A San Dieguito Union High School graduate and World War II veteran, Mr. Cunningham returned to the high school in 1952 to teach. For over 40 years he guided students in the art of husbandry before his retirement in 1994.
In his later years Mr. Cunningham made use of his white beard and jovial appearance to portray Santa Claus in the Encinitas Christmas parades.
Godspeed, Mr. Cunningham.
“… A graduate of the high school in 1939, he returned from England after World War II ended and obtained a master’s degree in education from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Then he went back to his old high school in 1952 as an agriculture teacher and no-nonsense adviser to the Future Farmers of America club on campus.
“…He served the district 43 years and five months. During the early decades, he was a stalwart of the agriculture program. Remember, in those early years, this was a small community. There were no houses around the high school like today. Many of his students went on to become horticulturists, veterinarians or teachers.”
Remembering Thomas Clifford Cunningham
By: J. STRYKER MEYER – Staff Writer
Thomas C. Cunningham was a teacher and a stern disciplinarian at San Dieguito High School for 42 years.
A graduate of the high school in 1939, he returned from England after World War II ended and obtained a master’s degree in education from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Then he went back to his old high school in 1952 as an agriculture teacher and no-nonsense adviser to the Future Farmers of America club on campus.
“He was extremely well known in the community because pretty much everyone who went to San Dieguito High School went through one of his classes,” said former student Eric Larson, executive director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau.
Son Paul Cunningham said, “Believe it or not, my dad was one of the hardest teachers I ever had. He would ding me for having a misspelled word on my paper. Yet, I’m appreciative that he taught us about the different secrets of horticulture.”
Larson, who attended the school in the mid ’60s said, “He personally had a real big influence on me. I went there thinking about working with animals, but he aimed me in the direction of horticulture, and I’m glad he did … and, yes he was a strict disciplinarian too.”
Thomas C. Cunningham, 87, died Feb. 4. A memorial service is scheduled at 1 p.m. Feb. 23 at the San Dieguito Methodist Church in Encinitas, said son Paul Cunningham.
“My dad was a dedicated professional who went to school before 6 a.m. to visit students and to keep an eye on the animals in the ag department, and he came home late after tending to business and his students,” he said.
“He served the district 43 years and five months. During the early decades, he was a stalwart of the agriculture program. Remember, in those early years, this was a small community. There were no houses around the high school like today. Many of his students went on to become horticulturists, veterinarians or teachers.”
Larson said that during his four years in high school, Cunningham’s classes were so popular “you had to sign up for them early. I always took one shop class and at least one ag class with him.”
Cunningham sponsored the FFA chapter, Larson said, “which was a big deal at the time because we had cows, pigs and chickens on campus. I was also a 4-H member, and I remember he had a large horticultural class and an interesting vocational agriculture class.”
Paul Cunningham said that because his father had attended San Dieguito High School with Paul Ecke and other residents who went on to various horticulture and agriculture fields, he was able to bring them back to campus to help with different programs.
“Mr. Ecke went so far as to have greenhouses built for students to use, thanks to the relationship he had with my father,” Paul Cunningham said. “Growing up with dad, during those early years, was unbelievable, because our city was small, yet had rich characters who brought substance to our generation at school and in the city.”
And there were stories that the younger Cunningham still relishes today: “I remember dad telling me about one day, when the students didn’t slaughter a pig properly and it ran down the halls squealing and making a mess.”
The teacher also told his son about a student who misspelled udder as rudder —- “oh, how we laughed about that one.”
Last, but not least, Cunningham served his country during World War II with the storied Army Air Corps 8th Division in England. “Dad was going to be a pilot, but he broke his eardrums,” Paul Cunningham said.
Instead, Cunningham serviced the planes, loaded bombs and learned how to be a cook. “Of course, he also met my mom, who was a war bride. So he found enough time to date and marry her and bring her home.”
The younger Cunningham, who also was in military service, said there were few times in his life when he was as proud as when he returned from a tour of duty in Europe to go to the Encinitas VFW hall and the American Legion post with his father.
“By then, dad had served as a post commander at both the VFW and the American Legion, and we were proud of having served our country at different times in its history,” Paul Cunningham said.
Since his retirement from the high school in ’94, Cunningham has worked in local nurseries growing orchids and gained holiday fame by portraying Santa Claus in the Encinitas Christmas parade.
Thomas C. Cunningham is survived by his wife of 62 years, Joan, sons Paul and David, brother Arthur of Arlington Heights, Ill., two nieces, two nephews, seven grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Contact staff writer J. Stryker Meyer at (760) 901-4089 or firstname.lastname@example.org. (Original link was here: http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2008/02/17/obituaries/feature/2_16_080_30_26.txt, no longer works.)