Betti Friedel Saunders
Betti Friedel Saunders, 92, departed for her next journey Sept. 19, 2016.
She was born Sept. 9, 1924, in Graham, the only child of Joe B. Friedel and Eunice Covey Friedel.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Charles A. Saunders, retired partner in the law firm of Fulbright and Jaworski. Her father was the son of Czech immigrants, and her mother was born and raised in Fort Worth.
Betti grew up at 733 Oak St., helping her parents run their newsstand next to the Liberty Theater, where she developed her love for the movies.
At age 15, Betti graduated valedictorian of Graham High School, where she was active in interscholastic debate and speech. In 1940, she was selected to represent the Burlington Railroad in the dedication of the new Silver Queen Line, connecting Texas to Colorado, and was given a luxury trip on the inaugural journey.
Betti attended Christian College, now Columbia College, in Columbia, Mo., and received her associate of arts degree with distinction. While attending Christian College, she as awarded a scholarship to Alviene School of Theater in New York City. She performed in summer stock productions on Long Island.
She returned to Texas where she was rewarded a bachelor of fine arts degree from The University of Texas at Austin. One of the highlights of her time in Austin was touring U.S. Army bases in Texas in the University’s Cabaret Review. In 1944, she was crowned Sweetheart of the 102nd Army Division.
At the University of Texas, Betti participated in Curtain Club plays and declared her determination to become a professional actress, but her career took a sudden turn when she met Charles, the joy of her life. They were married for 65 years and were blessed with four children and spouses, Melanie Walter-Mahoney and husband Tim, C. Stephen Saunders and wife Carol, all of Austin, Cindy Saunders Buggs and husband Bradley of Houston, Shelley Saunders Eatherly of Asheville, N.C; 11 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and devoted daughter-in-love, Patsy Saunders of Austin.
For 30 years, Betti was a professional book reviewer and founder of the Saunders Three, with her sisters-in-law, Helen Dotson and the late Kathryn Hunt, performing hundreds of musical book and play productions. Betti’s passions included travel, art, butterflies, orchids, performing arts, movies and old-time Hollywood actors. She looked forward to the Academy Awards every year. She made a point to see every nominated movie. Variety Magazine was her favorite.
Betti volunteered annually as a Girl Scout Cookie Mom, for the Alley Theater, Taping for the Blind, the Heritage Society, University of Texas Fine Arts Council, Czech Center Museum Houston, and Travel Committee of UT EXES. She started her travel adventures working for Braniff Airways in Fort Worth. In 1964, Betti and Charles joined the University of Texas Flying Longhorns for a trip to Europe and thereafter, they led large groups touring under the banner of People to People International, to Russia, China and India. They visited 138 countries and all seven continents and were members of the Travelers Century Club. Santa Fe, New Mexico and India were among her favorite destinations. No matter where Betti was, she loved a beautiful sunset. She always had her bags packed and her passport ready for her next adventure.
In 1993, in Estes Park, Colo., where the family vacationed at the YMCA of the Rockies, Betti and Charles gathered their family to ask for their blessing for the founding of the Charles and Betti Saunders Foundation. Its goal was to benefit charities locally and around the world. The family continues to meet annually to make grants to support the work of nonprofit organizations.
The Saunders family would like to thank Betti’s caregivers for all the love and devotion they have shown our mother and our family. Thank you all: Chantal Murebwayire, Nokuthula “Thula” Bhunu, Chidi Wokocha, Grace Plattner and longtime devoted friend Porfi Gomez. We appreciate and love you all.
A celebration of Betti’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, in the sanctuary of Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial donations to be made in Betti’s name to one of the following: Czech Center Museum of Houston, University of Houston/Downtown OKane Theatre, or Houston Area Parkinson’s Association.