PLANT CITY— For G.S. Cunningham's eight brothers and sisters, growing up in a rural area and working on a farm was a dreary existence. They dreamed of education and of careers as teachers and lawyers. One brother even ran away from home to go to a private school because in those days it was difficult for an African-American youngster to get a quality education in Plant City.
But young G.S. was different. He loved living in Bealsville, and he loved farm work. When the Cunningham kids had to pick strawberries every morning before school, eight of them complained and daydreamed of getting to the classroom. For G.S., that time in the fields was the high point of his day.
His brothers and sisters all went away to college and built successful careers. But G.S. was already living the life he loved. He stayed in Bealsville for the rest of his life, working in the phosphate mines. But at the end of each day, he was back doing what he loved, growing vegetables on his small farm.
Garrison Samuel Cunningham passed away March 28 after suffering a heart attack. He was 83.
"He got as much respect as any of us who became lawyers and educators," said his brother T.J. Cunningham, a lawyer in West Palm Beach. "He lived the life he wanted to live."
Even though he had pulmonary problems, Mr. Cunningham kept on farming, long after he retired and almost until the day he died.
The Cunningham family came to the Plant City area in the late 1920s from Lithia. The area was Mr. Cunningham's home for more than 80 years.
"He knew everybody, and he knew everything about the community," said his son, Thomas Cunningham. "He was like the historian for the community. If you wanted to know something about Bealsville, he was the one you went to."
Singularly devoted to Bealsville, Mr. Cunningham never passed up an opportunity to serve his community. He volunteered at the polls during elections. He worked with the local NAACP chapter, and he was active in the Glover School restoration project. After his death, state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, introduced a resolution honoring Mr. Cunningham for his service to Bealsville.
But he was even more devoted to the individual residents of Bealsville than to the community itself.
"There were so many people, friends or children of friends or just people he met, that he helped out when they needed it," Thomas Cunningham said. "He fed them or gave them a place to live or he gave them a job. Probably 90 percent of those people are living good successful lives now because of the help he gave them."
Besides his brother, T.J., and his son Thomas, Mr. Cunningham is survived by his wife, Johnnie, another son, Garrison, his daughter, Teresa, his sisters Ida Price White and Rena C. Turner, and four grandchildren.