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Obituary: Computer pioneer William “Bill” Behnk, 87, was IT historian for the Legislature

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 15, 2014 - 10:38 pm

William “Bill” Behnk, a pioneering computer expert who helped develop and implement information technology systems for the California Legislature, died April 8 with prostate cancer, his family said. He was 87.

Mr. Behnk dedicated more than half a century to advancing the role of technology in democratic government. Since 1983, he worked at the Legislative Data Center, where IT professionals develop and maintain software, databases, personal computers, servers and other technology used by Capitol lawmakers and staff. The center, which is a branch of the Legislative Counsel’s Office, also maintains a public website for information about legislation, www.leginfo.ca.gov.

Widely respected for his broad knowledge of technology and the legislative process, Mr. Behnk served as a liaison between the Legislature and technical experts at the data center. An enthusiastic man who loved talking about complex IT systems in simple terms, he led tours of dignitaries and discussed the applications of technology in government at the data center’s office in downtown Sacramento.

Mr. Behnk, who began working in California state government in 1966, was revered by colleagues as the unofficial historian of automation of the Legislature. The computer room at the Legislative Data Center was named in his honor in 2012. A devoted public servant, he worked as legislative information system coordinator at the center until he was hospitalized last December at 86.

“He was the person you wanted to (lead) your tour,” said Dana Callison, deputy director of member offices division. “He made it a colorful experience. He had so many relationships with people in the Legislature and here, and he just loved to work.”

William Edwin Behnk was born Feb. 9, 1927, in Rochester, N.Y. He joined the Army in 1944 and was a writer for the official newspaper of the U.S. military government in occupied Berlin after World War II.

He earned a zoology degree and a master’s degree in education from Syracuse University, taught high school science and was an administrator in New York. He adapted punch card computer systems to score student tests, and in 1961 he became one of the first data processing specialists at New York Department of Education.

He moved to California in 1963 and worked at the Sacramento County Office of Education before joining the state Legislative Analyst’s Office. He was chief adviser to the Legislature on the use of computers and systems development in the state executive branch, and he worked with the executive branch officials on Y2K technology issues in 2000.

Mr. Behnk was widely recognized in the public-sector IT community. He was an executive committee member of the National Council of State Legislatures and was honored in 1998 by the National Association of Legislative Information Technology. He worked in Peru and Uganda as a consultant to the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Until 2006, he taught business information courses for 30 years at Golden Gate University campuses in Sacramento and at Beale Air Force Base. He was honored by the university as outstanding teacher in 1983.

An Arden Arcade resident, he was a lifelong trumpeter who played for an American Legion band and other groups. He enjoyed reading and listening to many types of music, from band concerts to opera.

“He was also a very fine ballroom dancer,” said Jennifer Franz, his wife of 35 years. “That was one of the reasons I married him.”

Besides his wife, Mr. Behnk is survived by two children from a previous marriage – daughter, Jennifer Mainini, and son, Gregory – and a granddaughter.

A service is set for 10 a.m. May 10 at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, 2140 Mission Ave., Carmichael. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Cancer Center Services Fund of Sutter Medical Center Foundation, or to St. Michael’s Episcopal Church.


Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.

Read more articles by Robert D. Dávila



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