We lost my grandfather February 2. He was an amazing man with an unbelievable history.
Sanford Frank Cunningham was born March 18, 1919, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He died at his home in Eureka, Missouri, on February 2, 2009. He was preceded in death by his parents Harry Otto and Anna Marie Cunningham; brother Harry Cunningham; sister Florence Bilger; son Sanford Cunningham; son-in-law Dennis Fluck; and grandson Sanford Cunningham. He is survived by his wife Marion Cunningham; one son Frank Cunningham and his wife Carole; and daughters Martha Fluck and Anna Barklage and her husband Ted Barklage III. He had twelve grandchildren, Jimmy, Sandy, Crystal, Stacy Jo, Jessica, Casey, Nicky, Rebecca, Ryan, Laura, Emily and Teddy; 15 great-grandchildren; and many others who also knew him as “grandpa.”
At a young age, Sanford and his family moved to Trevose, Pennsylvania, where he and his father and brother built their family home. Sanford was always industrious and hard-working. In his early years, he had a variety of jobs, including walking several miles each way to caddy at a golf course, working at a service station, and he later worked in a hosiery mill on a machine that made one of the first seamless stockings for women. At one point, he even worked building airplanes, including on one of the first all-metal planes.
On one of those jobs, delivering ice, he got to know a girl named Marion Shoemaker, who was only about 13 years old at the time. She always made a point of being there on delivery day.
One day, when Marion was about 15, Sanford was walking past their house and she hollered out her bedroom window, “Hey, where are you going?” and the rest is history. During their three-year courtship, they would go to weekly dances at the local community house. They were married in Claymont, Delaware, on October 14, 1940. Marion’s brother loaned them $20 for the ceremony and her mother gave them her wedding ring to use. It was the start of a union that lasted for 68 years. Their first house was in Mechanicsville, Pennsylvania, one of many homes that they remodeled and lived in over the years.
Sanford was drafted into the Army in 1944 and sent to Texas. Determined not to be sent oversees with his unit, he “accidentally” fell off a truck and injured his knee. He then served in the military police in Biloxi, Mississippi, and finished his military career in Newburg, New York.
When Sanford returned home to Pennsylvania he started a successful lawn mower business. The family lived in an apartment above the shop, across the street from Marion’s mother. At just 2 or 3, his son Frank recalls his dad giving him a wrench or a spark plug to play with at the shop. They then moved their business and home to Churchville, Pennsylvania. They added a machine shop and also ran their own service station. It was during this time that Marion had her first contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. An old friend, Nan Roberts, began calling on the family.
Another move took them to Southampton, Pennsylvania, where Cunningham Cab Company was born. Marion drove the cab while Sanford sold chain saws up and down the east coast. In his search to make the world a better place for his family, Sanford got involved in politics by joining the Young Republican Club. During this time he campaigned for Dwight Eisenhower, even attending his inauguration in Washington D.C. on January 20, 1953. He soon realized politics wasn’t the answer, so he left and never even voted again.
During his political years, Sanford worked as a jury commissioner and also was a prison guard. It was then that he started wearing clip-on ties so the prisoners couldn’t choke him. His son remembers how he used to take the Sunday paper to the prisoners, just one example of how he cared for all people.
Sanford had a great affection for automobiles. He bought his first car, a Model T, for $8. He went on to have many cars, including a Packard, and a Hudson, which was his pride and joy. In the 1970’s he developed his love for Volkswagen busses, or as he called them, the first minivan. There was even a time when he was a “biker” and had an Indian Scout motorcycle.
His children remember him always working on the house, building a porch, pouring concrete sidewalks, finishing the basement, making new doorways, cleaning out the neighbor’s woods so they would have a place to play. Anna says she came home from school one day and the kitchen had been moved to another room in the house. Even the weekends didn’t slow him down, he never tired of tearing something out or building something on. And if there wasn’t work to do, he was mowing his lawn, another one of his loves. They always had a different lawn mower, he would use it for a while, put it out to the street to sell, then go on to another one.
The next move was to Silverdale, Pennsylvania, and to another old farm house with a barn and several acres. They lived in, and worked on, that house for many years. During this time Sanford worked at Quaker City Tree Surgeons as a shop supervisor.
For a while he drove cars for a recon company, then installed shower doors for a living. He claims to have installed 30,000 shower doors during that career, even for Muhammad Ali.
In the early 1960’s, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Marion Dallas, called at Marion’s door. She went on to study the Bible off and on with her for several years. Marion could never get Sanford to stop working long enough to join the study. In the early 1970’s Marion, Anna and Martha took the study seriously and a year later, Sanford started studying. He was baptized in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1972.
When Marion and Richard Dallas moved to Arkansas to help a congregation, Sanford and Marion decided to follow, and they lived there for a few months, returning to Pennsylvania shortly thereafter.
Sanford and Marion’s next move was to Salem, Missouri, in December 1977, and then to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1980 when Sanford got a job at REK Industries until he retired.
After his retirement, he enjoyed auxiliary pioneering from time to time and serving as an elder in the Florissant and Pacific Congregations. He moved with his family to Eureka, Missouri, in 1985. Of course, Sanford never officially retired, because he and Marion did home inspections for about 10 years throughout St. Louis, Franklin and Jefferson counties. Despite many health issues in later years, he remained active and faithful. He still enjoyed mowing the lawn, even up until this last year. He would tell you that Jehovah blessed him every day.
His children say in the years growing up there were a lot of times that they didn’t have money but Sanford always took care of his family, with food on the table and clothes to wear. They say their parents never argued and they always loved each other.