Friends, family, students and coworkers gathered Thursday morning to celebrate the life of Ralph Behnke and to share stories of the professor’s love for both teaching and learning.
Behnke, who passed away in his home Saturday, May 7, was a communication studies professor at TCU for 35 years, a professor emeritus, and a recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Distinguished Research. He studied at the University of Missouri and University of Wisconsin and received his Ph.D from the University of Kansas.
Though Behnke specialized in the study of speech anxiety, former student and officiator of the service Rev. Rob Morris said the professor had never had any personal hesitations about speaking his mind. Those who knew him recalled his willingness to share his experience and wisdom with everyone around him.
“”In the College of Communication he was given the nickname ‘the Godfather,'”” Morris said, “”but in a good way.””
He was always willing to mentor his colleagues and assist with research, imparting his wisdom as the fifth ranked researcher for productivity for publications in the Communication Studies academic journals in the nation.
His sister, Marilyn Shank, said Behnke had done his best to impart his knowledge on her as well, starting with his insistence that she take part in his love of ham radio. He pushed her to learn to operate one and eventually installing an antenna on her house in Independence, Mo. aimed straight toward Fort Worth.
Shank said her brother was also passionate about continued education. Shank’s husband, John, had two years of college when they married, but didn’t have the grade point average to go back to school and finish. Behnke found a junior college for him to attend, and posed as John on registration day because the couple was on vacation. John raised his grades, finished his undergraduate degree and went on to get his master’s.
Morris said that Behnke inspired his students as though they were an extension of his family. He revealed notes that he had held onto from Behnke’s class more than 20 years ago. He said Behnke believed that education was the key to moving forward both as individuals and as a country.
Behnke was the “”manifestation of wisdom,”” Morris said.
The service was followed with a graveside service at Greenwood Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, it was requested that donations be made to the Ralph Behnke Student Scholarship Fund.