The family and friends of Bruce Cunningham gather today to celebrate his very long and happy life. Born on June 29, 1926 to Samuel and Jewel (Bruce) Cunningham in Savoy, Texas, his given name was Byron Bruce Cunningham, but he always preferred his middle name Bruce. He was the third of eight children and spent much of his childhood and youth working on the family farm, where he developed the skills of working with mules. He had great respect and affection for mules, and loved to talk about them.
Shortly after his 18th birthday he was inducted into the Army where he served by “island hopping” in the Pacific theatre of the war, and subsequently served during the occupation of Japan. While in Japan he fell in love with the country and its people…..and where he met the love of his life, Kazuko Suzuki, affectionately known as Katie. It was a blind date that he didn’t want to attend. But being a gentleman as raised by his mother, aunties and sisters, he agreed to go. He often recalled their courtship in Tokyo as one of the happiest periods of his life. “We painted that town red,” he loved to say.
Moving back to the States with Katie, Bruce spent a short period of time as a carpenter before joining the newly formed US Air Force where he served the rest of his military career. It was during this time that they started their family, adding daughter Kathryne (Kate) to the fold. Like many military families, they moved around quite a bit and after “26 years, 1 month and 13 days” of combined service, Bruce retired as a Master Sergeant.
During his military career, he was the recipient of 2 USAF Commendation Medals (1960, 1967), a Meritorious Service Medal (1970) and the Bronze Star (1971).
The family finally settled in Sacramento, California. After retiring from the USAF, Bruce started his second career as the operations manager at Sacramento Savings & Loan. And it was in Sacramento that they found Katie’s dream home on Mariemont Avenue.
The latter part of his life was as busy as his early years. Bruce and Katie maintained their dream home themselves, devotedly tending to the grounds and home. Bruce also passionately contributed much of his time to different lodges and organizations, starting with the Blue Lodge where he earned his first 3 degrees, and subsequently joining the Shriners and Scottish Rite. Throughout his time as a Freemason, Bruce earned all 32 degrees, and was eventually awarded his 33rd degree. For those not familiar with Freemasonry, unlike the previous degrees, the 33rd degree is not sought after by the individual Mason but is awarded upon recommendation from fellow Masons and voted on by the National organization.
Together Bruce and Katie discovered a love of traveling via cruise ship - sailing to hundreds of ports: Europe, Panama, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, Hong Kong & the Asian Pacific, and, their personal favorite, Alaska. They were so proud that they had hiked up Machu Picchu in their 70s. They spent 49 wonderful married years together, until her passing in 2001.
Bruce’s hobbies consisted of keeping Katie happy, reading (mysteries, western novels & books on WWII), amateur photography, travel, and, most importantly, attending any event that involved his grandchildren, Kathryne and Franklin Baldwin: soccer games, horse shows, and school events. True to the very end, his face and heart were radiant with love and pride for his grandchildren.
Bruce was an intelligent, gracious, kind and generous man. He was distinguished, dignified and also very humorous. Like most Texans, he was a gifted storyteller. He is lovingly survived by his daughter Kate, son-in-law Michael Lee, his grandchildren Kathryne and Franklin Baldwin, by siblings Sue Travis and Laddie Cunningham, and by many, many nieces and nephews. He is remembered with great affection by friends, colleagues, neighbors and caregivers.