“Bill Teska was known for living his life for others—investing in the service of others, and seeing the worth, honor, and value of others,” recalls Eva Frey, the Dean of Students at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU).
Eva met Bill in 2000 at PLU, and they soon bonded over their shared passion for diversity and LGBTQ advocacy.
Bill, a two-time Fulbright scholar, immersed himself in social justice communities at PLU and Oasis Youth Center, a Pierce County community outreach and education center for LGBTQ youth. He also served on Pride Foundation scholarship and grants committees, and the Puget Creek Restoration Society.
In all of this work, Bill sought to support those who felt isolated or different. Growing up gay in rural Idaho, he had experiences of what it felt like as an outsider. This led to his holistic approach to philanthropy. Eva explains that he didn’t see philanthropy as a tax break or a financial transaction, but as an investment in people and communities. The support that he offered his mentees, students, and friends was an extension of his personal philosophy of ensuring that every person knew that they mattered.
When Eva thinks about the kind of human Bill was, she thinks of his students. Eva remembers one student who worked closely with Bill during their time at PLU—a first-generation immigrant student and the first in their family to go to college. This student was up for the Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship in Washington D.C., and Bill took them under his wing. The two met weekly to talk about the skills needed to be successful, from how to dress, interview skills, and even how to navigate the transportation system in D.C. Eva explains that not many mentors would carve out the time to work with mentees on this detailed a level, while also allowing the grace and space for every student to be the best they can be.
Eva reflects, “Bill had high expectations, but offered a high level of support. And he did not want anyone to feel othered because they lack access.”
Those who had the opportunity to work with him know of his “Teska-isms”, as students called them. A common example was: “You only go around once,” a mantra that influenced many, including Emily Steelquist, a graduate of PLU, who studied with him in Ecuador for a semester. Bill also frequently asked, “Why aren’t people rising to this occasion?” in order to challenge students, friends, and the community to question their roles in society.
With his generous bequest to Pride Foundation, Bill Teska created two scholarships named after his two beloved friends, Robert Eugene Rosenberg and Silvia Maria Ybarra Echeverry, called the Rosenberg-Ybarra Scholarship and Rosenberg-Ybarra Humanitarian Endowment. Bill understood the importance of creating an impact during his lifetime and supporting that vision through a lasting legacy.
Bill thrived on opportunities to educate, mentor, and be an advocate. Eva reflects, “Every day is a gift, and there are people who are going to make an impact with every one of those days. Bill was truly one of those people.”
Jonathan Adams is Pride Foundation’s Community Engagement Manager. Email Jonathan.