Giving Multiplied: The Semp Russ Foundation Fund

With an initial gift of $2.9 million in 1978, Semp Russ' fund has given out $9.8 million in grants, with a balance of $5.5 million remaining today.

The $2.9 million bequest Semp Russ left upon his death in 1979 was the largest gift the Area Foundation had received in our then 15-year history. Semp Russ’ legacy of giving lives on nearly four decades since his death. When he passed away in 1978, just months shy of his 100th birthday, athlete, attorney, sportsman and philanthropist Semp Russ left the San Antonio Area Foundation a generous gift of $2.9 million. Over the decades, the Semp Russ Foundation has given nearly $10 million to medicine, healthcare and research projects in San Antonio and the surrounding area. Because Semp Russ chose the San Antonio Area Foundation, his fund continues to grow, giving it the power to impact lives -- forever.

A generous man with a zest for life.

People knew about Semp Russ and were glad he called San Antonio home, long before he had ever heard of the Area Foundation. This starting back’s football team at the University of Texas achieved a 17-3 mark the three seasons he played and he was a member of the unbeaten, untied University of Texas team of 1900. Sixty-nine years later, he was inducted into the Texas Longhorns Hall of Fame. Slightly less known is that he played doubles for the U.S. tennis team in the 1904 Olympics. 

His athletic achievements were mirrored later in his business and community life and he remained active in San Antonio’s business and civic community well beyond normal retirement age. The story of Semp Russ is one of a community foundation put to the best  possible use. Russ was a man with a zest for living and a generous sense of community. Born in Louisiana in 1878, he died a few months short of his 100th birthday, after coming to San Antonio in 1890 and living here most of his very active and successful life. A lawyer by profession, he went into the oil business with his brother and became a very successful operator, presiding over his interests in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and elsewhere from the Milam Building in downtown San Antonio.

He began his philanthropy late in life, but his gifts have made a lasting impact.

At age 90, he established an endowed chair in surgery at the University of Texas in honor of his brother who had practiced medicine in San Antonio for more than 60 years. It was sheer generosity of spirit that caused him to write into his will a bequest to the Area Foundation creating the Semp Russ Foundation with securities valued at $2.9 million. His gift was a game changer for the Area Foundation. Semp Russ’ generosity made it possible for the San Antonio Area Foundation to hire its first full-time, paid staff member. It also gave the Area Foundation credibility with the many other donors who followed and grew its ability to have a significant impact on the community.


As incredible as it may seem, the Semp Russ Fund’s balance is nearly $5.5 million today, despite its funding of 628 grants totaling $9.8 million since it was established in 1978. More needs have been met and more people helped than Semp Russ could have imagined. Many more in the future will benefit from Semp Russ’ simple desire to safeguard his giving through the Area Foundation.

This is the power of endowment.

Contact our Development & Donor Services staff to find out how we can put it to work for you.


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