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The words “track nationals” trigger some special memories for Kris Hartner, owner of the Naperville Running Company, and his wife, Susanna Gotsch. He first visited North Central College and Naperville to watch a teammate at the NCAA Track & Field National Championships in 1987. 

“I loved the town,” says Hartner, who ran for St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. The couple decided to make Naperville their home and fulfill Hartner’s dream of owning a store devoted to running gear. 

On May 27, 2000—the day of another national championship meet at North Central —he opened the Naperville Running Company. He enjoys telling the story of how Tim McCoskey ’00 won a national championship in the 1,500 meters and “later that day, was back working the floor.” 

Thus began a fruitful connection that benefits both organizations. “I made relationships here right from the start,” Hartner says. “We’ve always had North Central students and alums on staff—our customers love their work ethic and energy.”

Hartner is generous with in-kind donations and enjoys attending big meets and College fundraising events. With owning a second store in south Naperville and a third in Wheaton, Hartner and Gotsch wanted to do more for the College. Hartner joined the Board of Trustee Associates and began thinking about additional philanthropy. 

As a result, the couple pledged $100,000 to establish an endowed fund directed to social entrepreneurship. Students will be able to obtain start-up support for an enterprise with social impact. In addition, the development of an academic program in social entrepreneurship is underway as part of the College’s Leadership, Ethics and Values program. A fall term course called Social Impact Entrepreneurship will be the first offering. 

“Kris’ very generous gift supports our innovative efforts to produce social impact start-up businesses with our students,” says Tom Cavenagh, Schneller Sisters Professor of Leadership, Ethics and Values. “We are thrilled that we can build on this foundation.”

“This was a way for us to do something that would benefit the College, the students and our community,” adds Hartner, who is committed to succeeding as an independent business owner. 

Hartner takes special pride in his long-term employees, like Nick Hird ’07, with 10 years of service, who is operations manager/buyer. Kyle Brady ’10, with nine years of experience, is now a manager/buyer and will oversee the Wheaton location. At any time, as many as six of 30 company employees have North Central connections. 

“They are part of our family,” agree Hartner and Gostch. “And we hope to be part of this community for a very long time.”