by Anna Ferraro
Imagine the story of a company that is still serving the clients it started with over five decades ago; the story of a company that partners with city governments for multi-million-dollar projects, and that collaborates with community members on other projects for a couple hundred dollars. Imagine the story of a company that completes massive endeavors, like the Jacksonville Water Treatment Plant, and more subtle strategies, like tying water mains under intersections. It’s a company that meets every size project with the same level of partnership, commitment and results — for five decades and counting. This is the story of Benton & Associates, Inc. (B&A).
Recently, we had the chance to talk with Robert Benton (Bob) and Reginald Benton (Reg), as well as two of their longest-serving employees — Mike McEvers and Mark Sorrill. Together, these four men shared about company values, milestones, anecdotes and more, creating a vibrant conversation that we are thrilled to share with you today.
Bob and Reg Benton, father and son, have shared a lot of life together. From Bob Benton’s early days starting the company and even serving as the janitor, to 30 years as the company president, he has since passed role of company president on to Reg Benton, who also happened to start in the company as a janitor. Today, under Reg Benton’s management, and Bob Benton’s leadership, B&A continues to provide excellent services to municipalities and individuals, while maintaining a healthy in-house team, made up of faithful people like McEvers and Sorrill.
McEvers started working with B&A in 1975. Coming right from tech school to B&A, he stated, “It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever had.” 45 years later, he’s handled nearly every type of project in the company, from working on survey crews to construction observation, designing transportation projects and more. Oh, and on the side, he served for 30 years on the South Jacksonville Fire Department, including a few years as the assistant fire chief.
Sorrill started working with B&A in 1977. Bob Benton hired him away from a small firm where he was working at the time, saying, “we got a steal.” Forty-three years later, Sorrill is the senior designer in environmental, a former board member and also an associate.
Reg shared, “I don’t recall ever asking these guys for something and they said they couldn’t do it. They find a way to make it happen … [with] a ‘can do’ attitude.” Sorrill responded, “I always have a strategy to work through,” and McEvers chimed in, “We just always figure out a way to get it done.”
On every project, McEvers and Sorrill own what they do and want to see it successful, regardless of what it demands from them. Sorrill commented, “The younger generation is different than us older guys … we put our whole heart into a project whether it’s small or large.” He reminisced about a $7 million wastewater project in Pittsfield that he handled in the 1980s, saying, “It was a lot of nights and a lot of weekends and that didn’t matter, as long as we got it done right.”
From their startup to today, B&A values partnership, internal and external. Sorrill shared with a bit of tremble in his voice, “This company is not numbers, we’re a family … and I take my work very personally.” In addition to close bonds within the company and on their project teams, B&A views their clients as partners as well. Reg said, “We never strive to just be your project engineer; we’re just as invested in the results of it as you are. We want results.” Bob Benton shared one of his guiding principles over the years in evaluating whether or not to take on various jobs, saying, “If it’s not going to be good long-term for a client, it’s not good for us. If the regional water project is not good for the town, it’s not good for the region either.”
Bob Benton shared about his friend, Bill Moss, the Mayor of Winchester, that hired him to do their first large lagoon project in the 1960s. Bob shared, “He had a trucking business and every time I went to move between three different schools with my family, he’d let me use a truck of his for free … The people we work for are good people … good to work with and work for.” McEvers mentioned a favorite project of his — work on the campground up by Lake Sangchris. He shared, “I’ve been lucky… I got to work on that project with my best friend.”
From their Winchester lagoon project and several other independent projects that they completed between Bob Benton and some of his friends (Paul Hansen and Dick Rawlings) the company formed in 1970. Over 50 years later, they still serve the City of Winchester and many of their other original clients, as well, which leads to another of their values — commitment.
Reg Benton stated, “Everybody that works here owns the success of the projects in a personal way … Sometimes, we feel like we own the success of the projects even more than the municipalities.” And here’s why — B&A knows that the municipal projects they complete have huge implications for the well-being of individuals in the community. That said, they maintain a high level of commitment to their work. They know that they can’t afford to take shortcuts on bridge construction or miscalculate on the structural design.
From project to project, they continue the commitment exemplified by the company founders. Reg Benton shared, “In our work, we all know that we only get one chance to do it right. And we also know that people do make mistakes. Our values are best reflected when something is discovered, like an unforeseen mistake or condition, we are there to work through the problem and make sure it’s better when it’s done than when we discovered it.”
By doing 70-80 percent of their work for local governments, B&A offers services in surveying, creating and refining systems for water supply, treatment and distribution, civil and structural engineering services, traffic analysis and control systems, industrial waste treatment and more.
Finally, B&A values results. One of their prize projects was the Jacksonville Water Treatment Plant. Sorrill shared, “A lot of my work goes unseen and that’s the way we want it.” Sorrill has spent countless hours planning tie-ins for water mains under intersections — strategic work that needs to go unnoticed by the public. Why? Because when it’s unnoticed, that means everything is working according to plan. But the Jacksonville Water Treatment Plant has a beautiful, above-ground aesthetic that made it a hallmark of the careers of the individuals involved — including Sorrill.
From the small-town clients they began with over five decades ago, to the city governments they’ve partnered with for multi-million-dollar projects, B&A continues to meet their projects with the same level of partnership, commitment, and results.
Owning offices in six locations, Jacksonville remains the corporate headquarters and the place that they call home. Reg Benton concluded, “We appreciate what all of our clients have allowed us to help them with over the years. We want to adequately say thank you to those people. We truly are a regional kind of group and we all come together to enjoy what we do.”
On Friday, May 1st, Benton & Associates, Inc. celebrated their 50th anniversary. The open house celebration has been delayed until September 4, 2020, due to the pandemic. It will be held at their office at 1970 West Lafayette Avenue, Jacksonville, Illinois from 4-7 p.m.