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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Oktoberfest brings to mind Stenger Brewery and entrepreneurial history in Naperville

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Before they roll out the barrel during the 10th Annual Oktoberfest at Naper Settlement, Oct. 4-5, it’s newsy to note that a Naperville family dating back seven generations exemplifies the city’s entrepreneurial history and can-do spirit.

Peter Stenger, an immigrant from Bavaria, arrived in Naperville in 1848, and for a time from 1849 to 1893, the brewery he founded was the biggest employer in Naperville.

Members of the Stenger family have resided in Naperville ever since.

John Stenger

This year’s Oktoberfest will honor the 50th anniversary of the Naperville Heritage Society, and families like the Stengers, who have lived in Naperville since 1850.

“When you look at Naperville, it’s the epitome of the American Dream unfolding,” said Ron Stenger, a financial services professional in Oak Brook, whose passion for local history finds his serving on the Naperville Heritage Society Board of Directors. “I’ve been blessed to work in a city that is great expression of the American Dream. Naperville has transformed from an agrarian city, to one dominated by a quarry, to a brewing community, then a furniture town, and now it’s led by high-tech businesses. And the values that defined us back then are still defining us today, and it’s what’s helped Naperville thrive.”

Years ago, Stenger helped restore the Stenger Brewery limestone sign, now on display with other Stenger Brewery artifacts in Naper Settlement’s Pre-emption House Visitor Center.

More recently, a number of sculptures designed to showcase history at Naper Settlement were sponsored by Ron Stenger and featured in the Downtown Naperville Alliance annual summer art exhibits.

“We take our legacy and our family’s enduring ties to our city very seriously,” Ron Stenger stated in a news release. “We feel a special obligation not just to honor the past, but to protect Naperville’s future.”

The Stenger Brewery’s most famous employee was a 22-year-old immigrant named Adolph Coors, hired in 1869 by Peter Stenger’s son, John. Coors worked at the brewery for about three years before heading west to start the Coors Brewery in 1873 in Colorado.

Ron Stenger figures Coors left for one of two reasons: To earn a promotion at the Stenger Brewery, he needed to marry a Stenger; or Coors fell in love with one of the Stengers and was rejected.

Adolph Coors

“He (Coors) came in as a penny-less worker and when he left, he was the highest-paid person at the brewery,” Ron Stenger said.

Stenger Brewery survived until the late 1800s, and the building eventually housed a mushroom factory before it was demolished in 1956. Today downtown Naperville is graced with a Century Walk mural, “Pillars of the Community,” featuring a picture of the brewery. Folks will find “The Stenger Commemorative Parkway” named in the family’s honor along Franklin Avenue.

Ron Stenger named his son after John Stenger’s brother, Nicholas, who co-ran the brewery. Now 24, Nicholas, is a financial advisor at Ron’s company, and the father-son have next-door offices. Ron Stenger’s office is chock full of odes to the past, including ties to his family’s history to Naperville.

“Our family’s story is a story of humble entrepreneurship,” said Nick Stenger. “And it all goes back to the community that we live in and surround ourselves with.”

“We live in this frantic digital world where humanity seems harder and harder to find, but we should celebrate a time when all these small-town values thrived,” Ron Stenger added.

And a key is to make sure the Stenger Family legacy (Ron Stenger restored the original gravestones of his distant Naperville relatives.) continues to prosper.

All this brings to mind local entrepreneurs and many reasons to celebrate and support the community whenever possible.

Meanwhile plan to enjoy a little oompah and tastes of Bavaria during Oktoberfest.

For more information about the 2019 Oktoberfest, visit www.napersettlement.org/237/Oktoberfest.

Story idea with photos submitted by Justin Breen and Nicholas Stenger.

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PN Ombudsman
PN Ombudsman
An ombudsman is Scandinavian in origin dating back to Viking times; and refers to a community representative; usually acting independently on behalf of an organization, body of elected officials, or civic group. Thanks Scandinavia for inventing ombudsman.
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