Generational Giving

The Tello family, of Bismarck, has faced the heartache of watching four loved ones deal with breast cancer. Now, through gifts to the Builders of Excellence Endowment Campaign (, that cross two generations, they hope to make a difference for other families in the future.

Dr. Ron and Joyce Tello both lost their mothers to the disease. Barbara Saba, Joyce’s mother, was diagnosed in 1977 and elected to use experimental treatments during her 10-year battle. “She fought it and appreciated the latest medical technology for that time,” Joyce said.

Bertha Tello, Dr. Tello’s mother, had a more difficult experience. After her diagnosis six years ago at the age of 81, she struggled with chemotherapy and died one year later.

Joyce’s brother, Duane Saba, dealt with breast cancer, too, after it metastasized from his colon, lungs and eventually his brain. “I’ve never seen anyone fight as hard as he did,” Joyce said.

The most recent family member diagnosed was Penny Skjerseth, the mother of Dr. Tello’s son-in-law, Brent Skjerseth. She is currently in remission.

“Almost everyone knows someone or is related to someone who has had breast cancer,” said Dr. Christina Tello-Skjerseth, Dr. Tello’s daughter. “I don’t think there’s enough awareness as far as how to detect it. I think educating people on how simple it is to get your mammogram and how important these technologies are to our community would be impactful.”

Their family experiences with the disease prompted both couples to establish named endowments through the Sanford Health Foundation in Bismarck to provide on-going, permanent support for breast cancer patients at Sanford Bismarck.

Dr. Ron and Joyce Tello pledged $100,000 to create the Dr. Ronald and Joyce Tello Endowment for Sanford’s Breast Cancer Program at the Bismarck Cancer Center in memory of their mothers. Dr. Tello-Skjerseth and Brent Skjerseth dedicated $50,000 to establish the Dr. Christina Tello and Brent Skjerseth Endowment for Sanford Radiology Breast Imaging.

“The fund will continue to grow. It will not disappear. It will be there forever,” Dr. Tello said.

In addition to demonstrating their commitment to breast cancer, the families took advantage of the Sanford Health Foundation’s historic Builders of Excellence Endowment Campaign, a $20 million matching gifts campaign designed to double donors’ investments.

“After hearing what the campaign entailed, we thought it would be better to make an everlasting impact instead of a one-time gift,” Dr. Tello-Skjerseth said.

Brent agreed. “This is a great opportunity with the matching program,” he said. “The time to do it is right now, especially if people have the means to do so.”

In addition, both couples also benefited from the North Dakota charitable income tax credit. This special incentive, for donors to charitable endowments in the state, provides a tax credit of 40 percent of the charitable deduction allowed by the IRS.

“That just seems so incredibly powerful,” Joyce said. “We can leave a lasting legacy for our mothers, have it matched, plus get this wonderful tax credit from the state of North Dakota. All of those things were great incentives.”

An additional incentive, for all of these donors, was giving back to their hometown of Bismarck.

“It’s something we were brought up with,” Dr. Tello-Skjerseth said. “To me, it means donating your time, energy and money, if possible, back to the community and to the people who helped shape who you are.”

Contributing to Sanford Health was an easy decision, too. Many Tello family members have worked in the health system in Bismarck in the last 60 years.

“It’s something I’ve always known I wanted to come back and be a part of that tradition and legacy,” she said.

For more information about the Builders of Excellence Endowment Campaign, and leaving your own legacy on health care, visit or call the Sanford Health Foundation at (701) 323-8450.

Posted Date: November 2013

Generational Giving

The Tello family, of Bismarck, has faced the heartache of watching four loved ones deal with breast cancer.