Richard Samuelson

Benchmark Bank Executive Named Waubonsee “Fab 40”

Benchmark Bank Chairman of the Board, President and CEO Richard Samuelson, seen here at the bank’s Aurora headquarters, is one of Waubonsee Community College’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.
Sugar Grove — Richard Samuelson’s long and successful career in the banking industry has helped hundreds, if not thousands, finance their dreams. More than that though, Samuelson has given back to the community through extensive volunteering and public service. Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor him as one of the college’s “Fabulous 40” alumni.

As part of the college’s yearlong 40th anniversary celebration, Waubonsee is honoring 40 alumni and students who embody the mission, vision and values of the college. These individuals represent the diversity of Waubonsee’s students and the college district, as well as the diversity of the college’s mission as a comprehensive community college.

Saumelson has been a lifelong fixture in Kane County. Growing up in Elburn, he worked at the Dairy Joy there before beginning his banking career as a bookkeeper for the Kane County Bank and Trust. After graduating from Kaneland High School, Samuelson went to work at Merchants National Bank in downtown Aurora. He worked there for four years before coming to Waubonsee, although he was well aware of Waubonsee because his brother, Terry, and sister-in-law, Terri, were both graduates. In fact, some of Samuelson’s most treasured memories of Waubonsee came before he was even enrolled as a student.

Samuelson’s older brother, Terry, played basketball for the Waubonsee Chiefs and Coach Ray Lumpp let Saumelson ride along with the team on the occasional road trip, including one memorable trip to play DePaul University’s freshmen team.

“We were playing cards to try and get me enough money to eat,” he said.

The family connection didn’t stop at Samuelson’s brother and sister-in-law. Multiple nephews and even his mother have attended the college. When Samuelson enrolled at Waubonsee, he had the benefit of his family connections and maturity gained from working in the real work for several years. He did have challenges, such as managing a new construction business with his brother while attending school, but he excelled as a student, earning honors status.

“I got a lot of support at Waubonsee. It’s much more of a family atmosphere,” he said. “It was easier to focus because I had been out of school and I was paying for it. I knew that I wanted an education and that it was my chance.”

Samuelson would work on construction jobs with his brother several days a week and attend classes and study the rest of the week.

“At Waubonsee, I learned to focus,” he said. “I was doing a lot of things at once and I could not have succeeded without focus. I also learned about sacrifice. I knew what I had to do and was encouraged to do it.”

After he graduated from Waubonsee with an associate degree in business administration, Samuelson’s old boss from Merchants Bank asked him to return to the bank as an operations officer to oversee the tellers. Although he continued working construction on the side for the next few years, Samuelson jumped back into the banking world and stayed with Merchants for more than 20 years in increasingly vital positions, including vice president of operations and vice president of residential construction. During this time he continued his education at Aurora University and earned advanced banking degrees from the University of Illinois and University of Wisconsin.

In 2000, Merchants Bank was bought and a core group of Merchants Bank executives decided to branch out on their own and buy a three-bank holding company in downstate Illinois. This would form the basis of Benchmark Bank. Samuelson serves as the bank’s chairman of the board, president and CEO. The group bought the banks in June 2000 and in September 2000 opened the first Aurora Branch, which now serves as the bank’s headquarters. In 2005, they opened a St. Charles branch.

“It was a little scary at first,” he said. “You hope that people value your service.”

Hiring a number of former employees of Merchants Bank, Samuelson and his partners took a big risk that paid even greater dividends. The bank began with $18 million in assets that have now grown to more than $194 million. Benchmark Bank is a key lender to residential and commercial developers in the area and also has a strong retail business.

Throughout his career, though, Samuelson has always looked to give back to the community. He has been active with Big Brothers, Big Sisters and Family Counseling Service, serving as a board member for both organizations and as president of Family Counseling Service from 1993 to 1995. He was a Big Brothers volunteer from 1982 to 1986 and later best man in the wedding of his former “Little Brother.”

From 1995 to 1999, Samuelson was a Kaneland School District board member, serving as board president from 1996 to 1998. During this time, he oversaw key expansion and development initiatives for the district.

“I always felt blessed to go through such great schools when I was growing up,” he said. “I wanted to do something to make sure those experiences would exist for future generations.”

Samuelson lives in Sugar Grove, across from Waubonsee’s Sugar Grove Campus, with his adopted son, Michael.