The Reverend William T. (Bill) Cunningham of Pasadena, California, passed away on February 8, 2023, following a lengthy illness.
Bill was preceded in death by his mother Mary Blanche (nee Redding), father William E. Cunningham, and his sister Diane McCurdy (2018). Left behind are his dedicated and loving wife of 61 years, Karlene (nee Rupp), his three children, Brian (Kayte), Katelyn and Alex (partner Laura), as well as six grandchildren, Hayden (Tiffany), Connor, Sean (partner Rose), Ethan, Mia and Joaquin.
Bill was born in 1935 in Highland Park, California, where he lived until 1950 when the family moved to Berkeley, California. He attended Berkeley High School where he served as senior class president.
Bill’s faith journey began when he was 11 years old and put his trust in God. During high school he was involved in Young Life and became a committed Christian in 1957. Bill attended UC Berkeley where he earned a business degree in accounting. While at Cal, Bill served for two years in the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp (NROTC) and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity.
From 1957 until 1959, Lieutenant JG Cunningham served in the U.S. Navy as a supply officer on the USS Hazelwood. It was here Bill discovered his calling while serving as a volunteer chaplain. Bill entered Princeton Theological Seminary after his separation from the Navy and graduated in 1962.
Bill interned at Berkeley 1st Presbyterian Church while attending Princeton. It was there he met the love of his life, and future wife, Karlene Rupp. Although the two were a continent apart, Karlene at UCLA and Bill in Princeton, they began dating. They
enjoyed a long-distance courtship filled with letters and late-night phone calls.
Bill proposed in 1960 and they were married September 2, 1961, at 1st Presbyterian Church in Berkeley, California.
Bill was called to Seattle University Presbyterian Church as an associate pastor in 1962. It was during this time Bill and Karlene’s three children were born. He served this congregation until 1976. While there, he and Karlene sponsored a group for young singles. Bill developed the church’s deacon ministry and founded a group for recently divorced people that included counseling. A form of this group continues to this day.
On July 9, 1976, Bill was called to the La Cañada Presbyterian Church as an experienced career associate pastor to help the church expand its ministries in missions, evangelism, and stewardship.
Some highlights of his ministry were an outreach to individuals and families with alcohol-related problems called Christ in the Vineyard. He taught new members classes that included small groups which enabled people to get to know and support each other. He provided counsel to several dozen members of the church who were under care to become ordained ministers in the PCUSA. Bill initiated a change in the way missions were funded. This resulted in a tremendous increase in giving involving children, youth and adults that continues today. A growing number of youth and adults became and continue to be involved in outreach with the Harambee Center in Pasadena and at Casa de la Esperanza in Mexico. Additionally, more than 200 members went on short-term mission trips all around the world.
Bill brought Benyamen Yusuf of Ethiopia to become the first international leader to serve on LCPC’s staff. Benyamen’s relationships at LCPC sparked a desire for a change in the role women played in the churches he later planted in Ethiopia. He inspired women pastors and lay women from LCPC to come to Ethiopia to demonstrate potential new roles for women.
Bill established two ministries that continue as part of LCPC’s Faith Missions. The Alternative Christmas Market where attendees contribute to and meet with local and global outreach partners and the Mississippi short term mission trips where attendees help build houses in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
Bill counts his years at the La Cañada Presbyterian Church to be a gracious gift from God filled with many wonderful memories. He was extremely grateful for the many, many outstanding lay leaders with whom he had the privilege to serve over the years.
Bill resigned from the church due to an autoimmune disease.
Bill took delight in his children and grandchildren. He was a huge sports fan. He particularly loved basketball and watched the Lakers and UCLA. His favorite football teams were UCLA, USC and the Rams.
A memorial service will be held at LCPC on May 20 at 2 p.m. Contributions may be made in his honor to:
La Cañada Presbyterian Church
Faith Missions Fund
626 Foothill Blvd.
La Cañada Flintridge, CA 91011
Knox Presbyterian Church
Youth Camp Scholarship Fund
225 S. Hill Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91106
Monte Vista Grove Homes
Stewart Cottage Renovation Project
2889 San Pasqual St.
Pasadena, CA 91107