The name of Cunningham has long been an honored one in Clay county,
Illinois, where for several generations have lived most worthy
representatives of the family, who were, and are, always to be found
associated with every movement which promised an addition to the community's
wealth and material advancement. Especially is this true of the late John M.
Cunningham, for many years a valued and honored citizen of Flora, and his
son, Charles S., the prominent business man and present head of the city
government. The family is of Scotch origin and descends from an old and
honored one of Virginia, where was born Benjamin F. Cunningham, who, when a
young man, made his way westward and settled in Clay county, becoming one of
its earliest pioneers. He first located in the southern part of the county
along Cottonwood creek and there engaged in the milling industry. His
equipment was crude and his labor arduous, but by sturdy industry he
succeeded. Later he came to Flora and engaged in the banking business under
the firm name of the Cunningham and Harter Savings Bank. It was one of the
pioneer institutions of the locality. This business he conducted with much
ability until within a year of his death, which occurred in 1876. He
possessed many rare and excellent traits of character, and abounding
industry and was much honored and esteemed. Among his children was John M.
John Minor Cunningham was born near Flora, March 24, 1844, and was there reared and grew to manhood. He acquired such an education as the community afforded which was broadened in later life by reading, association, contact and native intelligence. He was associated with his father for some time in various enterprises, finally embarking in the jewelry business, which he conducted profitably for many years. He was directly and indirectly connected with various other enterprises, ever putting his shoulder to the wheel of progress, and was deeply interested in the growth and advancement of his native county, and in all that pertained to its welfare.
Mr. Cunningham first married on January 1, 1866, Jennie E. Hawkins, whose early death occurred on September 24, 1874. To this union three children were born, one of whom died in infancy. Those living are Charles S., and Clyde L., the latter a resident of Julesburg, Colorado. The mother of these, whose death was sincerely mourned, was of Scotch ancestry, her mother and grandmother having emigrated from Scotland.
On February 3, 1876, Mr. Cunningham again married, the lady being Mary Elizabeth Finch, a direct descendant of Sir Heneage Finch, who was born in Kent, England, in 1621, and whose eldest son, Heneage, was first Earl of Nottingham and was Lord Chancellor of England. Mrs. Cunningham was born September 25, 1854, and was the first white child born in Flora. To this marriage there came children as follows: Fremont, who died in infancy; Nelle, born September 29, 1875, and married Jerry J. Bowman, October 22, 1902, and Max F., born April 14, 1883.
Mr. Cunningham was a member of Flora Lodge No. 204, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, Order of the Eastern Star No. 105, Royal Arch Chapter No. 154, and of Grand Commandery No. 14, Knights Templar. He was much attached to these orders and highly prized the associations there enjoyed. He attended the Knights Templar conclaves at Boston, Louisville and Denver. At his death the funeral auspices were conducted by Gorin Commandery No. 14, of Olney. He and his wife were for many years regular attendants and liberal contributors of the First Presbyterian church of Flora and of whose board of trustees he was an honored member. At the death of Mr. Cunningham, which occurred suddenly and unexpectedly March 13, 1906, fitting and appropriate resolutions were adopted by the various commercial, religious and fraternal units with which he was connected, and from these we quote the following: "From among us there has been taken a loving husband, a kind and indulgent father, a faithful friend, a genial companion, a successful business man and honored citizen and one whose place can not be filled."
At a special meeting of the directors of the Flora National Bank, of which he was a director from January 1893, to his death, suitable resolutions were drawn and spread upon the minutes. In part these resolutions said: "His counsels were always wise and at all meetings he took a prominent part. We feel our great loss and will miss the sound advice which he was ever ready and competent to give, and his good judgment in all matters pertaining to the bank." Resolutions of like character were adopted by the Masonic and other bodies.
Of Mr. Cunningham an old friend has written: "A grand life indeed was that of John Minor Cunningham, a life set to the Golden Rule, to kind acts and ways, helpful at needed times, a friend to his fellowman, assisting, if it were a loss to him, aiding, if the sacrifice fell on him, and in an active business career covering many years he was ever fair and just in his dealings. He was associated with Flora from its infant state, aided in its growth, assisted in the introduction of its schools, churches and public in, situations. He was foremost in establishing business in Flora, cooperating with the best interests of the city and its rural districts, daring and bold in the advocacy of social order, sober living, good government and fair and honest transactions of business."
Charles S. Cunningham, son of John M., was born in Flora, March 27, 1870, and, like his father, has lived there all of his life. He attended the public schools, afterwards entering the jewelry store of his father. He long ago mastered every detail of the business and conducts perhaps the leading establishment in that line of trade in Southern Illinois.
Mr. Cunningham married in 1890, Eva L., daughter of John Jackson, of Allegan, Michigan. To this union two sons have been born, Rexford J., and Charles J. He has figured somewhat conspicuously in the political affairs of Flora and was first elected City Treasurer, in which capacity he served two years; he was then Alderman for two years and in the spring of 1907 he was elected Mayor of Flora and has given the city an economical, efficient and thoroughly moral administration, taking the same care and interest in public affairs as he does in those of purely personal nature. Mr. Cunningham, it may be here stated, has not sought for or accepted office because of the honor that might be attached thereto, but has been actuated solely by a desire to lend the best efforts that is in him toward the maintenance of law and order and the growth and advancement of the city and its commercial, moral and material worth. He has been especially vigorous in the enforcement of local option laws and is earnestly advocating a system of water and other municipal advantages. Aside from his official duties and his personal affairs, Mr. Cunningham is also prominently connected with various other enterprises, being a director and vice-president of the First National Bank of Flora, a director of the Breese Trenton Coal and Mining Company and of the Friend Telephone company of Flora. He is a Republican in politics; fraternally he is a member of the Flora Lodge No. 204, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, of the Knights of Pythias, and of the Ben Hur lodge. He is a member of the Illinois State Historical Society of Springfield, and both he and Mrs. Cunningham are members of the Methodist church of Flora. Mr. Cunningham appears entirely capable of emulating the example of his worthy progenitors and is closely following in their footsteps. He possesses an unblemished character, a strict integrity, an intelligent appreciation of his responsibilities and a faculty of accomplishment. He fully realizes that these traits of character have described through the blood of his ancestry and to whatever heights he may be destined to ascend, his most valued possession, his greatest pride shall ever be that priceless heritage of his forefathers - an honored name.
Extracted 27 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay & Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 235-237.