Dr. Jim Cunningham was a giant of a man in so many ways....but always a gentle giant! Jim graduated to his heavenly home on Friday, November 13, 2020 in Denison, Texas. His memorial service will be on Saturday, November 21, 2020 at 10:00 am at the outdoor pavilion at Highland Cemetery in Durant, OK.
James E. Cunningham was born in De Kalb, TX on August 10, 1940 the first son of six children born to Lloyd and Wilma Welch Cunningham. James was a devoted son to his parents and helped with all the family chores while growing up. He faithfully and lovingly took his turn on weekends to care for his mother while she was infirm.
James had an experience his senior year in high school which forever influenced his life. His dad was stationed with the government in Japan where Jim finished high school.
Jim made many life long friends from his American High School in Japan.
All through the years, Jim along with Gay have travelled to many locations for reunions of his Japanese High School. If any have talked with Jim very long, he probably spoke a phrase or two in Japanese illustrating the impact of that year!
When at West Texas State University on a recruiting trip, Jim met Gay Hall. They got married on July 15, 1961 while both were students and Jim was playing football. And she has stuck by his side all these fifty-nine years!
While at Texarkana Junior College, Jim joined the ROTC which led to a brief career in the Marine Corp officer training program. After graduating from West Texas State, he signed with the San Diego chargers for a short stint due to an injury.
Jim coached several teams in the west Texas towns of Breckenridge, Kress, Tulia, and Pampa. While at Breckenridge their son Kevin was born and became the apple of Jim’s eye. Jim was always so proud of that son...simply the man he was and also the accomplishments he achieved!
Years later two more boys would enter his life, grab the strings of his heart and be his namesake. Jim has been doubly blessed with his two grandsons, Weston James Cunningham and Brian James Cunningham.
In Pampa a student introduced Gay and Jim to Kanakuk, a Christian athletic camp, which had a profound influence in their lives. They worked five summers at the camp and have encouraged many young men and women tthrough the years to attend as campers and/or counselors. Through contacts at Kanakuk Jim secured a graduate assistantship at Texas A & M University to pursue his doctorate.
After graduation from Texas A & M, Jim and Gay moved to Durant in 1978 for him to teach at Southeastern where Jim eventually became a full professor of Occupational Health and Safety. At that time, Jim hit the ground running. Soon after, he was elected President of the Kiwanis, President of the Booster Club as well as Chairman of the Deacons. That year was enough activity for Jim to last a lifetime and he never got that busy again!
Later, he ran the Kiwanis elementary school track meet for many years and officiated both basketball and football games! Early in his career at Southeastern, Jim was asked to be the men’s golf coach where he guided the team to the conference championship.
Jim was a quiet leader who led by example. He was a deacon at First Baptist Church, Durant, Ok for many years where he lead in the college department. Jim was known for remembering the name of every student who walked though the door of the Boston House. He was a member of several pastor search committees and chairman of one also. He participated in several mission trips to Africa, and was a founding member of Fusion Bible Church in Durant, OK.
He truly loved people and enjoyed talking with them and that made an impression on so many! People know when they are truly loved and accepted. Children know this as well and were also drawn to Jim.
If there is one thread that runs throughout Jim’s eighty years of life, it is the thread of service. From a young boy helping his family, to coaching “life” to his players, to helping his students succeed, to his many acts of kindness to his friends, church, community....wherever he was at the time, Jim was helping!
Jim is survived by his wife, Gay, of Durant, his son Kevin and daughter-in-law Jennifer of Ada, OK and two grandsons, Weston, Tulsa, OK and Brian, Ada, OK.
He is also survived by three sisters, Marsha Telford and husband Barry, DeKalb, TX, Brenda Smith, DeKalb, TX and Lois Crim,Texarkana, TX and a brother, Winston Cunningham of Nashville, TN.
Jim was preceded in death by his parents, his sister and brother-in-law, Gloria and Nelson Cheney, brother-in-law, Robert Smith.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials to Kids Across America, 2036 Timberlake Rd., Branson, MO 65616 or Fusion Bible Collegiate Ministries, % Fusion Bible Church, 1097 Gerlach Drive, Durant, OK 74701
Another request for everyone’s safety because of COVID 19 is to practice social distancing and to wear a mask.
Jim’s service will be live-streamed by Holmes-Coffey-Murray Funeral on Facebook.
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