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Difference Makers: Nell Cunningham

Nell Cunningham is 91 years old and still a dynamo at getting things done in Havana. She was born here and lived here until she graduated from FSU’s first class in 1948. She then taught in Panama City until 1952, returning to Havana to teach for 21⁄2 years until her mar- riage to Sam Cunningham in 1954.

Sam was a clinical psychologist at the hospital in Chattahoochee and Nell moved there to be with him. She taught grade school (mostly first grade). They moved back to Havana in 1987.

The list of Nell’s accomplishments is too long to fit in one article, but here is an overview,

She was the first Volunteer of the Year for the Havana Kiwanis Club; in charge of the Havana Centennial Celebration in 2006; the finance chair for the Veterans Me- morial also in 2006; attended Governor Graham’s conference on leadership; served on the Gadsden County Hospital Board when the hospital was dedicated and won a Commitment to Excellence Award as an FSU Emeritus Alumnus in 2011.

She played a role in getting a columbarium (room for urns to be stored) for the cemetery and in the creation of the Tobacco Museum. It seems that nothing happens in Havana without Nell having a finger in it.

Which of your many accomplishments do you feel are the most meaningful to the community?
There are two. I was instrumental in getting library service in Gadsden County through Governor Askew. I also was instrumental in getting health service for our community. I was on the Havana Health and Wellness Board and we got neighborhood health services as well as a portable health unit for the magnet school.

To what do you attribute the clarity of mind and energy you have at your age?
I believe its genetics. Both my grandmother and my mother lived to be 98 and my mother was active in everything. If you can keep a goal in mind, you can usually find the energy to pursue it. I have always had tremendous support from Sam, and my family and friends, and that means the world to me. Without it, I could not have accomplished anything.

I’ve heard that you also work for Santa Claus. Tell me about that.
I used to help Santa by sending cards to my students from Santa at Christmas time every year. Now I send about 100 cards to those students’ children and their children’s children. It is a labor of love between Santa, the children and me.

Do you have any hobbies?

I love reading and belong to the Havana Book Club. I also love knitting and make caps and mittens for Billy Graham’s Shoebox project each November.

What would you tell others regarding making a difference in their communities?
For me, my community and church were really important. I taught Sunday School and was finance chair (21 years) until this year. My mother always told me that the place you lived should become a better place be- cause you lived there. I’ve tried to make that happen and I’d recommend that others would follow that ad- vice, too. Also, they need to know you can do nothing by yourself. It takes family, friends and community support.

Story By: Judy Conlin