SEATTLE — The Museum of Flight has received the largest bequest in its 52-year history, a donation of more than $17 million from the estate of Betty Houston, widow of Frank “Sam” Houston.
The gift will establish the Frank “Sam” and Betty Houston Education Endowment to provide educational opportunities to young people exploring aerospace and STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. The bequest will also support the ongoing maintenance and exhibition of the museum’s vintage Boeing B-17 aircraft.
Sam and Betty Houston each had a legacy of aviation. Sam, a former museum trustee who passed away in 2002, flew B-17 bombers in World War II and was an airline pilot after the war.
Sam’s war service included seven missions over Berlin. He also volunteered for the Aphrodite program, a top-secret effort based in England to fly remotely-controlled planes laden with explosives into targets near the European coast. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.After returning from the war, Sam met his bride-to-be in Spokane, Wash. They moved to Seattle where Betty held jobs at the Bon Marché and Northwest Airlines. She was one of only eight reservationists booking tickets for the airline’s passengers. Sam became a pilot for Northwest Airlines and flew mostly 747s for more than 30 years.
Betty took flying lessons when she was young but could not afford to get her license or attend college. Feeling her career was limited as a woman, Betty shared her wishes with the museum that her bequest be used to increase opportunities for young women that were not available to her as a youth.
The museum is honoring her wishes through the Houston Endowment to provide scholarships and greater access to museum programs, according to officials.
“Betty recognized the importance of The Museum of Flight’s educational mission and our commitment to opening doors for all. We are so honored that the Houston’s passion for aviation and commitment to young people will live on for generations to come at The Museum of Flight,” says Trip Switzer, Vice President of Development. “It is an investment that will help us fulfill the museum’s vision to be the foremost educational air and space museum in the world. And while the size of the gift is impressive, it is the impact on youth into the future that will prove to be the indelible mark on our community.”
The Houston bequest marks the conclusion of the museum’s four-year Inspiration Begins Here! campaign, during which more than $100 million was donated for educational programming, collections perseveration and restoration, exhibits, facilities, operations and endowment.