Ernest L Cunningham
May 12, 1930 – February 28, 2019
Ernest Lorraine Cunningham, 88, went to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on Thursday February 28, 2019. He was surrounded by family singing Amazing Grace as he gave up his spirit and went to heaven. He was lovingly known as “PaPa” as the first of 24 grandkids and 14 great grandkids began entering the world. Born in Rattlesnake Canyon outside of Graham Texas on May 12, 1930. He was one of 10 children born to Charles Llewellan Cunningham and the former Doris Brown Blair.
It was said that Papa's first words as a toddler were “Hot cake momma, hot cake”. Papa played most sports in High School but loved football. He graduated from Graham High School in 1948 and began his college football career at Ranger Junior College in Ranger Texas. After playing a year at Ranger Papa was pumping gas when he began filling up the tank of one of the Midwestern State college football coaches. The coach encouraged him to come to Midwestern and play football so he headed out to Wichita Falls Texas and received a full football scholarship. Papa started at linebacker and made All Gulf Coast Conference. It was in the fall of his second year Papa heard the call of the United States Marine Corp during the Korean conflict. He joining the Marine Corp on January 5th, 1951.
When Papa’s platoon sergeant asked his men if anyone knew how to cut hair. Papa raised his hand. Of course he had never cut hair in his life but knew he could make some extra money. Needless to say some of his customers weren’t very happy with the only cut Papa knew, the buzz cut. Many people don’t know this but the Marine Corp fielded a formidable football team in those days. In spite of hundreds of great ballplayers and All Americans trying out Papa made the cut and played linebacker for three years in the Marines. His team was one of the best to ever play and they once beat the World Champion Las Angeles Rams in the Rose Bowl. The quarterback for the Rams that day was Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Waterfield. The next day the headlines in the LA Times read, “Camp Pendleton Marines Beat World Champion Rams”. During the end of three years in the Corp in the summer of 1953 Papa attended a USO dance at Camp Pendleton California. There he met the love of his life Geraldine Marie Stankavich, a Pennsylvania girl who had just moved to California. Shortly afterwards he was honorably discharged and soon began a marriage to our Nana that would last over 65 years. Afterwards they moved back to Wichita Falls, Texas where he finished his college degree in history and played two more years of football while also having the first of six children.
After graduation Papa was invited to try out for the Chicago Bears but he had a burning desire to coach young men. His coaching career took him to Bryson Texas and Holiday Texas where he drove the bus, taught school, swept the gym and of course coached almost every sport for less than $2000 a year. In 1963 Chuck Curtis asked Papa to come to Garland, Texas and coach his defense. With the state’s number one defense Garland won back to back state championships. Papa coached players like Steve Casteel, All Big Eight middle linebacker at Oklahoma and Chuck Dicus, All American wide receiver at the University of Arkansas. He got the call again and in 1968 he moved his wife and six kids to Grand Prairie, Texas where he coached one year and then became Grand Prairie’s first Athletic Director. It was during this time that he received his Masters degree in School Administration by driving every weekend for 18 months from Grand Prairie to Commerce Texas.
It wasn’t unusual to see Papa running wind sprints with the Gopher football team and many times at age 45 out running the players. In 1974 Papa was heavily recruited to be a State Farm agent. Thus he began his career that lasted 20 years retiring at age 65 in 1995. Dad won many awards with State Farm and Nana and Papa traveled all over the country. Papa loved golf, hunting, fishing, ping pong, watching sports and especially the Lord Jesus Christ. Papa was always talking about the love of God. He prayed before every meal and hit his knees each night. He protected and provided for his family and dearly loved his wife, our mom and Nana. He loved his kids, grandkids and their children very much and enjoyed spending time with all of them. It’s not unusual for his oldest son, who lives near Garland, to receive phone calls from complete strangers telling him “Your Dad changed my life!” He was our hero and there will never be another one like him.
He is preceded in death by his Mother and Father listed earlier along with his brothers Charles, Richard, Don, Kenny, Robert, Jim and sisters Edna Galloway and Sue Arnold.
He is survived by his wife Geraldine Marie Cunningham, brother Jerry Dale Cunningham, brother-in-law Arnold Oliver and wife Tomi and sons Mark Cunningham and his wife Magaly, Don Cunningham, Ernie Cunningham and his wife Lynn, daughters Marcia Williams and her husband Harold, Jennifer Bean-Bearden and her husband Matt and JoAnna Trussell and her husband Ricky along with 24 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
Condolences may be sent to The Cunningham Family 2009 Meadow Ct. Grand Prairie TX 75050. Visitation(public) – Thursday, March 7, 2019 from 5-8pm at Bean Massey Burge Chapel Grand Prairie. Texas. Graveside Service – Friday, March 8, 2019 at 10:15am at DFW National Cemetery off of mountain creek Pkwy near Dallas Baptist University. Please arise at 10:am and park in LANE #2.
- Visitation Thursday, March 7, 2019
- Graveside Service Friday, March 8, 2019
Ernest L Cunningham
Lorane Tyra Smith
March 6, 2019
I am so sorry for your loss. Coach was one of the finest men I have ever know. He mentored so many young people while at Bryson and I know he will be forever in our hearts. I knew that I shared my name with him (spelling is different) but did not know that his dad shared my oldest brother's middle name...Neal thought Coach was just a great man all around. I had the opportunity to talk to State Farm Agent Ernie Cunningham while I was a representative for State Farm....we talked and talked. I do believe he remembered every student's name at Bryson. It was a joy to visit with him. It was a joy to know him. He will be missed by so many. Prayers for all the family. Lorane Tyra Smith, class of 1964 Bryson TX