Volunteerism runs in the family for John Behnke, ’50, this year’s winner of the UW Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award. The award recognizes outstanding volunteer contributions to the UW Alumni Association and the University. His brother Robert, ’43, received the award in 1970—the first year it was conferred on a UW alumnus.
John’s award commemorates 30 years of service to the UW, including chairing the very first efforts of the UWAA Alumni Fund from 1966–69, an annual drive to raise alumni money. In its first year, the group raised $37,657.
Behnke’s positive attitude shaped the early days of the fund, when some people were skeptical. In the Spring 1968 Washington Alumnus, the economics graduate said, “This is a growth type campaign that we hope will continue to grow as alumni see more benefits to the University and the community through a higher level of education and more people being educated.”
Today the UW and its foundation are engaged in an eight-year, $2-billion fund-raising effort—Campaign UW: Creating Futures. As of March, it has raised about $1.34 billion toward that goal.
After chairing the fund, Behnke was elected UWAA president, serving from 1970–71, and helping to steer the University through the upheaval of the Vietnam era. He addressed this in the May 1971 issue of the Alumnus. “If we are to move ahead in a positive and supportive way, alumni new and old must continue to communicate on the problems and changes affecting university life. Faculty, administration, regents and legislators must talk and listen more closely, also; and, from this six-sided conversation, a better understanding is sure to come,” he wrote.
Also during his term the UWAA board reaffirmed it support for alumni of all ethnic backgrounds, passing a resolution stating, “It is the policy of the association to utilize only club facilities or other accommodations which also maintain non-discriminatory policies in respect to race, creed, color or national origin.”
“I was interested in progress,” says Behnke today of his motivation for getting involved with his alma mater. “I was asked to take a role in fostering alumni association growth and I thought it would be a good way to get acquainted with more people.”
Behnke reflects that community service is about “knowledge of who you are and where you are in the community.” Professionally, Behnke worked at KOMO/Fisher Broadcasting as an account executive, a member of the board of directors, a vice president, and president and CEO. He retired in 1994.
Behnke’s spirit of community involvement extends beyond the University as well. He has been a volunteer leader for Rotary, the Seattle Development Association, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, United Way and the Arboretum Foundation.