Charles William Cunningham, 82
TAMPA, FLA. - Charles William 'Chuck' Cunningham, 82, of Bailey Island and formerly of Topsham, died Thursday, April 23, 2009, at a Tampa hospital.
He was born on Dec. 9, 1926 in Berkshire, N.Y., the fifth of nine children of Clinton and Cornelia Rockwell Cunningham. Chuck's father, a native of Georgetown, moved the family back to Maine in 1942, and Chuck lived in the much loved state for the rest of his life. He attended Morse High, and served his country in World War II in the China Burma India theater as an Electrician on the USS General Ballou from 1943 to 1946.
Chuck was passionate about automobiles, and it was only natural that they played a prominent role in his business and recreational life. Starting out as a mechanic as various service stations, Chuck became part-owner of Vose's Esso Station on the Bath road in the 1950's, and his entrepreneurial skills lead him to selling tires in addition to managing the Service Station. This in time lead to a sports car dealership, which specialized in MG's, Triumphs, Austin-Healeys and Saabs. Chuck, with his partner J. Bernard Ward, then established Bates and Cunningham, a successful Volvo dealership in the Brunswick/Topsham area.
He was an avid race car driver, starting out racing old cars on the ice as a teenager on a pond on Arrowsic Island where he lived with his many siblings and parents. Later he won dozens of trophies in the Maine stock car circuit, followed by many years associated with the Sports Car Club of America in sponsored races up and down the East Coast. He always maintained that his favorite track was Watkins Glen in New York, and part of the appeal was also that his many cousins in the area would always show up to cheer him on.
In the 1960's he founded the New England Ice Racing Association, which had its beginnings in the popular ice races on the New Meadows River, which raised scholarship money for deserving Brunswick High School students. The Ice Races were sponsored by the Brunswick Elks Club, which Chuck helped to found in 1949, and to which he was a life member. Chuck was a member of the Brunswick Elks Lodge, Brunswick Exchange Club, the VFW and the American Legion. Chuck was an avid pilot, and while flying with his instructor Dick Wells, met his instructor's sister, who became his wife for 57 years. Chuck
married Marianne Wells of Springfield, Vt. on April 2, 1949 and became the loving father of William, Charles, Jr., and Clinton. He enjoyed taking his family on trips all over the country, and on his frequent racing excursions.
In 1960 Chuck and Marianne bought their 1820 farm on the Cathance Road, which they had fun restoring, and they raised their family there, as well as lots of horses and dogs. They made the Cathance Road in Topsham their home until 1995, when they moved to Bailey Island.
Chuck retired in 1987, and he and Marianne were winter residents of Homosassa, Fla. for ten years. During retirement, he enjoyed restoring, collecting and showing antique automobiles, and was especially proud of his 1954 Volvo taxi cab, which he used to chauffeur the bridal parties of friends and family, much to his and their delight.
Chuck spent the last few winters at his home in San Antonio, Fla. where he made many friends. But he was always eager to return to his home on Bailey Island, where he loved to watch the activity on Garrison Cove and the sunsets across Harpswell Sound.
He is predeceased by his wife who passed away in May of 2005; a son, Charles Jr. who died in December of 1993; and three brothers, Clinton, Curtis, and George Cunningham. He is survived by two sons, William and his wife Susan Cunningham of Land O'Lakes, Fla. and Clinton and his wife Denise Cunningham of Pinckney, Mich.; four grandchildren; and six great- grandchildren; three sisters, Edith Williamson of Placerville, Calif., Geraldine Zarza of Marietta, Ga., and Louise and her husband Donald Gerheauser of Ridge Manor, Fla., two brothers, Everett and his wife Mary of Dade City, Fla., and Irving and his wife Shirley of Coopersville, Mich.; and many nieces and nephews.
Visiting hours will be held on Monday, April 27, 2009, 2:00 to 4:00 and 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at Demers-Desmond Funeral Home, 34 Cushing St., Brunswick. A funeral service will be held on Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 11:00 a.m. at the United Baptist Church, 1 Elm St., Topsham. Burial will take place at Rogers Cemetery, Topsham.
may be made to:
Bailey Island Fire and Rescue
PO Box 177
Orr's Island, ME 04066
Charles William Cunningham
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Published in Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Apr. 26, 2009