Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Founder of Room to Read to receive Teszler Award

Wood to speak, receive honorary degree Thursday, Feb. 9

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John J. Wood, founder and board co-chair of Room to Read, will be signing his book, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children,” following the 11 a.m. Sandor Teszler Award Convocation on Thursday, Feb. 9.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – John J. Wood, founder and board co-chair of Room to Read, a global organization dedicated to promoting and enabling education through programs focused on literacy and gender equality in education, will receive the Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind and an honorary degree from Wofford on Thursday, Feb. 9, during a special convocation at the college.

Wood will be the featured speaker at the 11 a.m. convocation honoring him, to be held in Leonard Auditorium in Wofford’s Main Building. The event will be free and open to the public. 

“Like Jacqueline Novogratz, one of his longtime friends and also a recipient of the Sandor Teszler Award, John Wood honed his skills in the high-intensity forge of global business and technology, a realm that demands both unfailing creativity and inexhaustible energy,” says Wofford President Benjamin B. Dunlap. “The actual scale of his contributions to the children of the developing world is staggering, but, even after a decade and a half, his commitment hasn’t flagged. As so many have discovered, it’s virtually impossible to encounter John without wanting to join his cause because, in a way he makes convincingly clear, his cause is truly ours.” 

Wood will be signing copies of his award-winning memoir, “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur’s Odyssey to Educate the World’s Children,” immediately following the convocation from noon to 12:30 p.m. in the lobby outside Leonard Auditorium. 

“I am honored to be the recipient of the esteemed Sandor Teszler Award, commemorating an inspiring mobilizer of social change,” Wood says. “Sandor Teszler’s legacy resonates deeply with me and lives on in Room to Read’s mission to transform the lives of millions of children through education.” 

The Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind represents the highest ideals that the Wofford community espouses, and it carries with it an honorary degree, a citation and a $10,000 cash award. 

Room to Read is committed to the ideal that “World Change Starts with Educated Children®,” and seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education.

At age 35, Wood left an executive career track at Microsoft Corp. to form Room to Read. His “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” (Harper Collins, 2006) tells how he raised more than $125 million from a “standing start” to develop one of the fastest-growing non-profit organizations in history. The book was described by Publishers’ Weekly, in a starred review, as “an infectiously inspiring read.” Translated into 21 languages, it is popular with entrepreneurs, philanthropists and educators alike. It was selected by as one of the Top Ten Business Narratives of 2006 by Hudson Booksellers. The book also was featured during Wood’s appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the resulting “Oprah’s Book Drive” with Room to Read raised more than $1 million from viewers.

Wood holds a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Colorado, and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the University of San Francisco.

Room to Read recently launched its Charlotte, N.C., chapter, the only one in the Carolinas. Local chapters are composed of individuals who have made a long-term volunteer commitment to promoting the organization within their networks and communities, according to its website ( Chapters organize annual fundraising events; introduce Room to Read to potential corporate, foundation and individual supporters; and act as representatives for the organization within their geographic areas.

The organization also has a youth action group, Students Helping Students, focused on building a global network of students to support Room to Read.

Previous recipients of the Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind are Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of the philanthropic organization Acumen Fund; the late Vernon Baker, who at the time he received the award was the only living black recipient of the Medal of Honor for valor during World War II; Dr. Paul Farmer, medical anthropologist, physician and founding director of the international charity organization Partners in Health; and Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman.

Sandor Teszler was born in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, where he was ostracized from childhood not so much because he was a Jew, but because he was afflicted with club feet that required many painful operations. He is said to have loved music, especially opera, from an early age. Later in life, he befriended his fellow exile, composer Bela Bartok.

During World War II, a successful businessman in textiles, Teszler and his family – his wife and two sons – were taken to a death house on the Danube, where victims were systematically beaten to death. They were prepared to die, prepared to take a poison capsule that would allow them to escape further torture, but they were saved when one of their tormentors inexplicably advised them not to take the pills, saying “Help is on the way.” Shortly thereafter, they were rescued by an official from the Swiss embassy.

Coming to the Carolinas, Teszler again joined the textile industry, and was one of the first to desegregate his mills.

In the last decade of his life, Teszler graced the Wofford campus, “attending so many classes that the faculty, acknowledging a wisdom and experience greater than their own, honored themselves by making him a professor,” Wofford President Benjamin B. Dunlap wrote in a tribute to Teszler that appeared in the Charlotte Observer in August 2000.

To Wofford students, Teszler was known simply as “Opi,” Hungarian for “grandfather.” The college library bears his name.

“With the Sandor Teszler Award, we seek to commemorate the life and career of Sandor Teszler, who was for many years associated with Wofford and who in his own life and career embodied the ideals of the award being made in his name,” Dunlap says. “We also seek to celebrate the contributions of a figure of both national and international renown. It is our intention to assure that everyone in the Wofford College community is fully aware of the recipient’s achievement. The faculty will process in full academic regalia, and the honoree will address the college as the main speaker for this occasion.”

Watch Wofford’s President Benjamin B. Dunlap as he talks about the “Passionate Life” of the late Sandor Teszler at the Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) Conference in 2007.