Blackhawk philanthropist Ken Behring recently received an honor few living men have known -- a bronze bust inside the Smithsonian.
"It's very usually to have a living person have a bust, usually you have to die before. It was very nice," said Behring, 83.
In a special ceremony on Wednesday, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History dedicated a larger than life-sized bust of Behring by well-known sculptor Marc Mellon that will sit on the museum's second floor, just off the National Mall entrance. Behring, who created the Wheelchair Foundation and developed Blackhawk, has donated $100 million to the Smithsonian over several years.
"This is our first benefactor to have a bust/be recognized at this museum," said Melinda Machado, director of the Smithsonian's office of public affairs. "Mr. Behring is the largest donor to the Smithsonian institution."
Behring, who is fascinated by the role of the military in United States history, was the sole donor to the Price of Freedom: Americans At War exhibit (which resides in a hall that bears his name) and has also supported the American Presidency exhibit. Funding from Behring helped support the architectural renovation of the American History Museum's atrium and flag hall, which is now called the Kenneth E. Behring Center.
"We're going to re do the presidents and first ladies, and we're just starting a walk through our history, then will start sports entertainment music," Behring said. "We've got a lot we're going to try to do in the next two or three years to try to finish up everything in the museum so when you go there, there will be a big number of exhibits."
Wayne Clough, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, along with the museum's director and board chair, presented Behring with the bust in a morning ceremony. The bust was cast from life and has been in the works since February.
But Behring and his son, David, did not fly to Washington, D.C. just to see his bronze likeness. Behring is also a sponsor of National History Day, a contest that encourages students nation-wide to research primary sources and do a science fair type presentation. Each year, finalists from junior high and high schools attend a gala at the Smithsonian where they can display their projects and look at exhibits, which are left open especially for them.
"I believe in history and think that history is what we need to look at and see how we're going and why we got there," said Behring, who was on his way to the gala. " Not enough history is done in schools. This group of 650,000 students that participate in the contest grades improve immensely."
This year Julienne Sauer, a sixth grade student at Windemere Ranch Middle School in San Ramon, made it to the finals for her project titled "Cable Car Wars," which focused on debate about restoring San Francisco's cable cars in the 1940s.