Released by Kristi Boyett with the Apache Belle Gold Alumni Board:
TYLER, TX - Eva Saunders, the director of the Tyler Junior College Apache Belles from 1963-1976 will be inducted into the Texas Dance Educators Association Hall of Fame on Thursday, Jan. 7 at the Marriott Westchase in Houston.
"It is very difficult to be honored posthumously and we are so excited to have Ms. Saunders join Al Gilliam, Mildred Stringer and Ruth Flynn in this great honor," said Jasilyn Schaefer, Apache Belle Gold President. "In addition, she will be the only one inducted this year which is a double honor! This will be a tremendous night in our organization's history."
In the days before football commentators took over televised halftimes, Ms. Saunders' friend, Jim Skinner, the Director of Halftime Activities for the Dallas Cowboys, trusted her to deliver creative and well-executed Belle performances that kept fans in their seats or glued to their televisions. Ms. Saunders earned Skinner's trust to such a degree that the Apache Belles were rewarded for years with the honor of being the only college dance drill team to perform at the televised halftimes of the Dallas Cowboys games. As a result of that national television exposure, the Belles' reputation grew exponentially.
Since Ms. Saunders was not a dancer herself, she relied on choreographer Al Gilliam's creativity and dance ability. Ms. Saunders and Gilliam molded and guided the organization's reputation of excellence in a way that caused the Apache Belles to receive invitations to perform not only across Texas, but out-of-state, and even beyond U.S. borders. Unlike today, Ms. Saunders' Apache Belle organization had no officers, because she said every one was a star. The team was the feature, not its individual members.
Ms. Saunders was a strong female role model before the culture of the late twentieth century embraced the women's liberation movement. Her strength of character was equaled only by her elegance, graciousness and tact.
"One of Eva's strongest points was that she could zero in on a girl who needed individual help and guide her to better speaking, better dress (even with little money), conduct with dignitaries, and all the while her approach was so subtle, the girl wouldn't know, or take offense, at the suggestions Eva offered." said Mary Boles Blitch, Apache Belle in 1948-1949. "She identified people in Tyler who were willing to help students with tuition money. If she thought a student needed help, financially or otherwise, she would get it done."
During her years as the Apache Belle Director, Ms. Saunders also served as TJC's Dean of Women. Always a lady of impeccable style, manners, and grace, Eva Saunders was a genuine steel magnolia. She clearly communicated high expectations that Apache Belles would be ladies at all times, and because she was so highly respected by her girls, she was rarely disappointed. She was known to say that although "times change, principles do not."
Perhaps her most important legacy is that during her years as director, Ms. Saunders launched the careers of many Apache Belles, who went on to become dance team directors. Employers who had dance director jobs to fill trusted her to recommend women who not only had the necessary dance training, but also the character and maturity to lead young ladies only a few years younger than themselves. Eva Saunders helped establish a generation of dance team directors that got their start in the late 1960's and 1970's, when high school dance teams were proliferating.
"For her contributions to the Tyler Junior College Apache Belles, and for the impact she has had on the generations of dance drill team directors who have succeeded her, Eva Saunders deserves to be among those remembered in the Texas Dance Educators Association Hall of Fame." said Linda Armstrong Duke, Apache Belle in 1972-1974. "Ms. Saunders forever impacted the lives of hundreds of young women and is credited with developing national and international interest in precision dancing, while building the reputation of the organization and the college she served. Her efforts not only put the city of Tyler, Texas on the map, but drew girls from across the nation to try out to become Tyler Junior College Apache Belles."
The Apache Belles have performed during the half-times of more than a dozen college bowl games as well as at many Dallas Cowboys football games, for the Houston Oilers and at two Super Bowls. They've also performed at Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs basketball games and at Texas Rangers baseball games.