Charles A. and Betti Friedel Saunders Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Theatre

Sep 29, 1997 | 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 theatre in New York, enrolled in the School of Fine Arts. Betti attended a two-year college in Columbia, Missouri, Christian College (later renamed Columbia College). To please her father, who strongly urged her to get a degree from The University of Texas, Betti enrolled at the Forty Acres.

Charles and Betti were both children of the Great Depression and had lived in 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. Charles told of how, in 1934, his mother whispered in his ear (so his two sisters would not hear) that she did not have a penny in her purse and not a morsel of food in the house for Christmas. She 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. When Betti was a year old, her father was blinded by a gunshot during a hunting accident. He was able to support the family by operating a confection stand at the Young County Court House.

When Charles arrived in Austin he 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 the budget did not leave much for entertainment, the couple enjoyed the  activities offered by the University.

Charles and Betti Saunders

 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, so marriage had to wait until he earned more money. Eventually his salary increased to $200 a month, and the two were wed. They were married for more than 60 years. After retirement, Charles decided to give up charging fees for his law practice and devoted his time to pro bono work.

Because Charles and Betti grew up in poverty and understood how difficult it can be to pay for the  education that will fulfill a dream,  they chose to help students who are the first  of their family to attend college. They founded the Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation in 1973. The foundation has given $3.5 million in endowment support to universities, colleges, high schools, and public charities, including this endowment and the Charles and Betti Saunders Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law, established August 11, 1994.

Their generosity was spread wide. The Foundation also made gifts to The UT 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.

 Update March 1, 2019: Charles passed away in 2011, and Betti in 2016.

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