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Val and Sam Dunnam Estate Makes Surprise Gift to AHCA

A spring telephone call to the Austin History Center turned into a historic moment in the life of the Austin History Center Association. Russell Dunham, son of the late Valerie and Sam Dunnam and Trustee of their estate, announced to AHCA Executive Director Jeff Cohen that his parents bequeathed a family gift of almost $33,000 for the long-term support of AHCA and its mission. Theirs is the third largest gift by an Austin family or estate in the AHCA’s 41-year history.

“I knew Val and Sam well as we crossed paths time and again in our mutual efforts to improve Austin,” said AHCA President Lee Cooke. “There have been few couples like them throughout the evolution of modern Austin. Their gift is a special statement of who they were, and we are all thankful for Val and Sam’s fingerprints.”

Sam and Val, both graduates of Southern Methodist University, were stalwarts in Austin for nearly 60 years. They delighted in lively dinners, fine wines and intense discussions, followed by music and dancing. Fun with family and friends was a key ingredient in their lives. Sam was successful in real estate, building UT Dobie Center where PC Limited, later Dell Computer, was created. He also developed Northcross Mall, which brought Frost Brothers to Austin. Val, a beautiful woman inside and out, was defined by endless acts of kindness. She was the original straight arrow and, after raising four children, she led professional fundraising efforts for UT Austin and St. Stephen’s Episcopal School.

The dynamic couple served Austin endlessly. Val’s community involvement included service on the board of the City of Austin Library Commission and AHCA, as well as the Junior League. She helped revive the Friends of the Austin Public Library and organized its first Friends Book Sale. Sam was equally active, being appointed to the Austin Planning Commission, where he served several years as chairman. He also served as a Trustee to Austin’s classical music station KMFA, UT’s McDonald Observatory, and the Austin Child Guidance Center.

Their decision to document their lives through the AHCA Oral History program will ensure their extensive contributions in their own words remain available for future researchers seeking to understand the six-decade period in which they made their mark on Austin. Their generous bequeath will be placed in the new AHCA 2021 Endowment, where annual interest generated will help sustain the rich and diverse histories of all Austinites through the AHCA mission.

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