Cunningham keeps on keeping on

Published 3:44 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Kenneth Cunningham, 87, loves working in his garden. (Contributed)

By CATHERINE LEGG / Community Columnist

“Keep on keeping on” must be the slogan of Kenneth Cunningham, because that is exactly what he does.

Despite his 87 years, a debilitating health problem that necessitated a relocation for a couple of years, he found he couldn’t just quit, so he returned to his little farm in Montevallo and picked up the hoe again.

Richard Anderson and I visited with him recently, and we had to make an appointment to catch him indoors. He is usually in the garden, on his walker or propped against the tractor, pulling weeds or picking okra.

Cunningham was born in Montevallo, and by the time he was 6, he was plowing behind a mule and milking the family cow. When in high school, he broke his leg playing football; his father bought their first tractor so that he could keep on plowing. He never went back to school; his hard-earned “rock school” degree came from the dairy and the farm.

He was drafted during World War II and served two years in France and Italy. A shrapnel injury earned him the Purple Heart. He is proud of his medal and the emblem adorned cap given to him by his son, Roy.

For 34 years, our hero operated a 200-cow dairy on more than 100 acres of land that is now Orr Park. Many Montevallo men remember that, as teenagers, they helped milk cows at that dairy.

When Cunningham closed the dairy, he sold most of the acreage; 12 of those to the city, and then he gave them six acres. It was obvious, by his smile, that he was happy that he could make that gift.

Though his bad hip inhibits walking, he, with the help of friends Steve Smith and Henry Pope, still raises a large garden of okra, squash, turnips, collards, corn and tomatoes.

“About five years ago I became Mr. Cunningham’s neighbor,” said Anderson. “Since then he has become a friend and an inspiration through his compassionate and kind ways. His hobby is and has been his garden, something he is always ready to share. Many people who shop in Montevallo have more than likely eaten vegetables grown in Mr. Cunningham’s garden. He tells me he continues to garden and to play computer solitaire to keep his body and mind physically strong and fit. ”

Cunningham is an inspiration to all of us whose bones are beginning to creak and who can’t remember a name. His wisdom and determination are evident when he said, “If you don’t use your mind and your body, they just go away.”

Catherine Legg can be reached by email at