Cover photo for Jessie Cunningham's Obituary

Jessie Cunningham

October 3, 1922 — December 2, 2020

Jessie Cunningham

Jessie Marie Cunningham (Potter), 98, of Charlevoix, passed away surrounded by her family on December 2, 2020. Jessie was born October 3, 1922, in South Barnard, Charlevoix.  She was the daughter of John and Jennie Potter (Klooster), who immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands. She attended the Barnard and Charlevoix Schools, graduating in 1941. She went on to attend a cosmetology academy in Detroit.

Jessie grew up in the Barnard community, where she forged strong friendships with neighbors and family that would last throughout her life. In her household, her parents scratched out a living as farmers, and they spoke Dutch. In September 1943 she married Ray Cunningham of Charlevoix.

Ray and Jessie lived in Detroit after they were married, where she worked as a beautician. She and Ray loved to play music together, and even performed on a radio show with Jessie playing her mandolin and singing with Ray on guitar. Ray and Jessie moved back to Barnard after a couple of years of big-city life, where they raised their three sons, Ben, Stuart, and Bruce.

Jessie was a sweet and caring member of her community. She spent most of her working years as the adult workshop supervisor at the Bergmann Center, where she helped lay much of the foundation for what has become an indispensable service in Charlevoix.

She was a life-long member of the Community Reformed Church, where she taught Sunday school. She was also an active member of the Barnard Grange and the Charlevoix Senior Center, where she spent countless hours working on outreach to the less fortunate – she often put her world-class crafting skills to work to sew and quilt blankets to be sent to those in need.

Jessie was a loving and proud wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother. She kept up with everything her kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews (including several ‘adopted’ grandkids) were doing and couldn’t wait to share the latest news from her family. She was the connection that tied dozens upon dozens of family members together. Her grandkids cherish their memories of summer days at Grandma’s house – tea parties, paper sack races, and mud buggy rides. Her Thanksgiving dinners were legendary for fitting an impossible number of people into her living room, and all were welcomed.

Jessie lived on her own after her husband Ray passed in 1987, but she was rarely alone. Her neighbors were regular visitors and kept her well-supplied in fish. Many of those same friends she made growing up in Barnard still gathered for Monday morning coffee, which Jessie loved to host well into her nineties.

Jessie was sweeter than any of the tastiest treats she could whip up in her kitchen, but that is only one side of her story. She was also one of the toughest and sharpest women ever to come out of Barnard. Jessie never stopped moving – hard work was a part of her DNA. She kept herself supplied with food year-round from her massive and impeccably kept garden. She was an avid cross-country skier. She was a dead-eye shot with a rifle, who could open her back door and pick off a rat she spied sneaking into the chicken coop across the yard.

She didn’t flinch when her son Ben asked her to tow him home on his motorcycle with her car, and then let the tow-rope teach Ben an important lesson! When she was in her eighties, she painted the inside of her house, and then in her nineties, she painted her garage as high as she could reach. When she finally did take a break, she loved to best her son Stuart in a game of golf--which she did last when she was 89. Jessie also loved to sing, or just take a long walk. She loved learning about the world and read history books on any subject she could get her hands on.

Two years ago Jessie moved in with her son Ben and daughter-in-law Leslie in order to “make the best of things,” as she put it. She joined Leslie’s weekly guitar group and helped with the sing-a-longs the group did at American House before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. She continued singing with the group each week throughout this autumn.

Jessie is survived by her sons Ben (Leslie) Cunningham of Charlevoix and Stuart (Gloria) Cunningham of Petoskey, her daughter-in-law Terri Cunningham of Traverse City, her 10 grandchildren: Crissy, Matt, Mike, Tom, Andrea, Todd, Paul, Amy, Bethany, and Marc.  Jessie had 15 great grandchildren and about a gazillion nieces, nephews, and cousins. She was preceded in death by her husband Ray, her youngest son Bruce, her sister Margaret (Guy) Davis, and her brother Bill (Janice) Potter.

The family would like to thank Jessie’s many neighbors that looked in on her over her later years, especially the Herb, Nate, and Scott Boss families, the Randy Cebulski family, and the Bill Stevens family.

The Mortensen Funeral Home, Winchester Chapel in Charlevoix is handling arrangements and tributes can be added at . A Celebration of Life gathering will be held at a later date.

The family suggests in lieu of flowers that memorial gifts may be made to the Bergmann Center or the Safe Haven Ministries of Community Reformed Church of Charlevoix.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Jessie Cunningham, please visit our flower store.


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