completing her BS in elementary education from Illinois State University, Kim Benziger began teaching kindergarten in Mansfield, Illinois while Robert Benziger finished law school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

“I wanted to be a teacher when I went to college and my interests were primary grades and art,” said Kim Benziger. “I was able to put those together and so it worked out quite well for my interests.”  

After a number of years living out of state due to various jobs, the Benzigers returned to Deerfield, Illinois where they have lived ever since. Upon returning to Illinois, Robert Benziger established a scholarship at his alma mater, after which the Benzigers received an invitation to visit a program hosted by the IGB at the Chicago Field Museum. It was there that the Benzigers’ interest in genomic research was triggered.

“We were fascinated with the demonstrations and programs they had set up in the space,” said Mr. and Mrs. Benziger. “The graduate students impressed us with their enthusiasm, knowledge, and communication skills.”

The Benzigers developed an adoration and appreciation for nature from their passion for gardening and National Geographic tours, which took them to places like Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands. These trips reinforced their embedded desire to learn new things about nature and the world around them.

“When they invited us to do a tour of the IGB, we told them we were interested in nature, specifically work at IGB that focused on adapting crops for climate change and the future of pollinators because we had read about their decline,” said Mr. and Mrs. Benziger. “They told us about the honey bee study and we said we’d be interested in learning about that. We also got to visit the corn and soybean fields where atmospheric controls simulated changing climate conditions and learn about the honey bee study — it was a wonderful tour.”  

While living in Mansfield, Illinois, the Benzigers became acquainted with a local farming family where they learned about farming practices and the challenges farmers faced. One of the topics addressed during their IGB visit was the future of crop growth in light of climate change, reflecting the Benzigers’ interests in all aspects of nature. Their wide-ranging interests spurred them to support the development and in-depth studies of new research areas.  

“We wanted to do something positive that has the potential to outlive us and so we thought providing seed money for the initial work within potential new themes would be important,” said Mr. and Mrs. Benziger. “Our investment opens doors to things we couldn’t even imagine or think possible.”

“Everything blended well together and we keep finding new ways to express our interests,” said Mr. and Mrs. Benziger. “The campus visit gave us such a wonderful grounding in understanding the research taking place and the programs that we kept hearing about. Education is a forever thing that should be for everyone all the time and our experiences with the University of Illinois only reinforced that for us.”

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