The Tecovas Foundation

A family foundation writes a new chapter of the family legacy after the deaths of its generous founder and two family trustees.

“I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, went to Kent State University, and majored in history and political science,” says 25-year-old Mary Galeti, Vice Chair of the $11-million Tecovas Foundation. “My focus ended up being ‘revolution in neocolonialist Europe.’”

“So that totally set me up for philanthropy,” she says.

The Tecovas Foundation was created in 1998 by Galeti’s grandmother, philanthropist Caroline Bush Emeny, with a single purpose: to establish the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in Amarillo, Texas.

“She wanted to build a performing arts center as her lasting legacy,” says Galeti. “She always thought the arts were an easily overlooked means to growth and development.”

Amarillo had been a home to the family since Galeti’s great-grandfather worked with Joseph Glidden to patent barbed wire and, in 1881, helped create the Frying Pan Ranch outside Amarillo to boost publicity for his invention. In 1898, Glidden passed the land on to his son-in-law William Henry Bush. The ranch included the freshwater Tecovas Spring, which Emeny, Bush’s daughter, eventually took for her foundation’s name.

In 1998, Emeny made a multimillion-dollar gift to begin building the center for the performing arts. The amount is still undisclosed but is reputed to be the largest charitable gift in Amarillo history. Emeny, and her daughter Mary then spearheaded a multi-million dollar fundraising campaign for the center. Sadly, Emeny died in 2001, five years before the center opened its doors with a performance hall that bears her name.

The other part of Emeny’s legacy—the Tecovas Foundation—was thus in the hands of her children and grandchildren. Unfortunately, tragedy soon struck again, when the family lost both Galeti’s mother Caroline Emeny Taylor and aunt Ruth Emeny in 2004.

“Because the foundation was created for a singular purpose, there was a huge sense of ‘what do we do now?’” says Galeti.

“We went from having $750,000 to having about $11 million in the course of a few years,” she remembers. “We had to give away large amounts of money, and we had no infrastructure, no training to do that. I joined the board when I was 18 in 2000. The rest of my cousins followed shortly after. It is now four twenty-somethings, my stepdad Alex Taylor and my aunt Mary Emeny.”

“We thought, ‘Should we take on another large goal? Or should we hang on to it and think about it differently?’” Galeti remembers. “The general feeling was that we were too young to waste the opportunity to have a lasting impact over the long-term.”

The young board took on the task of writing the next chapters of the family’s philanthropic history, making commitments to the family’s home cities of Amarillo, Texas and Cleveland, Ohio, as well as a number of international organizations.

“My grandmother grew up in Chicago and Amarillo,” explains Galeti. “My grandfather grew up in Salem, outside of Cleveland, where they settled. My aunt Mary took her family to Amarillo. My family stayed in Cleveland.”

“We try to strike a balance in supporting the two cities in the different ways they seem to need our support,” says Galeti. “We’re more likely to invest in economic development and food banks in Cleveland, and in education and after-school programs in Amarillo.”

“We also do some international work, a particular interest of my aunt and cousins,” she says. “Most of the international work that we do is about integrating the global economy.”

Galeti understands the maxim “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.”

“But you don’t need to teach people how to fish,” Galeti explains. “They know how to fish. The problem is the barbed wire around the lake.”

The Hunger Project, which takes a bottom-up approach to empowering women and men to end their own hunger, and the Women’s Trade and Finance Council, which seeks to influence trade policy to foster women’s inclusion, are two grantees that illustrate the Tecovas approach.

“We’re hoping for more boots on the ground to end hunger and encourage trade and for change in policy at the top to integrate that trade into the global economy,” says Galeti. “We’re pretty excited about the direction it’s taking.”

“We’re still feeling our way through the process,” Galeti acknowledges. That’s why she attended a symposium on family philanthropy the National Center held in Cleveland earlier this year.

“It was good to hear that others were having the same discussions we were, that others had the same insecurities and were butting heads the same way.”

Like many family foundations, Tecovas grapples with the challenges of creating strategy and focus amid the sometimes tumultuous dynamics of family.

“We’re all so young, and our interests are constantly changing,” says Galeti, pointing to the foundation’s reluctance to set up too much structure. “On the other hand, without any structure or focus, it feels like we’re not being as effective as we can be. It seems irresponsible to not to be as effective, as strategic as possible.”

“It’s a conflict of vision, and I’m not sure who’s right,” Galeti says. “We all have very different leadership styles, which I think is ultimately good for an organization but sometimes difficult.”

Like any family, it can be tough to get everyone on the same page, especially when it’s hard enough just to get everyone into the same state.

“One cousin just graduated, the other’s in med school, people are thinking about having children—we’re all over the place,” Galeti says. “Getting everybody in one state at the same time to sit down, focus, and really dedicate the energy to it is really hard. We try to meet in person once or twice a year for all kinds of family business, including the foundation.”

The effort, as many giving families soon discover, is certainly worth it. Caroline Bush Emeny’s legacy and that of her daughters can be heard in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts and in the good-natured teasing of board members who love to interrupt each other. It can be seen in a family’s common commitment to cutting through the red tape and barbed wire that keeps people in need and in a new generation of philanthropic leaders at the Tecovas Foundation.

“Family philanthropy is more than writing checks and site visits,” says Galeti. “It’s about volunteering, and finding the intangible ways of supporting your community. It’s more than buying a table at the benefit. It’s about offering to write a letter of support. It’s about reaching out to friends. It’s about being an active member of the community. It’s about being a leader.”

Clash of the Generations

Mary Galeti, the 25-year-old Vice Chair of the $11-million Tecovas Foundation, contends that both the elder and the younger generations have something to learn when it comes to philanthropy.

“I think the older generation is very quick to assume that the next gen doesn’t have the skills to make good decisions,” she says. “I think the next gen often assumes that the older generation can’t think innovatively. We all need to be willing to listen.”

Rather than emphasizing an intergenerational transfer of wealth, Galeti believes foundations should seize the opportunity for a multigenerational dialogue.

“The biggest challenge is that next gens are thinking, ‘They don’t get it – it’s all about us now.’ And I don’t think that’s true. We’re in a really fortunate place where there gets to be all this dialogue about what we’ve learned and what others have learned and are thinking. And we’ll be much more prepared for the next step for having had that dialogue.”

Working with Families

While giving in Amarillo, Cleveland, and internationally, the Tecovas Foundation is based in Philadelphia, the home of the corporate trustee, Glenmede Trust Company. The foundation’s treasurer, Glenmede’s Janet Havener, is headquartered out of the Cleveland, Ohio office.

As the young foundation went about defining a flexible mission and set of procedures for grantmaking, it relied on the assistance and resources of Glenmede and other philanthropic groups and associations.

“We’ve been introduced to the National Center for Family Philanthropy, the Council on Foundations, and the Ohio Grantmakers Forum,” says Galeti. “We’ve been on this quest for information and better procedure, and they’ve been invaluable resources.”

Working with families, though, can be tough, Galeti acknowledges, noting the challenges in store for organizations that support giving families like hers.

“Be prepared to get dragged into all kinds of family drama,” she warns. “Be prepared for issues totally unrelated to the business or the philanthropy to crop up.”

“If you’re going to be involved with family philanthropy, you’re going to have to play a number of roles,” she says. “You have to play the confidant but draw boundaries, too. You’ll have to learn when to say no and step out of things, and when to step in and negotiate. It’s tough.”