By JIM FAIR
Jim Benson will be honored at the National Automobile Dealers Association’s 2018 NADA Show in Las Vegas in March as one of 47 nominees for the TIME Dealer of the Year.
Benson, 81, is South Carolina’s representative of the automobile industry’s most prestigious and highly coveted honors. Recipients are among the nation’s most successful auto dealers who also demonstrate a long-standing commitment to community service.
“Having the opportunity to own and build a family business is the most rewarding thing that has happened to me,” Benson said. “And it means so much to have our children and grandchildren following in my footsteps.”
Benson, who attended Greer High School, until the 11th grade, has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.
At age 12, he financed a new bike at his local hardware store, which he used to deliver newspapers. “Once I paid off the bicycle, I bought a new Whizzer motorbike for my paper route and eventually a scooter,” he said.
Benson also worked for his dad installing television antennas, as well as at a local service station and at a mill, and he served in the United States Army Reserve. “Working at the mill was the hardest job I ever had, and I just hated it,” Benson said. He made $37 a week in a third-shift job.
When he was 17 years old, Benson started to transport used cars from Philadelphia to South Carolina as a truck driver and realized there was money to be made in the used car business. “Sometimes the buyers would pass over a car that I thought was a good one, so I’d buy it, bring it home, fix it up and sell it,” Benson said.
Benson married his wife, Evelyn, in August 1956, and opened a used-car lot in Greer. Benson started selling new Chrysler and Plymouth models at the lot in 1964 at the urging of an open-point manager from Chrysler.
“I sold 300 cars during that first year and in June of 1965, I opened a new store location,” he said. “Over my 52 years as a Chrysler dealer, our store has consistently been number one in the state.”
Today, Benson owns multiple dealerships in Greer and Easley, representing brands Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Jeep, Nissan and Ram. His son, daughter, son-in-law and three of his five grandchildren all work for the company.
Benson has contributed his time, talent and resources over the years to make Greer a better place to live and work. He has been a member of the Greater Greer Chamber of Commerce since 1965, having served on its board for eight years and as president in 1973. “That year we raised money to completely renovate the building,” Benson said. “And this year, I am hosting a fundraiser at Benson Automotive Memory Lane, which houses my antique car collection, to again raise money to renovate the chamber building.”
Benson has donated millions of dollars to Greenville Technical College for improvements and scholarships. The school’s Greer location was renamed Benson Campus in recognition of his generous giving. “This honor meant the world to me and my family,” he said. “Technical schools do such great work teaching young people job skills so they can go out in the world and make a living.”
Kids Planet at Century Park will be upgraded with funds pledged by Benson. “I donated money when it was originally built 30 years ago with all wooden structures, and now the city will tear down the park and completely rebuild it, to open in 2018,” he said.
Benson’s support has been invaluable of Partnership for Tomorrow, an economic development effort made up of business, civic, government and community leaders to improve the city of Greer. “I donated to the program and purchased a clock to put at the entrance of downtown Greer, which is dedicated in memory of my father, who was also a local businessman,” he said.
“We salute this exceptional group of nominees for the 2018 TIME Dealer of the Year award,” Tim Russi, president of auto finance for Ally Financial said. “These dealers are local pillars of strength, leadership and giving, and Ally is proud to celebrate their stories and recognize them for their commitment to ‘do it right’ in their communities.”
A charter member of the Sertoma Club of Greer, a group that that works to improve the quality of life for those impacted by hearing loss, Benson is also a big supporter of Greer Community Ministries Meals on Wheels, for which he holds an annual 5K race and car show.
The award is sponsored by TIME in association with Ally Financial, and in cooperation with NADA. A panel of faculty members from the Tauber Institute for Global Operations at the University of Michigan will select one finalist from each of the four NADA regions and one national Dealer of the Year.