A Rich Partnership
From the moment he saw her on the stairway, Jerry Rich was swept away.
Rich, ’61, was at Neptune Hall waiting to go on a double date with a friend that day in 1958. He looked at the stairs, just in time to catch sight of Betty Ann, ’61, who was paired up with his friend Ken. For Jerry, it was love at first sight.
“I saw her walk down the stairs and I thought, ‘Wow!’” Rich recalls. “The four of us went out on the town, but I told Ken that (Betty) was too tall for him. …I just never thought she would go out with me.”
Luckily for him, he was wrong. After dating for four years, Jerry and Betty Ann walked across the stage at NIU as new graduates on the morning of June 10, 1961. A few hours later, they walked down the aisle at the First Methodist Church in Downers Grove as husband and wife.
“We received our diplomas that morning, then had to rush home (to Betty’s home in Downers Grove) for the wedding.”
Over 52 years of marriage, Jerry and Betty Ann had a truly great love full of laughter, success, and a shared passion for giving back to their alma mater.
“Jerry would tell me stories about how he met Betty and the wonderful memories they had at NIU,” says Tom Porten, NIU head golf coach.
Values and Vision
Jerry Rich grew up in a middle-class family, learning the value of hard work from his father, the late Anthony “AJ” Rich.
“I remember summers growing up, my dad always had me working on projects … such as painting the house or spading the garden,” Rich says. “He taught me the importance of getting up early and getting involved, as well as showing me that if you’re going to do something, do it right.”
Along with his work ethic, AJ Rich passed along his passion for technology. After graduating from NIU, Jerry joined his father in business at Rich Inc., providing schools, hospitals, and churches with communication systems. They were among the first to buy the Apple I when it came out in 1974, and quickly learned to use digital signals to control analog devices.
“While my wife was not involved in the family business, she always wanted to know how things were going. There were points where I was not making much money, but she always managed the household and the finances,” Rich says. “We never fought once in our entire marriage. We had ‘discussions,’ but never went to bed angry.
“The same year Bill Gates designed DOS, we designed ROS (Rich Operating System). While Gates pursued personal computing, we pursued applications and device control.”
The father-son duo went on to integrate audio, video, and data systems. Soon, Rich says, they were selling multimillion dollar systems to hospitals in major cities across the country. When a friend, a government bond trader for Chase Bank, showed Rich his work space, Rich couldn’t believe his eyes. Each trader gathered information from 10 or more screens, each with its own keyboard. Rich could see that introducing an integrated
system would revolutionize Wall Street. He built a prototype that eliminated all those terminals and put four screens with one keyboard at each station.
“Our business exploded from there, and we did a majority of the banks and investment houses worldwide,” Rich says.
That venture positioned ROS as the world leader in information retrieval, and that system is still used on Wall Street today.
Building His Own Augusta
When the family sold the company to Reuters, it freed Jerry to focus on another of his life’s passions—golf. Around the time of the sale, he made his first visit to Augusta National Golf Club and fell in love with the course. As a mathematician and realist, he had to admit his odds of being admitted to the exclusive club were dismal at best. But the terrible odds didn’t discourage him—they gave him an idea. He went home and told Betty
Ann, “I’m going to build my own Augusta.”
After Rich purchased farmland in Sugar Grove, Rich Harvest Farms began to take shape. That 1,820-acre showcase of nature and agriculture gave way to one golf hole and a practice area. Then three holes. Then six. After interviewing five architects, Jerry discovered he could draw the plans himself—and did.
Rich Harvest Farms began to develop in 1987. Ten years later, all 18 holes of the members-only course were completed. It was rated 5th Best New Private Golf Course by Golf Digest in 1997 and three years later made Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses,” where it remains today.
Rich Harvest Farms is best known to the public as the host of the LPGA’s 2009 Solheim Cup. The ultra-private course was also the site of the NCAA men’s regionals in 2007 and 2014. It will host the 2015 Palmer Cup, 2015 Western Amateur, and the LPGA’s 2016 UL International Crown, a global team matchplay event. It was recently awarded the 2017 NCAA men’s and women’s golf championships. The women’s championship will be held May 18-24, 2017, followed by the men’s finals May 25-31.
“NIU hasn’t had the honor yet to host an NCAA Championship for any sport, so we are thrilled to be a part of
this moment in NIU history,” Rich says. “It’s been a passion of mine to nurture amateur golf, and as a NIU alum, it is even more special that I can offer up my course for this event.”
Bringing the Huskies Home
Hosting the college championships is the result of a long-time partnership between Rich and NIU. For more than 30 years, the Rich family supported a variety of endeavors at NIU. Wanting to support his alma mater and improve the NIU golf program, Rich began to share what he built with the Northern Illinois University men’s and women’s golf teams. In fact, he says he chose Sugar Grove for his golf paradise because it was about halfway between his workplace in Oakbrook and NIU.
“I’m honored to help Jerry achieve his vision for the golf program at NIU,” Porten says. “He had a great experience at NIU … and everything he’s done since he’s retired, he’s built close to NIU.”
Today, the Huskies are proud to call Rich Harvest Farms their home. The golf course, driving ranges, practice facilities, and the indoor golf arena are available to the teams year-round. Porten says that Rich has gone beyond providing student-athletes a place to practice, also offering amenities like wireless Internet so students can study and do homework.
“All he wants to do is help, whether it’s hosting an event, building us our own driving range on his beautiful course, or helping our students,” Porten says.
The partnership has also been a boon to the golf program’s recruitment. Porten says having access to one of the most exclusive courses in the country has helped him recruit players from France, California, Minnesota, North Carolina, and Florida.
In addition to the 2007 and 2014 NCAA men’s regionals, NIU has brought the MAC championship to the course twice, in 2003 and 2012, and the Northern Intercollegiate each year since 2010. An annual fundraiser, the Harvest Invitational, is also hosted at the top-rated course, bringing in critical funding for NIU golf programs.
“It’s exciting to add the NCAA golf championships to the list of the top national and international events that have been played or are coming to Rich Harvest Farms,” says NIU women’s golf head coach Kim Kester. “The course is really a hidden gem in the Chicago area, and I’m excited about the opportunity to expose the rest of the country to the course we get to use every day.”