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Reader Bridge Is Named For Cunningham

By Staff | Jun 26, 2013

The Reader Bridge across Fishing Creek was named for U.S. Army Sgt. Norman R. Cunningham on June 15.

The naming was marked by a ceremony that included his large family as well as Senator Larry Edgell, Del. Dave Pethtel, and County Commissioners Bob Gorby an Larry Lemon.

Christine Mitchell, Cunningham’s daughter, had sought the designation from West Virginia Legislature as a way to honor her father, who she said was a great man and an excellent role model.

He was born to the late Clarence E. and Mary E. Riggs Cunningham on Sept. 11, 1926, in Rymer, Marion County. He attended Pine Grove High School with the class of 1945 and was drafted at age 18 in 1944 into the 77th Infantry Div. US Army. He became a member of the Army Air Corps and served during WWII until 1947 in various places in Japan including Okinawa and Yokahama.

He married Martha Lou Brown of Piney on Jan. 17, 1948. He reenlisted into the US Air Force in 1951 and served in the Korean War with the 2750th Medical Group in France and then transferred into the 75th Transport Squadron. He left the Air Force as a Sergeant in 1954. During the period between his military services, he owned and operated a taxi cab service in the Reader and Pine Grove area. He retired from Consolidated Natural Gas (Dominion) in 1987 with over 35 years of service.

“Dad enjoyed buying, selling, and trading anything and everything, which garnered him the nickname of ‘Mr. Haney’, a character on the Green Acres television show, by all who knew and loved him,” said Mitchell. “He also operated a meat storage, cutting, and wrapping business in Reader for many years. He often didn’t charge those who were down on their luck.”

During his service in WWII, he attempted to save two young Japanese girls from drowning and was recognized by members of their community with a letter of commendation and a silk scarf display for the retrieval of their bodies.

He also received an award in 1969 from the American Red Cross for successfully resuscitating a local Reader girl after a near drowning in Fishing Creek close to the Cunningham home, just below the Reader Bridge. After Cunningham’s death in January from complications following surgery for pancreatic cancer treatment, the family received thanks for that girl. She noted that his actions saved her life, enabling her to go on to earn her Master’s Degree RN and keep the circle of helping others alive.

Cunningham was an active member of the Trinity United Methodist Church of Reader, having served as lay leader at the Reader E.U.B. Chapel which eventually joined with Trinity UMC, for many years. He was also a member of the Benton M. Lowe Post 81 American Legion of Pine Grove.

“Dad lived, gardened, farmed, raised a family and enjoyed life directly at the end of the Reader Bridge in the large two-story turn of the century home for over 50 years,” said Mitchell. “My mother still occupies the same house. He raised five children, all of whom still live in the Reader/Pine Grove area, and was beloved by 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

“His funeral services were attended by well over 500 visitors, which was a testament to how much he was loved and respected by our community,” continued Mitchell. “Dad’s interests and hobbies led him to cross paths with many people over his 85 years of life. I never knew of one person who disliked or had a conflict with my father.”