Jon Mark Beilue: Five of a kind

Jon Mark Beilue Sep 18, 2020
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Five of a kind

Five generations, five WT graduates, five different names

Above photo: The living link to a family with five graduates under the five name changes of West Texas A&M that has spanned nearly 100 years: (top left), Austin Dunham (2012), Dr. Rick Dunham (1986), Richard Dunham (1960) and seated, Carol Dunham (1961).


EmmaBettisEmma Bettis could not have had even the slightest notion the unique legacy she started when she enrolled at this new college in Canyon more than 100 years ago. She wanted to be a teacher, and a degree from fledgling West Texas State Normal College seemed the best way to do just that.

About 25 years later, Fannie Griffiths, her daughter, would do the same thing with a slightly different twist. She would earn her degree from same school, different name — West Texas State Teachers College in 1942.

“My grandmother and mother were determined to get out there and make something of themselves,” said Carol Dunham, Fannie’s daughter. “I never met my grandmother, so most of what I picked up was hearsay. She was big on voting rights for women, and didn’t necessarily believe a woman’s place was always in the home.”

And so it would go for almost a century — great-great grandmother, great-grandmother, grandmother, father and son. That’s five family generations with five degrees from the Canyon university.

But it gets better. West Texas A&M University has had five official names in its 110-year history, and the current Dunham lineage has had one graduate under each different name. There’s likely not another family that can claim that unusual link.

“I really didn’t know about the lineage until I graduated and my grandmother talked about it,” said Austin Dunham, a 2012 graduate and the youngest of the link. “I always knew WT was where I wanted to go.”

If you’re scoring at home, it goes something like this:

  • Emma Bettis, believed to be approximately 1916, education degree, West Texas State Normal College (1910-1923).
  • Fannie Bettis Griffiths, daughter, 1942, education degree, West Texas State Teachers College (1923-1949).
  • Carol Griffiths, granddaughter, 1961, art and English degrees, West Texas State College (1949-1963). Richard Dunham, Pampa High School sweetheart and future husband, degree in education with a social studies emphasis, 1960.
  • Rick Dunham, great-grandson, 1986, degree in biology and chemistry, West Texas State University (1963-1990).
  • Austin Dunham, great-great grandson, 2012, degree in general studies with emphasis in sports and exercise education, West Texas A&M University (1990-present).

“Each person, it seems, went to WT for different reasons,” said Dr. Rick Dunham, a dentist in Dalhart. “I can’t speak for my grandmother and great-grandmother, but I’m sure they would say what we all think now and that WT was just a good fit for us.”

FannieBettisGriffithEmma Bettis and Fannie Griffiths were somewhat educational pioneers. Particularly for Bettis, higher education in the formative years of the 20th century was predominantly for men. Teaching and nursing were the two major fields of study for women.

West Texas State Normal College was only five years old when Bettis arrived. Old Main burned in 1914, but that didn’t dissuade her. Bettis taught in Arkansas and in the mining town of Silver Plume, Colo. Her husband was the school superintendent. To make ends meet, he worked in the mines in the summer, and was killed in a mining accident.

Fannie, one of Bettis’ two daughters, married in the 1930s to a farmer who had land just across the Texas state line in New Mexico. It was about 70 years too soon for online classes, so Fannie took 2-year-old Carol with her to Canyon as she went to the teachers college there.

 Her husband would come to Canyon on the weekends to see them. Fannie Griffiths would eventually teach second grade in Olton and Shamrock.

Carol, her daughter, graduated from Pampa High School in 1957. She initially wanted to go to college elsewhere.

“It never occurred to me not to go to college,” she said, “and at one point, I thought I was going to Baylor. My mother was one of those go-getters and she wanted me to go to Baylor. She thought it would be a wonderful school to go to, but I couldn’t afford it even then. I’m glad I didn’t because I loved WT.”

It didn’t hurt that Richard Dunham, her boyfriend, had left Pampa for WT the year before. Carol took mild exception to Richard’s story that she just followed him there, but there might have been a measure of truth in that.

“When he went to WT, we weren’t dating much,” she said, “because he wanted to be free to date in college and he wanted me to be free to date my senior year in high school. That didn’t last long. Once he came home to visit, we ended up, as you say in those days, ‘going steady.’”

Dunham chose WT because of 75-mile proximity, and because he’d been on campus a few times during his high school days. He thought he would teach and coach, but he was also in ROTC. That would lead to a 21-year military career before retirement in 1982 with the rank of major.

He was in Korea and Vietnam, and seven stops stateside, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Pentagon. He received eight commendation medals, including the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.

Following retirement, he returned to his hometown. He coached and taught at Pampa Junior High, then was junior high athletic director. When Dennis Cavalier, Pampa football coach and athletic director, suddenly died in 2003, Dunham filled in for a time as athletic director. Meanwhile, Carol taught sixth grade English and art.

If the WT chain looked like it would break, it was with their son, Rick. With Richard’s last military stop at Fort Sill in Lawton, Okla., Rick graduated from Lawton Eisenhower High School in 1982. He wanted to pursue a medical or dental field of study, and with a girlfriend at the University of Oklahoma, Norman was believed to be his destination.

But a high school counselor, a WT alumnus, gave the university Rick’s name. He soon received a letter from WT about the Don and Sybil Harrington scholarship that waived out-of-state tuition.

“My dad said don’t fill out that application because you’ll be taking scholarship money from someone who’s actually going to WT,” Dunham said. “I wasn’t obedient because I sent it in. I’d never been to WT, but I knew my parents both graduated from there.”

Dunham also found out about the acceptance rate into health care professional programs after graduation. At Oklahoma, it was only 17 percent. At WT, it was above 85 percent. The reason, he was told later, is a group of professors would together recommend only the top students to medical or dental schools, and their recommendation reputation was stellar.

“So, the acceptance rate was intriguing, and when spring break came around, I told my parents that I’d like to see the school,” Dunham said.

Though the campus was mostly empty, he got a good feel of what the future would hold should he decide to head to Canyon.

“We finish the tour, and my dad is retired military, so he’s pretty disciplined,” he said. “He doesn’t say much to me on the drive home, but we get to around Altus (Okla.), and he said, ‘So what do you think?’ I told him I think I want to go to WT. I thought he was literally going to drive off the road. Two weeks before, it was not even a consideration.”

For Dunham, who said he didn’t need the big university experience, WT fit like a well-worn work glove. Small classes meant easier comprehension. While working as a counselor his sophomore year at Buffalo Branding, a freshman orientation, he would meet his future wife, Debbi.

Dunham was accepted to three dental schools and chose the University of Texas Health San Antonio School of Dentistry, graduating in 1990.

“I’m in dental school with kids from UT, A&M, some private schools,” Dunham said. “Dentistry is kind of interesting.  You have to know a lot of science and be book smart, but you also need hand skills because it can be hard to get your hand to do what your mind wants to do.

“I’d be in science labs and study a little bit and say, ‘OK, I’m going to work on the dental lab part.’ Classmates would ask me how I know this stuff. I said, ‘Well, I learned it in a college.’ It got to be a joke among my classmates, ‘You don’t have to study too hard for this test because, that’s right, you went to WT.’”

After a year of a hospital residency, Dunham was an associate with another dentist in Pampa before purchasing a practice in Dalhart. He’s been there since 1994. Three daughters have gone to Texas A&M, WT’s mothership for the last 30 years, but Austin, the oldest, kept the Buff streak going,

Unlike his dad, he was quite familiar with WT growing up. He had been to football and basketball games, been to sports camps. When he graduated from Dalhart in 2008, he turned down an offer to be a student assistant in the basketball program at Oklahoma Baptist for WT.

But he did become a student assistant with the Buff basketball program in 2010-2012.  He also immersed himself in intramural sports, even working in the intramural sports program his senior year.

“I wasn’t the guy that went to Midnight Rodeo. I found a group of guys and we were all about intramurals,” he said. “We’d go to the gym every night until they turned out the lights. Everyone else could party and hurt their grades. We stayed in the gym and it may have hurt my grades — same effect.”

Still, Dunham graduated in 2012, and is beginning his fifth year as a teacher and coach at Motley County, a consolidated six-man football school in Matador, 130 miles southeast of Amarillo. He is head boys basketball and golf coach and assistant football coach.

Austin and wife Jessica have two daughters — Landree and Emoree. Could there be a sixth generation at WT? Possibly. But will that match a sixth name change? West Texas A&M and Texas A&M would say that’s not too likely.


Five WT diplomas that span from 1942 to 2012.


Do you know of a student, faculty member, project, an alumnus or any other story idea for “WT: The Heart and Soul of the Texas Panhandle?” If so, email Jon Mark Beilue at