March 14, 1942
March 31, 2021
On March 31/21, at the Drumheller Health Complex, Sandy Cunningham died peacefully with his family by his side. Having been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he made a decision and opted to die as he lived – in control of his affairs – through medically assisted death. Thank you to Dr. Tlhape, Dr. Kuschke, Bev Krabsen and Jenn Nagy for their assistance with this.
Sandy is survived by JoAnn Cunningham, his wife of almost 54 years, his son Scott (Lindsay), their children Chloe and Callum as well as his daughter, Lindsay, and her children, Carmen and Callie, his brother Earl Griffin, (Alva) and children Jennifer (Jordan), Douglas (Heather) and Jacqueline (Nick).
Sandy lived his entire life in the Drumheller Valley. His early years were spent with his maternal grandparents in the mine camp in East Coulee. The family later moved to Ploeg Street (now the industrial area) where his education began in the small schools in Newcastle. Many stories have been told about the fun he had and the friends he made while living there. Junior High meant going to a much bigger school, in “town.” For a kid from Newcastle this was a big deal. Central School had only one grade in a classroom and a lot more kids! Sandy left high school, to get a job to help support his aging grandparents. His first employment was with Fran Broom at Red Deer Bottling where he learned quickly the skill of stacking and moving crates of pop. Then on to a job with the plumbing company, Durnie and Hawkins, where plumbing skills that would come in handy for the rest of his life were learned. While working at Durnie and Hawkins, a good friend (Don Dart) suggested he should talk to Andy Westergard about the possibility of a job at the Ford garage. To make a long story short, Sandy began working as a mechanic at Westergard Motors (then owned by Andy Westergard and later Art O`Dwyer), and the rest is history. Four years at SAIT and many years of experience fuelled his life long love of cars. Sandy was a great mechanic. He later became shop foreman at Westergards. It was during his time there that a friend and customer, Jim Jorgensen from Rosebud introduced his younger sister JoAnn to him, with a warning to her to “be careful because he`s pretty wild!!” JoAnn had come to Drumheller to teach school, planning to stay for no longer than two years. That was 1965. Two years later, on August 19, 1967 they were married. It was their “Centennial Project”.
Sandy continued working at Westergards until deciding to go into business for himself. He purchased the local Gulf Service station which was located on the corner of the current Munchie Park, across the street from what was then Canada Manpower. The year was 1978. This was a big move for Sandy and the learning curve was steep. He had to learn to run a business, he had a new born son and as well was now the sole wage earner in the family. Because of the proximity to Drumheller`s water tower, the station became known as Tower Gulf. Sandy specialized in tune ups, under coating and air conditioning as well as having four busy gas pumps. Many teenagers obtained employment pumping gas at Tower Gulf. Later Petro Canada purchased the Gulf franchise and it became a Petro station. By the early 90s, Sandy decided to leave the franchise business of a service station and focus on automotive repair. Along with partner John Carls, he purchased the building right next to Brent Aagaard`s Upholstery Shop. The “Tower” name remained in the move and the business became Tower Auto. Sandy worked very hard and ran a successful business there until his retirement in 2007.
It is my opinion (and one I'm sure is shared by many others) that Sandy Cunningham was the best mechanic in Drumheller. His knowledge of cars, ability to diagnose problems, and understanding of new technology were second to none. He was not content with a poorly done job. He often said, “If a job's worth doing it’s worth doing well.” Even years after he retired he was often asked for help by those who knew his ability with anything mechanical. He was willing to help anyone whether it be installing motion activated switches for his son in Vancouver, completing various home repairs or ongoing car maintenance for his daughter in Calgary, or simply changing a headlight on a car for a friend, Sandy was generous with his time and ability.
Sandy loved to buy and sell cars and he was good at it. It was hard to keep track of just how many different vehicles he owned! (You never wanted to love a car because you likely wouldn`t have it for long). He never bought junkers.........they were always good and easy to resell when something better came up.
In his retirement, Sandy was never bored. He loved electronics and embraced technology. His knowledge in this area far surpassed what many people of his generation could do. He liked to learn new skills. (his friends at coffee used him like Google, as he was the one they relied on to search out answers online during morning coffee sessions at Yavis`s.
Sandy was an active member of the Drumheller Kinsmen Club. Many lifetime friendships came from the early days of participating in their activities. He remained a member of the K40 club throughout his life.
Sandy was much loved by children. During the summers we spent at Mara and later Shuswap Lake, he spent endless hours taking kids for boat rides, teaching them to waterski, pulling them on a tube, rarely losing his patience or showing that he was tired of the activity. He always had an idea for something fun to do. Spending summers at his Sicamous home on Shuswap Lake was a favourite for Sandy. He was proud of our home there and he worked hard to maintain it.
It is a sad day for us and the community, as we and the Town of Drumheller have lost a special part of our lives.
In support of current restrictions we have opted not to have a memorial service. If desired, donations can be made to Drumheller and Area Health Foundation. Courtney Winters is in charge of arrangements and condolences may be sent there.
My family and I would like to express our deepest thanks and appreciation to the staff of the Drumheller Hospital. The care and support given by each and every person we dealt with throughout his brief stay was caring, compassionate, professional and so much appreciated. As well, we'd like to thank friends in the community of Drumheller for the support we have received. We feel very cared for. Thank you for that.