A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

A Tribute the Tellepsen Family [VIDEO]

Editor’s note: The following remarks were presented by Pat Kiley at the SER-Jobs for Progress 50th Anniversary “Building Our Workforce” Gala on Oct 16, 2015.

In his current New York Times bestseller, The Road to Character, heralded author, David Brooks, reprinted this quote: “What people of character say about themselves, is the smallest part of what people of character give of themselves.  People of character let their actions and their behaviors make their statements.”  And by this standard, the family that we honor here tonight – this Tellepsen Family; these second-, third-, and fourth-generation descendants of immigrants from Norway; this family of demonstrated character by this high standard – is writing a body of work equal to any of the great literary or symphonic achievements.

It is evident that they have been given a strong value-based foundation, values of faith, family, service to others and learning.  It is also evident that they have been exhorted since their earliest days to “be involved with something bigger than themselves” and to “give when they did not have so they would be sure to give when they did.”  It is abundantly clear, that they both heard and embraced the Biblical passage, “to whom much is given, much is expected.”

I want to quickly mention four signature characteristics of this family, before we see a really wonderful video prepared by the SER and Tellepsen teams.

First, they are Gutsy.  Now surely Brave or Courageous would be more socially appropriate and more refined words, but Gutsy/Agalludo (Spanish for Bold, Daring), while much more raw, is also much more accurate.  Tom Tellepsen left Norway at 14 as a cabin boy on a ship.  He then became a carpenter on the Panama Canal Project, and like almost all the workers there, he was struck by the epidemic of Malaria.  One night in the hospital tent, he heard this chilling declarative form the doctor, “Tellepsen is a goner.”  Next he felt the sheet pulled over his head.  The next morning, he reported for work, his fever having broken during the night!

Then about 65 years later, in a fluke accident in Michigan where a furnace exploded, his grandson Howard was burned over 60 percent of his body – 30 percent of those were third degree burns.  He stayed alive by saying his Prayer of Faith and following his survival instincts.  It was touch-and-go in ICU for several weeks, and 20 full-blown surgeries were required to do all the skin grafts.  He is here with us tonight.  Neither man ever felt the victim as a result of these incredible ordeals.  Rather both lived as if spared for a purpose.

Second, they are Generous with their time, talent and treasure.  Four generations of this family have been involved with the YMCA, The Boy Scouts, and The Episcopal Church.  Two generations with the Port of Houston – their dad was the Chairman of the Port for fourteen years and Tommy now serves as a board member of the Seafarers Center.  Two generations with the Texas Medical Center Institutions – Howard’s dad was the founding chairman of The Institute for Religion and Howard is now on the Catholic Health Initiatives Board.  Both his dad and now Howard serve on boards at Georgia Tech University, and Tadd will soon join his great grandfather, his grandfather, and his dad as the first fourth-generation president of the Houston Chapter AGC.

Third, they are Gracious.  If you have ever met a Tellepsen, of any generation, you have not only felt acknowledged and engaged, you have also felt respected, valued and honored.  You leave the exchange elevated.  While this is a strong characteristic of the entire family, the deepest well source of all of it was June Learned Tellepsen – Howard, Tommy, and Karen’s mother – who passed away a few years ago.  She was a most remarkable lady, and she set the absolute model for how truly important people act.

Fourth and finally, they are Gifted.  Because of their leadership and business gifts, they have a company that for over 100 years has been providing jobs to thousands of families – jobs where people can go to work knowing that they work in a safe environment, and can take pride that the company always follows the highest ethical standards because it is founded on values and long-term thinking.

Howard ended his recent talk to the Center for Christianity with this great Churchill quote, “You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give.”  This family has not only made a life for themselves but for many other Houstonians by what they give.  They have certainly given a wonderful model for all of us to follow.

Watch the following 4½-minute video about the Tellepsen family which was shown at the SER event following Kiley’s tribute.