Charles and Betti Saunders Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law

Aug 11, 1994 | EPS/EPF

Charles and Betti Saunders met at The University of Texas at Austin in 1942. Charles had graduated from the University of Houston and was preparing to study at UT’s School of Law. Betti, who had been studying theater in New York, enrolled in the School of Fine Arts. Earlier, Betti attended a two-year college in Columbia, Missouri, Christian College, which later was renamed Columbia College. She enrolled at The University of Texas to please her father, who strongly urged her to get a UT degree.

Charles and Betti were both children of the Great Depression and grew up understanding poverty. Charles’ family lived in Houston and rented a house adjacent to the MKT Railroad track. Charles’ father was an immigrant from Wales who could neither read nor write. In 1934, so his two sisters would not hear, Charles’ mother whispered in his ear that she did not have a penny in her purse. There was not a morsel of food in the house for Christmas. Charles’ mother had served as a Red Cross nurse during World War I, and the American Red Cross came to the family’s rescue.

Betti’s family lived in Graham, Texas, in Young County. When Betti was a one-year-old her father suffered a gunshot to the face during a hunting accident. The gunshot blinded him, but he supported the family by operating a confection stand at the Young County Court House.

When he arrived in Austin, Charles rented a room in the Lord Only Knows (TLOK) house, sponsored by The University of Texas. The cost of room and board was $35 per month, the exact amount Charles earned working for the Legislative Reference Library. Betti rented a room in an Austin home, and though Charles’ expenses did not leave much for entertainment, the couple enjoyed the various activities offered by the University.

Charles and Betti’s relationship blossomed through their UT years and soon they had thoughts of marriage. Charles graduated and was employed at a salary of $100 a month, but marriage had to wait until he could make more money. Eventually his salary increased to $200 a month, and the two were wed. They’ve been married for more than 60 years. After retirement, Charles decided to give up charging fees for his law practice and devotes his remaining time to pro bono work.

Because Charles and Betti experienced poverty growing up, they wanted to help students who are the first members of their family to attend college. They founded the Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation in 1973, and through the foundation’s efforts have given $3.5 million in endowment support to universities, colleges, high schools, and public charities.

The Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation supports endowments at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts, School of Law, and College of Liberal Arts; St. Edward’s University; Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri; Graham High School, Graham, Texas; The University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston; the University of Houston; the University of Colorado, Boulder; Warren Wilson College, Asheville, North Carolina; the YMCA, Estes Park, Colorado; Austin High School; and the Czech Cultural Center, Houston.

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