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Wofford honors courage, service of Sandor Teszler

Friday, March 17, 2006

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – While the late Sandor Teszler’s physical presence no longer graces the Wofford College campus, his legacy remains and the character that was reflected in his life is recognized with the creation of the Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind.

The award 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, made possible by Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix Corp.

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; instead, 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 an honorary 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.”

A convocation is planned for 11 a.m. Thursday, April 20, to present the inaugural Sandor Teszler Award for Moral Courage and Service to Humankind. Further details will be available as plans are finalized.