Ken Behring

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Ken Behrin
Ken Behring, US Senate.JPG
Born (1928-06-13) June 13, 1928 (age 85)
Freeport, Illinois
Occupation Real estate developer
Football team owner
Spouse(s) Patricia Behring
Children 5

Kenneth Eugene Behring (born June 13, 1928)[1] is a real-estate developer, former owner of the National Football League's Seattle Seahawks, and philanthropist.

Early years[edit]

Behring was born in Freeport, Illinois. His family moved to Monroe, Wisconsin, when he was four. He grew up in poverty; his father worked in a lumber yard making 25 cents an hour, and his mother cleaned houses. Ken started working a variety of jobs around town starting at age seven: mowing lawns, caddying, transporting milk, selling newspapers, working at a grocery store and at a lumberyard. He became a salesperson at Montgomery Ward at age 16, and started a side business selling sporting goods in town. Behring attended Monroe High School in Monroe, Wisconsin. A high school football player, he received a partial football scholarship to the University of Wisconsin–Madison, but dropped out of college due to an injury that left him unable to play football, and therefore ineligible for his scholarship.[2][3]


Out of college, Behring, a car buff, worked as a salesperson at a Chevrolet and Chrysler auto dealership. At age 21, he started a used car business called Behring Motors in Monroe, Wisconsin.[2] A savvy businessman, he was earning $50,000 a year and had $1 million in assets by age 27.[4]

Ken Behring moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1956 and started the Behring Construction Company. He became a land developer, founding Tamarac Lakes, a new active-adult (which later became all-age) community in 1962. It was built on an area that was formerly wetlands, pastures, and fields.[5] The new development was incorporated as Tamarac, Florida on July 25, 1963.[2][5][6]

Behring's company eventually became the largest builder of single-family homes in Florida,[7] and the tenth largest in the United States.[2]

In 1972, Behring moved to the San Francisco Bay Area,[8] where he was involved in developing the country club at Blackhawk, California, and later, the Canyon Lakes Development in San Ramon, California.[8][9]

In 1988, Behring and partner Ken Hofmann purchased the NFL's Seattle Seahawks football team for $79 or $99 million (both numbers have been reported).[4][10] They transferred the team's operations to Anaheim, California in 1996, a widely criticized move, although the team continued to play in Seattle. They sold the team to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 1997, for $200 million.[10]

Behring has been listed several times on the annual Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, including 1991,[11] 1995,[11] and 1997.[12] In 1997, his last year on the list,[13] he ranked #395, with an estimated net worth of $495 million.[12] He's since been described in the press as a billionaire.[14][15]

In 2004, Behring published a memoir called Road to Purpose: One Man's Journey Bringing Hope to Millions and Finding Purpose Along the Way (ISBN 0-9761912-0-2).[16]

A revised edition of the memoir retitled, The Road to Leadership: Finding a Life of Purpose (ISBN 978-0-97619-122-3) was published in 2013. The book describes Behring's quest to find happiness; discovering he had "leaned my ladder against the wrong wall, realizing the mistake only when I was at the top, helplessly aware that, after a career filled with outword success, I did not even know where to look to find real happiness." Behring describes himself as an "average man who achieved extraordinary material success doing a few simple things" who later discovered the "true foundation of joy" was finding purpose and causes worth fighting for.

Behring and his wife, Patricia, now in their 80s, continue to work with their Global Health and Education Foundation.[17]


Behring married his wife Patricia (Pat) at age 21. They have five sons, and as of 2005, ten grandchildren.[18]


Behring was involved in founding the Blackhawk Museum (originally the Blackhawk Automotive Museum) in 1988, created, in part, to house his personal collection of vintage cars; he was criticized for the tax exemption he sought and received for donating his cars to his museum.[8][19]

This project was Behring's first museum venture and he credits it with teaching him about the power of museums to educate. Today the museum is home to one of the world's major collections of classic, rare, and unique automobiles. Since its founding, over 150,000 students have enjoyed free educational programs introducing the historical, social, and artistic impact of automobiles over the past 100 years. Most recently, these programs have been updated to support the California State Content Standards in history, English/language arts, and fine arts.[20]

Behring pledged $20 million to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in 1997, with the intention that it be used for educational purposes. At the time, the money was allocated for refurbishing the museum's rotunda, supporting a traveling exhibition, and endowing the museum's new Kenneth E. Behring Family Hall of Mammals, which opened in 2003.[21] There were concerns around the terms of the donation, linked to Behring's endangered species hunting controversy.[22] According to the Smithsonian's website, the 22,500-square-foot (2,090 m2) space now features 274 mammal specimens, nearly a dozen fossils, and a variety of interactive learning experiences. The exhibit is said to provide visitors with a global perspective of how mammals have adapted to different habitats, and includes four "Discovery Zones" for hands-on exploration of mammal adaptations such as night vision and goose bumps.

He pledged another $80 million to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in 2000.[7] Of the $80 million, $20 million was allocated for a hall honoring "American legends and legacies", paying "tribute to deceased individuals who made great contributions to our country and who truly epitomize the 'American spirit'",[23] $4 million paid for an exhibition on the American presidency,[14] and another $16 million funded an exhibit called "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War", opened in 2004.[24] In return, Behring's contract required that the museum rename its main facility the "Behring Center".[25] MuseumNews called Behring's donation "purportedly the largest cash donation ever to be given to a U.S. museum by a living person",[3] and Behring was given the Smithsonian's James Smithson Award for his contributions.[26] In 2001, a memorandum by a group of curators and scholars at the Museum of American History expressed concerns about Behring's gift, and criticized the museum for hiring Behring's personal architect to do a study on modernizing the museum's exhibition space; a Smithsonian official denied accusations of impropriety.[27] According to The New York Times, Behring's gift was also then criticized in the museum world, as some museum professionals charged that he had been given too much power to "dictate the nature and content of the museum's exhibitions."[23]

According to then-Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, "A gift of this magnitude is unprecedented. We are delighted to honor this great benefactor to the Smithsonian Institution by establishing the Behring Center. Mr. Behring's generous contribution will allow us to being a complete transformation and modernization of the National Museum of American History, the only museum of its kind in the world."

As to the motivation behind the generous gesture, Behring explained that he could not "think of a more fitting way to give thanks to this land of opportunity than by helping the Smithsonian's Natural Museum of American History showcase the ideas, the technologies, and most of all, the people who continue to make the United States the greatest country in the world.[28]

In 2000, Behring also donated $7.5 million to expand the University of California, Berkeley's Principal Leadership Institute; the newly established Kenneth E. Behring Center for Educational Improvement focused on training programs for public school principals, providing scholarships for fifty aspiring principals every year.[29][30][31] UC Berkeley awarded him a Chancellor's Citation in 2001.[32]

Behring founded the Wheelchair Foundation in Blackhawk, California in 2000, to provide free wheelchairs for people with physical disabilities in developing nations unable to afford one. As of September 2013, the Wheelchair Foundation had given away over 940,000 wheelchairs in 152 countries around the globe.[26]

He founded the WaterLeaders Foundation, a nonprofit group working to support safe drinking water around the world, in 2005.[33] In a 2010 interview, he reported having given away between $200 and $300 million, and his interest in issues of global health.[34]

In 2009, Behring made a $1.9 million donation to National History Day, intended to "improve the teaching and learning of history at middle and high schools throughout the country."[35]

According to the National History Day website, more than half a million students and thousands of teachers participate in the program each year. Participation in the rigorous program involves choosing a historical topic related to a designated theme, conducting extensive primary and secondary research, analyzing and interpreting information, and drawing conclusions about the topic's significance. Students present their work in original papers, exhibits, performances, and documentaries. Local, state, and national competitions are held each spring where these work products are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates at the University of Maryland for national finals. Each state and participating territory selects one exhibit to represent it in a special exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

This program is endorsed by the American Association for State and Local History, the American Historical Association, the Federation of State Humanities Councils, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Center for History in the Schools, the National Council for Social Studies, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Archivists.[36]

In his 2013 autobiography, Behring quotes Theodore Roosevelt to sum up his life's work:

"It is not the critic who counts. Not the man who points out the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat, and blood, who survives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause, who, at the best,knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement and who, at the worst, is he fails, at least he fails while daring greating, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."


  1. ^ Semmes, Ben. "Ken Behring a self-made millionaire". Retrieved 2008-10-07. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Kenneth E. Behring". The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans. Retrieved 2006-08-09. 
  3. ^ a b O'Brien, Allie J. (2000-09-25). "Largest Donation Ever to a U.S. Museum". Retrieved 2006-08-14. 
  4. ^ a b Semmes, Ben (2006-07-10). "Ken Behring a local legend". Tri-Valley Herald. Archived from the original on 2006-08-08. Retrieved 2006-08-15. 
  5. ^ a b "Adopted Budget, Fiscal Year 2006" (PDF). City Commission, Tamarac, Florida. 2006. p. 5. Retrieved 2006-08-28. [dead link]
  6. ^ United States Department of Housing and Urban Development vs. TEMS Association (US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development Office of Administrative law Judges 1992). Text
  7. ^ a b "Smithsonian Institution Announces Biggest Single Donation in its 154-year History". Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 2000-09-19. Retrieved 2006-08-09. 
  8. ^ a b c Mike Davis (2000-11-27). "Museum Hawk: The Blackhawk". The Car DA Acquisitions Inc. Retrieved 2006-08-09. 
  9. ^ Blackhawk Services. "Kenneth E. Behring". Archived from the original on 2005-02-13. Retrieved 2006-02-11. 
  10. ^ a b "Seattle's Own" (PDF). Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 2002. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 
  11. ^ a b "Kenneth Eugene Behring". NameBase. Archived from the original on 2012-01-17. Retrieved 2006-02-13. 
  12. ^ a b Kyle, Robert (September 2000). "Butterfield's to Sell Guns to Buy Wheelchairs". Maine Antique Digest. Retrieved 2006-08-10. 
  13. ^ "Near Misses". Forbes. 1998-10-12. Retrieved 2006-08-14. 
  14. ^ a b Marquis, Christopher (2000-09-19). "Smithsonian Receives Gift Of $80 Million". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  15. ^ Dahlberg, Carrie Peyton (2007-09-23). "Museum ethics evolve". Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  16. ^ "Road To Purpose By Kenneth E. Behring". Wheelchair Foundation. Retrieved 2006-08-14. 
  17. ^ Global Health and Education Foundation Website
  18. ^ "Kenneth E. Behring Biography". WaterLeaders Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-07-04. Retrieved 2006-08-15. 
  19. ^ Benca, Jeanine (2003-11-16). "Blackhawk Museum cuts exhibits". Oakland Tribune. Retrieved 2007-05-17. [dead link]
  20. ^ Blackhawk Automotive Museum
  21. ^ Gray, Jerry (1997-11-06). "The Smithsonian Receives a Gift of $20 Million". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  22. ^ Gottwald, Linda (2000-02-03). "How to Bag Your Own Endangered Species". USA Today. Retrieved 2006-08-08. [dead link]
  23. ^ a b Sciolino, Elaine (2001-08-06). "Smithsonian Must Exhibit Ingenuity in the Face of Overlapping Gifts". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  24. ^ O'Connell, Johnathan (2004-11-10). "Price of 'Freedom'? $16 million". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2007-11-18. [dead link]
  25. ^ Goodheart, Adam (2002-04-24). "Smithsonian's Veteran Man-in-the-Middle Stands His Ground". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-20. 
  26. ^ a b "Kenneth E. Behring - Biography". Wheelchair Foundation. Retrieved 2006-08-09. 
  27. ^ Sciolino, Elaine (2001-05-26). "Smithsonian Group Criticizes Official on Donor Contract". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-24. 
  28. ^ Smithsonian Institute Website
  29. ^ "The 2000 Slate 60: The 60 largest American charitable contributions of 2000". Slate. 2001-01-22. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 
  30. ^ "New program to prepare principals for California's urban schools gets $7.5 million gift from Bay Area philanthropist". Berkeleyan (UC Berkeley). 2000-08-16. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 
  31. ^ "Graduate School of Education: Development and External Relations, Giving Overview". University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Education. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  32. ^ "University of California, Berkeley The Chancellor's Citation List of Recipients As of 11/14/2005". University of California, Berkeley Awards Program. Retrieved 2006-08-13. 
  33. ^ "Founder's Message". WaterLeaders Foundation. Archived from the original on 2007-02-06. Retrieved 2006-08-15. 
  34. ^ "Interview with Ken Behring". Philanthropy Round Table. Retrieved 2010-10-02. 
  35. ^ "National History Day Receives Major Gift from Kenneth Behring". Perspectives on History. American Historical Association. February 2009. Retrieved March 25, 2012. 
  36. ^ National History Day Website