C is for Cunningham

C is for Cunningham. Glenn Cunningham, to be precise.

One of my father’s prize possessions is the following letter on University of Kansas letterhead stationery.

February 25, 1940

Dear Donald:

Your very good letter reached me several days ago and I was terribly sorry to hear of your accident. I hope that you are recovering satisfactorily without too much pain.

Those burns are painful and it sometimes takes a long time for them to heal. It took mine several months to even begin to get well. Just don’t let anything discourage you, fight your battle bravely and when you’re well you’ll be just that much better man for having had the experience. It sometimes takes things like these to make us fully appreciate good health and normal functioning of our entire bodies.

Take good care of yourself and do as your parents and you Doctor tell you to so you will get well without complications of any kind. It’s that dogged determination, the will to want to do a thing, that will make you successful in anything you want to do.

Best of luck and every good wish that you will be completely recovered very soon.

Your friend,
Glenn Cunningham

Glenn Cunningham had also included a picture with a note on the back:

Glenn Cunningham
Finish of 4:04.4 mile

“…When you are well and older I hope you beat that time.”

My father attended a 4-room school in Brookside, NJ through the 8th grade. The students had jobs to do at the school in addition to their studies. One day, when my father was 9 years old, he was doing his job of washing dishes and a shelf collapsed, spilling a large pot of boiling water on his legs.

I’m not sure who suggested it, but during his recuperation my father wrote a letter to Glenn Cunningham, a runner who had also suffered terrible burns to his legs as a boy. Glenn’s accident also took place at school when a stove exploded in the classroom. His brother Floyd died from the burns he suffered and doctors thought Glenn would never walk again.

When I read about Glenn Cunningham’s life, it reminds me of my father — a genuinely good man who used his life to help others. Glenn and his wife opened a ranch and helped raise over 10,000 foster children. My father had at least that many patients from walks of life and all socio-economic strata. Neither one prioritized monetary gain over service.

“It’s that dogged determination” and generosity of spirit that shaped both of their lives.

3 thoughts on “C is for Cunningham

  1. Wow, amazing role models both of them, how great that they connected, albeit on a sad occasion. It must’ve meant a lot to your father to hear from someone in the same situation, who didn’t consider himself a victim but fought hard to achieve what he wanted. This is such a well thought out letter to a stranger, really shows Glenn’s spirit. Thank you for sharing it with us!

    My blogs in the A to Z: Self discovery via travel and a separate Interactive story.

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