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Read to Succeed


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Ken Behring has lived the American dream. He rose from Depression-era poverty in rural Wisconsin to join the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. The developer of all things Blackhawk made history in 1999 by donating $100 million to the Smithsonian Institution. Though his life as a husband, a father of five, and a philanthropist was full, Behring says it lacked purpose. He now spends most of his time doing charity work. In his new book, Road to Purpose, he talks about the experiences that changed him and his desire to motivate others.

Diablo: What prompted you to write Road to Purpose?

Ken Behring: I think my quest for riches blinded me from seeing all that I might be missing in life. The journey to purpose isn’t difficult, and I only wish I had learned this lesson years ago. I hope my book serves to inspire others to volunteer, to do it today, and not wait until they are 70, as I did.

D: What do you credit with bringing purpose into your own life?

KB: Five years ago, as I was preparing to fly to Eastern Europe, a representative from Latter-day Saints Charities called and asked if I could deliver 15 tons of canned meat to refugees in Kosovo. I said, sure; I was going that way anyway. Then he asked if I could take a dozen wheelchairs to Romania. I did, and that trip changed my life. Before that experience, I never thought about how wheelchairs could transform a person’s life. When I returned home, I thought of little else.

D: Was there one person in particular who touched you?

KB: There have been many people whose stories have deeply touched me. In Third World countries, people with disabilities are often discarded, left in the back of rooms where their disabilities are hidden. A six-year-old girl in Hanoi had never been able to move on her own. When she first sat in her wheelchair, she broke into the biggest smile I’ve ever seen.

D: Has providing wheelchairs to those less fortunate become your mission?

KB: Yes. I started the Wheelchair Foundation to provide wheelchairs to people in underdeveloped countries. An estimated 100 to 130 million people worldwide need wheelchairs, though less than one percent own or have access to one. Delivering these wheelchairs changes my life in a way that’s hard to describe. We’re now in 133 countries, and I’m traveling 80 percent of the time.

D: You’ve always been a philanthropist. How is this different?

KB: There’s a big difference between writing checks and being personally involved. I’ve always donated to charitable causes, because I believe it’s the right thing to do, but I’ve never given from my heart like I do with this project. When you go out and get physically involved and give part of yourself, it’s the most amazing feeling. 

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