Oct 5, 2020

The Dutterers Aren’t Afraid to Share Their Story

Beacon Stories

Steve and Dot Dutterer have kind and approachable personalities that captivate everyone they meet. With their expansive network, and a lot of hard work and dedication over the past 19 years, Steve and Dot have raised more than $743,000 for the Foundation through the Baltimore VisionWalk.

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Westminster, Maryland residents Steve and Dot Dutterer both have kind and approachable personalities that captivate everyone they meet. With their expansive network of family and friends, and a lot of hard work and dedication over the past 19 years, Steve and Dot have raised more than $743,000 for the Foundation Fighting Blindness.

Steve, who is now 76 years old, was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) when he was just 21 years old. Steve had just finished business school and wanted to join the National Guard. But during his routine eye exam in basic training, the doctors diagnosed him with RP. Due to his diagnosis, Steve chose to take honorable medical discharge, even though at the time Steve felt like his eyesight wasn’t a problem. But a few years later, Steve finally went to the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute for testing where they told him he was going to go blind.

“They didn’t know if I would go blind in 6 months, 2 years, or later in life,” says Steve. “It was hard to hear, but soon after, Dot and I still got married and have been married for over 52 years.”

Don’t be afraid to share your story. Ask anyone and let them be the ones to say no, don’t say no for them.

Steve Dutterer

Now, Steve describes himself as not having any sight, and Dot found out she has congenital cataracts, which their two sons have as well, so visual impairments are very personal for the entire Dutterer family.

In 2000, Steve and Dot wanted to get involved in the vision loss/blindness community and found the Foundation Fighting Blindness when it was just a Maryland support group. They then started fundraising through a local Foundation regatta, called Sail for Sight.

In 2008, the Foundation had their first Baltimore VisionWalk and since then, Steve and Dot have participated every year.

“The VisionWalk is a fun time to get together with your family and friends, but also to catch up with others affected in the area that we’ve gotten to know over the years,” says Dot. “I love that people can come together for a common cause; the comradery is great.”

The Dutterer’s ‘Team Lancelot’ members wearing their team t-shirts in front of the VisionWalk balloon arch.

Each year, they participate as ‘Team Lancelot,’ named after the French Briard sheepdog that was used for research by Dr. Gustavo D. Aguirre, professor of medical genetics and ophthalmology at Penn Vet. Lancelot was the first dog to have his vision restored from a gene-therapy.

With that and much more as their inspiration, Steve and Dot started out their first year of fundraising for VisionWalk by only asking their close friends and family they knew well to contribute. But as time went on, their fundraising has grown into a letter writing campaign, sending out over 1,400 letters to family and friends, with the list continuing to grow the more people they meet.

Steve was the Director of Finance for the city of Westminster and Dot was the Assistant Principal for Westminster Elementary School for many years, so they both had jobs where they networked quite often. Now that they are both retired, they’re avid cruisers, meeting people from all over the world. Steve and Dot will ask anyone and everyone that they encounter. They even told their mailman why they were putting so many letters in the mail one year and now he’s one of their biggest contributors.

“Never assume someone doesn’t want to hear about your passions,” says Dot. “Think about who you come in contact with every day, even just when you’re at the doctors in the waiting room, you just never know who you’ll meet.”

As Steve and Dot meet someone new, they hand them a business card which explains that they are volunteers for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Dot also keeps a log with the name, address and notes on the people they meet.

“You just don’t know when you’re going to meet someone that is very generous, supportive, or even affected by a blinding disease,” says Steve. “The business card plants the seed and reminds them of us for when we send the letter.”

Steve and Dot start working on their letter writing campaign around January each year, which is several months before the June VisionWalk. A similar printed letter is used each year, but Dot always makes sure to write a handwritten, personal note, to every single person. Dot also handwrites all the addresses for another personal touch, which they think makes people more willing to open the mail, especially a new person they’ve just met.

“It takes quite a while to add the handwritten personal note to each letter, but I know so many people really appreciate it,” says Dot. “Adding a personal touch really makes a difference in helping us stand out. Each year I get notes back from people thanking us; it really makes you feel good to know that people are appreciating your effort.”

Steve and Dot Dutterer posing with the Baltimore VisionWalk event manager and a cookie cake for their fundraising efforts.

Steve and Dot Dutterer with the Baltimore VisionWalk event manager being recognized for the most money raised.

Steve and Dot are full of fundraising “tips and tricks.” They have included a challenge in their letter, offering to personally match donations up to a certain amount. They also send a second follow-up letter, as soon as the walk has passed, to those who haven’t contributed yet but have in the past years. They have found that this reminder really helps for those who want to give and have simply forgotten.

“Our letter writing campaign is unlike any other fundraiser because of the way we do it,” says Steve. “Most other VisionWalk participants that raise a lot have a large team and it’s a group effort, but we just have a large network of contributors and support.”

After 19 years of fundraising, Steve and Dot both agree they’ve learned a lot about themselves and the many people they may not have met if it weren’t for the letter campaign that they can now call their dear friends.

“Steve has taught me to just be open about sharing our story and the generosity of others always amazes me,” says Dot. “We couldn’t raise so much every year if it weren’t for the wonderful contributors we meet. They’re the important ones.”

As Steve reflects on his journey with RP and meeting so many new people over the years, his biggest fundraising advice is, “Don’t be afraid to share your story. Ask anyone and let them be the ones to say no, don’t say no for them.”

It’s undeniable that Steve and Dot together as a team, are unstoppable fundraisers. But their tremendous passion for the Foundation’s mission year after year shows truly how selfless they are.

“I don’t do all this for myself,” says Steve. “I’m 76 years old, so I do this to help others down the road, so they can see in their lifetime.”