“This is our goal and purpose…” The story of the Tello family
The story of the Tello family – Francisco and Bertha and their ten children – is an All-American story. There’s a first generation father, a mother raised on a farm in the Midwest, musical children, a focus on education, a dozen people sharing two bathrooms, and success through hard work. It’s also a love story with “Mama” and “Papa” Tello at the heart of it.
Bertha and Francisco met as students at Central College in Pella, Iowa, in 1943. She was a music major from southern Minnesota. He came from Panama on a scholarship. She tutored him in English. They fell in love and married, eventually bringing their growing family to Bismarck when Francisco, a bacteriologist, became the head of the laboratory at St. Alexius Hospital.
In a tribute book written after Bertha’s death in 2008, Francisco writes of a visit home and his ailing father’s request that he bring his family to Panama and take over the family ranch. After much thought, Francisco and Bertha declined. Francisco remembered telling his father that the couple had a different dream for their children.
“We want to raise them and educate them in the United States. We want to help them receive a good education in whatever field they want to study. We want them to become professionals and be good and respected citizens to serve the community where we live. This is our goal and purpose in life for our family.”
“RECEIVE A GOOD EDUCATION”
Nine of the 10 Tellos graduated from Bismarck High School, and all 10 attended what was then Bismarck Junior College (BJC) in pursuit of the “good education” desired by their parents. Most went on to earn additional degrees.
Francisco encouraged his brood to pursue a career in healthcare where he said the need is great and a job guaranteed. They listened. All but one works in the medical field. Bob, Tim, Tony, Francisco (Chico) and Ron are doctors, Kathy is a nurse, Carmen a nurse practitioner, Rick spent 42 years in laboratory management, and Judy is a retired cytotechnologist. While John, an accountant, didn’t go into healthcare, he did work for a time in medical insurance.
With a Tello (or future Tello) nearly continuously enrolled at BJC/BSC from 1965 through 1989, the college felt like an extension of the family Ron says. They knew the professors, and the professors knew them.
That familiarity came in handy for Ron whose full-time job often conflicted with his chemistry lab. The professors gave him a key to Schafer Hall, so at night and on weekends he could let himself into the building, do the lab experiments and study.
“Then I’d go down to the auditorium and watch [future wife] Joyce sing.”
This was in the late sixties – the era of BJC theatre and music legends Jane Grey Stewart, Gilbert Gervais and Elmer Schook. Several of the Tellos were involved in theatre, choir and
orchestra – Joyce was a friend, classmate and cast mate to the Tello siblings.
Joyce notes of BJC at that time, “We had the personal closeness with our instructors, and it was affordable. We could stay home, and work while we went to school. It made it easier to get
“Instructors like [Don] Bigwood, Francis Elliot and Frank Koch gave us such a strong foundation,” Ron adds.
His siblings echo that sentiment. “I will always be thankful to BJC/BSC for their really excellent professors, instruction and tough exams,” says Bob, an internal medicine physician in Loveland, Colo.
Tony, an ICU physician, had a track scholarship and performed in the orchestra, choir and two musicals – including the lead in “George M”. “Those two years gave me a great foundation to prepare me for the next 11 years!”
Today, Ron’s daughter, Deanna Solhjem, helps a new generation of students find their feet as an assistant professor of Biology at BSC.
“When you give someone roots they get wings,” Joyce says. “And BSC can give you the educational roots you need to fly. Be good and respected citizens to serve the community where we live.”
For the whole family, giving back is part of life. This can be seen in their community mindedness and also their actions toward one another. Carman, who was adopted by the Tellos 40 years ago from Panama, travels there frequently to care for Francisco who returned to his homeland three years ago. All the siblings are engaged in their communities and good causes.
This year Ron and Joyce became co-chairs of the BSC Foundation Health Sciences Campaign, which will bring BSC’s health sciences programs from an off-campus location to a larger main campus facility and train more students in high-demand healthcare careers.
BSC president Dr. Larry C. Skogen asked them to get involved. “You can’t say no to Larry!” Joyce laughs. “He was so excited and so passionate. We felt exhilarated about the project. We’re training a workforce and there’s such a strong need for that.” Other Tello philanthropic efforts focus on the family matriarch. The Bertha Tello Nursery at Sanford Hospital in Bismarck honors her 30 years of work with babies in that unit.
Ron and Joyce also established an endowment in memory of Bertha and Joyce’s mother, Barbara Saba. Those proceeds support programs at the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Center and The Bismarck Cancer Center.
“OUR GOAL AND PURPOSE”
The Tello family’s contributions to their communities result from the goal set by Francisco and Bertha all those years ago and reflect Francisco’s thoughts when he wrote: “The beautiful dream that Bertha and I had for our family was accomplished with the help of God…The spirit of the family and Mama will continue to live and will be remembered forever.”