Family, friends reflect on life and legacy of Samuel Dunlap Jr.
To Southeast Colorado Springs, and to the city as a whole, the late Samuel Dunlap Jr. was all of these things.
But to Michael and Darren Dunlap, he was much more.
“As a father, he always wanted the best for us,” Michael Dunlap, his eldest son, said. “He worked very hard and tried to provide everything we needed growing up.”
“He was a great dad,” Darren Dunlap, his younger son, said.
Samuel Dunlap Jr. died April 20 in Colorado Springs. He was 85.
The multi-sport coach and talented athlete, mentor and youth advocate is survived by his wife of 64 years, Norma (Seymour) Dunlap; two sons; a daughter-in-law Martha Dunlap; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; and a network of friends, family and grateful community members many generations deep. His parents, Sam and Beatrice Dunlap, and his sisters, Willa Maude Miller, Rhoda Moon and Rosalie Morse, preceded him in death.
Dunlap’s legacy was celebrated during an April 27 funeral at Relevant Word Ministries, with his longtime friend and mentee the Rev. Promise Lee officiating. Southeast’s Angelus Chapel Funeral Directors handled the arrangements.
Asked about his father’s legacy, Darren struggled to find the right words. It was normal, he said, for the family to be surrounded by children who weren’t biologically related to them, but who were still very much a part of the clan. Or for the neighborhood kids to climb into the back of the Dunlap station wagon and join the family on an outing.
Or, at the end of an after-school sports program, for Dunlap Jr. to pile his athletes into a small bus and deliver each athlete, door-by-door, back home.
“It was just a real community effort for my dad,” Darren said. “He always was a very strong man, both physically and mentally. He was always working hard.
“Everybody that he touched, they loved us and we loved them too. I never knew any different.”
Dunlap Jr. was born Sept. 8, 1933, in Colorado Springs. He attended Helen Hunt Elementary School and South Junior High School, and graduated from the then-Colorado Springs High School (now Palmer High) in 1951. He was inducted into that high school’s hall of fame in 2008.
“He used to play ball on Moreno (Avenue), right there in the heart of Southeast,” Michael said, proudly.
Dunlap Jr. proved to be a gifted athlete in his youth. He played first base and outfield for the city’s first all-black championship semi-pro baseball team, and it was as part of that legendary “Brown Bombers” squad that he was inducted to the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
“My dad was an amazing baseball player,” Darren said.
“I don’t think there is a position he didn’t play,” Michael said.
The patriarch’s semi-professional baseball career came to an end when he was injured while breaking up an altercation between two friends, Darren said. Dunlap Jr. had caught the eye of major league teams, but the injury was to his hand and he couldn’t close a mitt completely afterward.
So he committed his talents to helping young athletes become their best, his son added.
“That’s my dad,” Darren said. “He always put people first.”
“He was just always looking for some way to help young individuals. That was his calling. Right to the end, he was thinking how could he help some other young kids?” — Michael Dunlap, Samuel Dunlap Jr.’s oldest son
A heart for community
Dunlap Jr. found a calling — and a career that spanned decades — in 1968, when he was hired as the first black community liaison and first African-American baseball coach for Colorado Springs School District 11. At the then-South Junior High School, he coached basketball, wrestling and track, and both of his sons said he was a tough trainer, but a fair one.
“He would cut us both,” Michael said with a grin. “I think he did OK.”
Dunlap Jr. was as dedicated to his student athletes’ success as he was to that of his own sons, both men said. He started after-school and summer programs to keep kids active, healthy and strong. The programs became a family affair, with Norma’s support and partnership, and the sons’ assistance.
Dunlap Jr. served on boards for many organizations committed to Colorado Springs youngsters, including Outward Bound and the Salvation Army. He also served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee and was a recreation specialist at the city Parks and Recreation Department, according to his Colorado Springs/Palmer High School Hall of Fame biography.
The brothers each, individually, described their father’s motivation in one word: “community.”
“He showed (others) that kind of love when they didn’t have that,” Darren said. “He just got the best out of kids.”
“I could see the impact he had on other kids,” Michael said. “It was important to us to share my dad and my mom, too.
“He was just always looking for some way to help young individuals,” Michael continued. “That was his calling. Right to the end, he was thinking, how could he help some other young kids?”
His commitment to community youth earned Dunlap Jr. the prestigious Col. F. Don Miller Sports Service Award in 2011. The recognition is granted to “those locally dedicated to the importance of sports in building young lives,” according to documentation provided by Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which presents the award.
In the commendation, the organization recognized Dunlap Jr. as “a pioneer … a community liaison, coach and contributor to kids and their families.”
One of his many student-athletes and mentees was state Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs. The representative was unable to attend Dunlap Jr.’s funeral, but he sent a letter that a family member read at the gathering. He provided a copy of the letter to the Express.
In it, he referred to Dunlap as much more than just his softball coach.
“He was a mentor, an encourager, a father figure, a friend,” Exum wrote, noting that Dunlap Jr. wasn’t afraid to use some tough love when necessary.
Appropriately, Exum included a sports analogy.
“In baseball and softball, when coaches need a critical base hit, they put in their best/most consistent hitter. Someone the coach can count on,” he wrote. “Sam was that critical/best/most consistent substitute — one the entire Colorado Springs community could rely on.”
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Of Dunlap Jr.’s many accomplishments, perhaps the most poignant is the Samida House Group Center for Abused and Neglected Boys. He had long imagined having a boys’ ranch, where at-risk and in-need children could live, attend school and work with animals, Michael said.
That didn’t quite pan out, although both sons recalled the family having a small acreage in the Hillside neighborhood on which they kept cows, pigs and horses. But Dunlap Jr. and his sons did provide a safe place for kids via the Samida House, which secretary of state and IRS records show he formed in the mid ’80s.
Dunlap Jr. launched the home about the same time his eldest son graduated college. Working with kids at the home inspired Michael to attend graduate school and become a therapist.
“You could just see that they needed that opportunity in their lives,” he said of the youths at the Samida House.
It’s not hard to see that both sons carry on their father’s legacy. Michael Dunlap, a soft-spoken and thoughtful man, retired in 2017 after more than three decades working first with developmentally disabled adults in Pueblo and later for 21 years as a Cañon City-based therapist and supervisor for the Department of Corrections. Darren Dunlap, whose warm laugh transcends telephone lines, spent many years working in the hospitality industry and is now a manager at a Family Dollar store.
Both brothers said their parents’ commitment to community helped shape their career paths.
So what would their father think of the accolades and remembrances that have flooded their homes from as far away as Louisiana in recent weeks? He would have been gracious, his sons agreed, but humble about it.
Meaning, he would have handled it the same way he lived.
“He would be appreciative to see what the world has to say about him, but he was pretty humble,” Michael said. “I think he would quickly say, ‘It’s not about me. … Thank you for acknowledging these things, but how can we give this back’” to the community?