Last updated on October 1, 2006
My grandfather will turn 80 today. That deserves a mention in the family history blog, I think!
My grandfather was born Oliver Udell Cunningham on May 3, 1925 in Tulia, Swisher County, Texas to Herman Cunningham and Annie Lola Jennings Cunningham. His parents called him Udell from birth, I believe, and so later he legally changed his name to Udell Oliver Cunningham. The name Udell was suggested by Aunt Jenny, the second wife of Udell’s grandfather, Veto Curry Jennings (you can read a letter about John B. Jennings and view a photograph of him or you can view a photograph of his wife, Lucinda Fannie Curry). Aunt Jenny found the name in a book she had enjoyed, That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright.
According to a family biography written in by his mother, Annie Cunningham, the Cunningham family moved to Lockney, Floyd County, Texas in 1931 (source: History of Floyd County, 1876-1979). My grandfather had an older brother, Alvin Herman Cunningham, born in 1921, and a younger sister, Flois Luene Cunningham, born in 1929. After the family’s move to Lockney, two more children were born: Nelda Gene Cunningham in 1937 and Carolyn Ann Cunningham in 1939. My great-grandmother explains in her family biography that all of the children except Alvin had the same first grade teacher — Mrs. Olga Applewhite. She believes “he would have had her too if [they] had moved to Lockney two years earlier.”
My grandfather played trombone in the high school band. At some point, possibly while he worked in the post office, he began collecting stamps. My grandfather has had a life-long interest in trains. He also likes big band swing. Animals and children see right through his gruff demeanor and love him on sight.
My grandfather first married Orlie K. Quisenberry and had with her a son, Michael Udell Cunningham, who has since changed his name to Michael Lee McElhaney. On October 27, 1951, my grandfather married my grandmother, Doris LaNell Thurman in Clovis, New Mexico. Together they had three children: Patti Jo Cunningham (my mother), Teddy Wayne Cunningham, and Terri Udell Cunningham.
My grandfather served in the Sea-Bees in the Navy during World War II. Later, he would join the U.S. Air Force and retire in the late 1970s with the rank of Master Sergeant. While in the Air Force, he worked principally as a photographer and told me he wrote a textbook on photography, which was uncredited because he was a serviceman. He still enjoys photography. While in the Air Force, the family lived in various locales, principally in Enid, OK., Aurora, CO., Nancy, France, and Kaiserslautern, Germany. My grandparents retired in Aurora, CO.
In his retirement, my grandfather likes to garden and usually plants flowers in several places all over his yard. I recall the yearly trips to Dardano’s Flowerland (which seemed to last for ages!) during which my grandparents would select flowers for their gardens.
My grandfather has six grandchildren: Dana Michelle Swier (me) and Lara Christine Swier, both children of Patti and Thomas Swier; Martin Priester Cunningham, child of Wayne and Helga Priester Cunningham; and Matthew Wayne Findley, Rebecca Lee Findley, and Amy Johanna LaNell Findley, children of Terri and Michael Findley.
As of this writing, my grandfather has ten great-grandchildren: Sarah Noelle Cooke, Margaret Elaine Huff, and Dylan Thomas Huff (my children by both my former husband Wayne Cooke, and my husband Steven Huff); Shane Mann, a step-son of my cousin Martin, and Alexander Markus Cunningham, Martin’s son with wife Becky; James Michael Valentine, Anna Grace Valentine, and William Andrew Valentine, my cousin Rebecca’s children with her husband James Valentine; Harley Hardin and Keith Ashley Hardin, my cousin Amy’s children with her husband Keith Hardin. My sister is expecting her first child in June, which will bring the total to eleven!
My grandfather clearly loves being a grandfather and great-grandfather. He would do surprising things with me when I was younger, like watch MTV videos — he made political commentary about Ronald Reagan when a clip of the then-president appeared in Ratt’s “Round and Round” video! He once threw a tomato worm at me. He chased me around the yard with a dead fish from his tropical fish tank, too. He used to make homemade ice cream and manned the grill (he makes the best steaks!). My grandmother is a seamstress and he always cuts out her patterns and installs the hardware for snaps on her creations. When I was very young, he smoked a pipe. He told me he quit because people only gave him pipes for Christmas. I don’t think there is anything my grandfather wouldn’t do or give for his loved ones. I spent many weekends with my grandparents when I was a child, and they looked after me after school until my mom left off work. He’s been a permanent fixture in my life, and we are very close. He has always shown an interest in the things I learn about our family history as I do my research, and he is always happy to share stories to add to my family history collection.
He took pictures of us all and chronicled our past. I am honored to chronicle his.
View photos of my grandfather (pop-up for larger versions):