Years ago, at a blackjack table in the Austrian Alps, a chance encounter between an international lawyer and a student experiencing her first time abroad ignited a lifelong partnership that has spanned decades and reverberated across continents.
This scenario sounds like the premise of a film from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Imagine the sun glinting across a snowy mountain, two actors ready for their closeup. But rather than an orchestral sweep of music and cut to black, this story continues in Western Pennsylvania, resulting in profound improvements to the quality of life right here in Washington County thanks to one real couple.
When it comes to charitable impact, there is nothing fictitious about Dorothy and John Tecklenburg, the recipients of the 2023 Northrop Family Excellence Award for Community Philanthropy, presented by the Washington County Community Foundation.
The cinematic nature of the Tecklenburgs first meeting feels apropos given Dorothy’s twenty-year career as a producer, director, and writer. Meanwhile, John, a Vietnam Veteran, made his mark as a corporate lawyer traveling across the globe.
This work brought the Tecklenburgs to Beijing, China, where Dorothy became a project manager for the renovation of a Chinese orphanage, and the family volunteered with multiple organizations in the country.
Interestingly, it was a real movie classic that profoundly impacted the ways she views philanthropy.
With bright-eyed joy, Dorothy describes a scene in The Wizard of Oz when the Wizard, unable to pronounce the word philanthropy, coins the term Good-Deed-Doers.
“Anyone can do good,” she says. “Everyone can make the world a better place.”
John’s philosophy on humanitarianism and philanthropy finds its roots in his childhood. His father, a barber and mayor, gave his time by cutting the hair of children in orphanages.
“There was always an element of giving in any way you could,” John said. “We gave of our services and talents rather than our treasure.”
Dorothy echoes this sentiment, explaining how we underestimate our ability to positively impact the lives of others.
“You never know the ripple effects of the things you do for people,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how small a gesture, or whether you’re giving your time, talent, or only $5.”
Both Dorothy and John are members of the Rotary Club of Washington and participate in its multiple service projects. Dorothy serves on the boards of the Community Foundation and the Bradford House Historical Association. John serves on the boards of the Washington Bar Foundation and the Washington Symphony Orchestra. Together, they financially support dozens of local charities as well as a few international ones.
The Washington County Bar Association recently presented its Humanitarian Service Award to John, in great part for his service at the Literacy Council of Southwestern PA to help immigrants prepare for the Naturalization Test to become U.S. citizens.
Receiving the Northrop Family Excellence Award for Community Philanthropy is a full-circle moment for Dorothy and John, who were introduced to the Foundation in 2008 by Tom Northrop. The following year, Dorothy was nominated to the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
What advice does the couple have for individuals who want to assist their communities but aren’t sure where to start?
“Look to your passion,” Dorothy advises. “If you’re passionate about something, you can find a way to make that passion help the community.”