Kenneth E. Behring, the billionaire developer of the exclusive gated community of Blackhawk in central Contra Costa and past owner of the Seattle Seahawks, died recently at 91.

While not a household name, his legacy reached far beyond the thousands of homes and luxury communities he built in Florida and California. Behring was also the founder of the Wheelchair Foundation that delivered three quarters of a million wheelchairs to the disabled around the world.

I met him back in 1978 when my client was able to purchase some of the first lots in Blackhawk, a new private gated community built around golf courses. While common in Florida, such private gated communities were not as prevalent in California. My designs caught the eye of Ken and he asked me to design his first personal home in Blackhawk on top of the private ridge he kept to himself.

Blackhawk had been a huge political battle with the local communities of Danville and Alamo for 10 years. Once approved and made private, the idea took off and houses and lots were sold at premiums. Ken wanted a small house of 10,000 square feet. That may seem large but compared to his other homes, this was a cabin. He also wanted a small six-car garage for some of the automobiles he’s been collecting. He would pick me up in his Ferrari and we would look at properties together. This became the start of his Blackhawk automobile museum, a incredible collection of historic “muscle” cars, the envy of auto collectors worldwide.

Ken had started working in car sales and his experience as a salesman and communicator allowed him to build up his own auto dealerships in Wisconsin. When he moved to Florida in 1956, he became a home builder and created the city of Tamarac Lakes. In the early ‘70s, Ken entered the modular home industry and had traveled to Japan in hopes of building factories. That proved unsuccessful and while returning from Japan he stopped in San Francisco to see a friend who had 4,000 acres in central Contra Costa County.

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After many years of battling the local agencies and municipalities, his vision took hold for a new luxury golf course-oriented community. Ken also developed Canyon Lakes in San Ramon and he told me that was more profitable than Blackhawk with all the trouble and political battles associated with it.

Ken bought the NFL's Seatte Seahawks football franchise in a partnership with Ken Hoffman and eventually sold it to Paul Allen. Ken had attended college in Wisconsin on a football scholarship but an injury sidelined him. However, football was in his blood.

Perhaps one of his greatest achievements was the creation of the Wheelchair Foundation, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2000. The Wheelchair Foundation has partnered with Rotary International, the U.S. Army and several service organizations to deliver over 750,000 wheelchairs to 150 nations around the world.

Chris d Craiker


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