Marshall Bennett was a founding father of the modern industrial park.

His work can be seen in thousands of acres around O’Hare International Airport, as well as other locations in the area and around the country.

In the 1950s, Bennett and his longtime business partner, Louis Kahnweiler, teamed up with Jack Pritzker to develop the Centex Industrial Park in Elk Grove Village, one of the largest in the
country.

Bennett died Saturday at his Gold Coast home from natural causes. He was 97.

“Marshall helped develop the industrial market in Chicago,” businesswoman and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said. “When you think of logistics, warehouses and distribution, Marshall helped bring that into the 20th century in the greater Chicago area.

Think about all the goods we move around our country.”

In 1976, Bennett, an avid outdoorsman, overturned his kayak in an Idaho river and hit his head.

Months later, after continued headaches, doctors soon discover blood clots on his brain and operated. He spent the next year learning to walk and talk again.

His ill health prevented him from keeping abreast on business.

In order to again familiarize himself with the real estate market, he hosted several industry leaders at his home in Sun Valley, Idaho.

The gathering was so successful that it became an annual invite-only affair known as the Marshall Bennett Classic.

“It’s the top 100 real estate people from around the United States … it’s kind of like when you want to be in the room where it happens, this is the room where it happens,” said Pritzker, who, along with real estate broker Goldie Wolfe, was one of the first women invited to the gathering.

“He welcomed us and treated us as equals. It’s something I will be forever grateful for,” Pritzker said.

Bennett passed along hosting duties a few years ago to real estate magnate Sam Zell, but he attended the most recent gathering in June in Chicago.

His philanthropy took many forms. He also sought world peace. Bennett was board of the East-West Institute, a global think-tank responsible for tackling tough international problems.
And he co-founded the Chicago Ten – a group of prominent Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Chicago area who worked to promote economic-based solutions for peace in the Middle East.

He was most proud of the work he did with Roosevelt University, his daughter, Bija Bennett, said. He co-founded the university’s Marshall Bennett Institute of Real Estate in 2002.

“It was a sustainable way to educate students and people who now have great jobs in real estate,” she said.

“He believed in it so much,” said Collete English Dixon, executive director of the institute.  “He was an active participant in everything that happened in this program until a couple months ago. At the age of 96, he showed up to advisory board meetings and provided insights and connections.”

Bennett grew up in South Shore, graduated from the University of Chicago and served in the Navy during WWII. He was an endless source of positive energy who loved bringing people together to achieve larger goals, his daughter said.

He is also survived by his daughter Alice Bennett Groh and his wife, Arlene. The couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in June. They met while attending a Northwestern University football game.

Funeral services are set for Tuesday at 2 p.m. at Congregation Solel, 1301 Clavey Rd, Highland Park.