Investing in people: The Shackelford Philosophy

issue 02 | spring 2023
Teckie and Don Shackelford at their home in Naples, Florida

Adam Mallinger ’02 recalls the exact date of his life-altering moment — the day he received a letter from Denison notifying him of his full scholarship through an endowment from Teckie ’56 and Don ’54 Shackelford.

“March 18, 1998,” he says. “It was a Wednesday.”

Mallinger discovered a love for cinema in his four years at Denison and followed several classmates to Los Angeles after graduation. He’s now a staff writer for the television series Superman & Lois, and a co-author of a 2022 comic book on the same subject.

Twenty-five years after receiving his Denison scholarship, he mailed the Shackelford’s a copy of the comic book with an inscription on the cover:

For Teckie & Don,

You gave me Denison and Denison gave me everything since! Thank you!

Adam Mallinger ’02

Not all heroes wear capes. Even someone who propagates the legend of Superman knows that to be true of the Shackelfords.

Mallinger is one of more than 340 students who have earned full or partial scholarships in their name since 1994. The Shackelfords’ benevolence is also evident in support of multiple capital projects, including Reese-Shackelford Common, the spacious lobby inside the Michael D. Eisner Center for Performing Arts, the president’s residence, and the Martha Grace Reese Miller Garden in honor of Teckie’s mother.

But Mallinger and other scholarship recipients, ones who remain in contact with the family, said the financial support is only a fraction of what endears the Shackelfords to so many Denisonians. It’s the investment of time, mentorship, and ingenuity that former students mention when discussing Teckie and Don.

“It’s one thing to give money,” says Rev. William J. Harris ’74. “It’s another to invest in people. That’s what the Shackelfords do.”

Lasting connections

Don Shackelford is sitting in a Naples, Florida, condo, describing how he met Teckie at Denison, when he’s interrupted by the sound of a barking dog.

It creates momentary confusion for two visitors who notice that the family canines, Rusty and Mayzie, are dozing on the sofa.

“That’s Teckie’s phone,” Don says. “She loves animals, and that’s her ringtone.”

There are times when Don must feel like he lives in a kennel. With nearly 5,000 contacts, Teckie’s phone is forever barking,

At this moment, good friends Ann and Thomas Hoaglin — ’71 graduates whose names adorn the new Denison wellness center — are calling. Minutes later, it’s a campus administrator confirming the date for the Shackelfords’ annual dinner for current scholarship recipients.

“I swear my mother has everyone’s number in the whole world,” their daughter Amy Louis says. “A lot of people grow isolated as they grow older. Not my parents. They love talking to people and getting to know them.”

Teckie began this March day with a visit to several Naples banks looking to open college savings accounts for three Serbian children — daughters of a restaurant manager whose bistro sits adjacent to the Shackelfords’ snowbird condo. She sometimes pays the girls $5 to walk Rusty and Mayzie through the boutique-lined streets of the resort town situated on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

In Teckie’s mind, it’s never too early to start recruiting for Denison.

“Denison connections last forever,” she says, flashing her 1,000-watt smile. “Most of our best friends are still the ones we met there.”

Life on The Hill

Seated in their condo living room, Teckie playfully puts her husband of 67 years on the spot in front of visitors.

“It wasn’t love at first sight for you, was it?” “No,” Don says. “I thought you were a pleasant person.”

“He pursued me because I was dating a Sigma Chi named Tom Skidmore ’54 and Don was a Phi Gamma Delta. It was a competitive thing.”

“Tom Skidmore probably had the best grades in our class among the boys,” Don says.

“I think the only reason you were interested in me,” Teckie says, “is because you wanted to beat out Tom Skidmore.”

Fellow Denison alums say Don, a former university trustee of 36 years, was destined for success. They described him as whip smart and witty. Don co-hosted a campus radio show with Brad MacKimm ’54 and future U.S. senator Dick Lugar ’54.

The Shackelfords married in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1956, with Don already serving as an Air Force lieutenant and Teckie finishing her schooling at Denison.

Don’s dry sense of humor colors his memories of their big day.

“The minister was wearing muddy gardening shoes,” he says. “The people of Falmouth were so impressed we got married in their church that they sold it a few years later and turned it into a liquor store.”

Philanthropic origins

Long before Don made his fortune in the financial sector and Teckie built her reputation in educational services, the Shackelfords learned the importance of giving back and paying forward.

Teckie’s parents, Everett and Gay Reese, were revered figures in Licking County for their community outreach and largesse.

David Reese ’62, the younger brother of Teckie and another prominent Denison benefactor, recalls his father’s favorite expression.

“There are three great things about money — making it, spending it, and giving it away,” David says. “Ingrained in us was a feeling of appreciation for what our parents had done for us and others.”

“I have been a champion for the underdog all my life. I’m for anybody who’s gotten a rotten deal.”

Teckie grew up on the Denison campus under the big blue tent where legendary professor Ed Wright staged his Denison Summer Theatre productions. Her mother was the business manager, and her family was the primary financial backer of summer shows that ran from 1947 to 1963.

After spending one year at Wheelock College in Boston, Teckie decided to come home.

“Denison was a highlight of my life, and so when I was ready to transfer, it was at the top of my list,” she says. “Plus, I had been in girls’ schools for four years and co-ed sounded good.”

Teckie never considered herself an exceptional student, but she understood the value of education. She taught junior high in Columbus, Ohio, and founded School Selection Counseling to assist students and their parents in choosing colleges and preparatory schools.

She also became a driving force for I Know I Can, a program that ensures every qualified Columbus City Schools graduate gets a chance to attend college.

“I cannot stop when I see inequality,” Teckie says. “I have been a champion for the underdog all my life. I’m for immigrants, I’m for people of color, I’m for anybody who’s gotten a rotten deal.”

While the Shackelfords have donated money and time to many institutions, their first love is Denison. What they needed, however, was a person in power who shared their vision.

In 2016, they found their man.

Going all in

President Adam Weinberg had been on the job for about three years when Teckie walked into his office in 2016 to pitch an idea.

The Shackelfords had been funding several full-tuition scholarships a year at Denison, but they wanted to expand educational access for Columbus students with financial needs.

“For years I had been trying to explain to universities in Ohio how important it was to give free scholarships to students,” Teckie says. “Nobody was listening to me until Adam came along. I will never forget sitting in his office and Adam saying, ‘I think we can do something here.’”

The meeting launched the Denison-Columbus Alliance in partnership with “I Know I Can.” The program enables up to 20 students from Columbus City Schools to receive a full-tuition scholarship to attend Denison each year.

In 2023, the Shackelfords established plans to create a $21 million endowment to keep the Columbus to Denison pipeline flowing.

“Adam has made an enormous difference in my feelings about Denison and my attitude toward giving to it,” Teckie says.

The I Know I Can partnership is one of four Denison scholarship programs funded by the Shackelfords. Currently, 84 students have scholarships from one of these programs.

It’s not just the quantity that thrills Teckie — it’s the quality of students Denison is producing. In 2021, three of the eight President’s Medalists (Maxwell Curtin, Jacqueline Figueroa, and Sara Abou Rashed) were Shackelford scholars. Ray Walker continued the trend in 2022.

“We knew the potential of these students,” Teckie says. “They just keep knocking it out of the park.”

Goodwill hunting

Several years ago, Teckie’s daughter Amy received a frantic call from her mother. A former Shackelford scholar was interviewing for a job the next day and Teckie needed to buy her a dress and have it shipped overnight.

Amy explained the logistical hurdles involved before introducing Teckie to the world of Venmo.

“Denison is like a spider web of connections for my parents,” Amy says. “I’ve got two siblings, but it feels like I’ve got hundreds of other step siblings because of how involved they are in the students’ lives.”

For the Shackelfords, it’s about more than hosting annual dinner parties for scholarship recipients and attending commencements.

They have invited students to their central Ohio home and used their network of acquaintances to help in job searches.

“Teckie is the truth and the light of my world,” says Cierra King ’20, who frequently speaks with Teckie and occasionally dines with her. “That’s a little lady with a big heart.”

Mitchell Tijerina ’18 and Benjamin Keller ’16 wanted to make a documentary on how the natural world influences the art, culture, and spirituality of communities in Peru, but lacked the funding. The Shackelfords learned of the project and donated money and then called some of Teckie’s 4,696 iPhone contacts, directing them to the duo’s Kickstarter account.

The six-part documentary, La Gente De La Tierra, is making the rounds at film festivals.

“I’m constantly amazed by their interest in my life,” Tijerina says.

Tima Kaba ’19 tells of how Teckie helped pay her moving expenses to relocate to Naples, where she works as a clinical research specialist. When Kaba’s uninsured mother developed back pains, the Shackelfords footed the bill for therapy.

“Teckie is an angel who walks among us,” Kaba says.

Adam Mallinger, the writer of Superman & Lois, works in Hollywood, and when it comes to the Shackelfords, he references one of its greatest films.

“It’s like at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life,” Mallinger says. “All the townspeople are telling George Bailey what he did for them over the years.

“I’m staggered by the number of students the Shackelfords have helped. Think about the lives they have touched and multiply that by the generations to come. They have put a lot of goodwill out into the world.”

Published June 2023
Back to top