Melvin Ellsworth Cunningham, 97, completed his life’s journey in the early morning hours of Thursday, Nov. 14, 2013, with most of his large extended family by his bedside. His end was a surprise to no one more than himself. Other than small ailments, he was never sick in his entire extraordinary life. He took great joy in his physical strength, not muscle and girth (though he had that), but always being on his feet and able. He was, in the end, aware that his long road was at its end, and the entire family gathered at his side.
Melvin was born on July 21, 1916, to Dave Cunningham and Martha Evelyn (Mattie) Ribble Cunningham, in Brown County, Texas. He attended Early High School and graduated in 1935 after staying an extra year at the request of his coach so he could play basketball for the school. Melvin had three brothers, Vernon, David and James, one sister, Pearl, and two adopted siblings, Otto and Reta Pearl.
Melvin and his bride, Beatrice “Bea”, were married for 72 years. Bea died at age 93 on Feb. 2, 2011. They had four children, Juanita Kathleen Benson and husband John, Martha Cheryl Green and husband Melvin, Ronald Lynn Cunningham and wife Martha, and Janet Elaine Wofford and husband Ronald. They had 11 grandchildren, Edward Dishart, Kari Reyes, Melvin Green and wife Tammy, Russell Green and wife Mishalla, Lynn O’Neill and husband Jeff, William “Bill” Cunningham and wife Alisha, Melissa Mike and husband Josh, Ronald J. Wofford and wife Kathy, Heather McBride and husband Toby, Donald Wofford, and Sarah Littler and husband Ben. Melvin and Bea were also blessed with 20 great-grandchildren, Julian Dishart, Carmen Reyes and Joaquin Reyes, Elizabeth and Brittany Green, Amber, Hannah and Nicholas O’Neill, Charlotte, Jack and Hudson Cunningham, Sarah and Sam Mike; and the (21st great-grandchild to be born to Melissa and Josh Mike in April 2014), Shawn Bulle, Nathan Bulle (who died at 3 months of age), Logan Carr, Andee Cassel, Ignacio Jimenez, Gabriel Wofford, and Callum Littler.
Other precious family members helping and holding Melvin during his last days were Sue Connors and her daughters, Cherie Turner-Pierce and Frankie Turner; and Melvin’s niece, Jan Guerin and husband Bill; and niece, Barbara Ollis who traveled to Tucson to say their last goodbyes.
Special thanks to Andee Cassel who made the bird house for her great-grandpa’s addition to the memorial garden at Gentiva Hospice and to all those at Northwest Medical Center and Gentiva Hospice for their wonderful care and kindness.
Mel lived for more than 50 years in northeast El Paso, Texas, where he worked as a communications specialist at White Sands Missile Range, N.M. He was there during all the Saturn Rocket tests that took man to the moon.
He traveled and camped out with his sweetheart in his travel trailer to Alaska and around the western U. S. many times. He and Bea loved the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. After Bea passed, he moved with his daughter and son-in-law, Cheri and Melvin Green, to St. Johns, Ariz. Cheri and Melvin watched over him and Mom for many years and he spent his last months in their loving care.
He loved to garden, fish and camp with his large family. Mel was a bee keeper and sold his honey around El Paso and kept all his family supplied, as well as with pecans he grew in his backyard. He was never without a garden and loved to share his harvest. El Paso will miss seeing him all over town with his straw hat and metal detector, searching for treasure, although it really wasn’t the physical treasure he valued as much as the hunt.
We will miss him. His presence was large wherever he was. He wrote songs, poems and short stories, sang to us, taught us all how to skip, to make it do because he could fix it. He loved to be the life of the party. We will miss his smile. We pray he has found Mom, both young again and without pain, holding hands, sitting by the campfire, and waiting for everyone to get there come summer.