Former U of M prof Cunningham dies at 82

William Patrick Cunningham, 82, of Falcon Heights, died July 24 after suffering a major heart attack while attending the Chautauqua Institute in New York with his wife of 60 years, Mary Ellen.

Bill was born on July 11, 1937 in Ottumwa, Iowa. He loved books, conversation, music, novel foods, travel and sour cherry pie.

As a professor at the University of Minnesota, Cunningham’s early academic work in cell biology later shifted toward conservation biology and environmental science, in response to increasingly urgent environmental concerns and the interests of his students. Bill loved being in the wilderness, and he camped and canoed often with this family in the Boundary Waters.

In the 1970s, Bill served as president of the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. He traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby Congress to create the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). Bill built beautiful wood-strip canoes and paddles, and he led the construction of the 33-foot voyageur canoe for Camp du Nord.

Bill’s passion for teaching cell biology and environmental science expanded beyond the classroom and included textbook writing on environmental science. His daughter Mary Ann joined him as a co-author. Their textbooks, Environmental Science, A Global Concern and Principles of Environmental Science have been top sellers for 30 years and are widely used in colleges throughout the country.

Bill was an exemplary teacher, professor and mentor to his many undergraduate and graduate students. In 1993, he received the Horace T. Morse-University of Minnesota Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education.

Cunningham is survived by his wife Mary Ellen (Lavelle) Cunningham; children Peg Desrochers (Mark), Mary Ann Cunningham (Tom Finkle), and John Cunningham; and seven grandchildren, as well as sister Kathleen Smith and sister-in-law Georgie Cunningham.

Funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis on Aug. 2. Memorials are suggested to: Save the Boundary Waters Foundation, Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness, Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, Catholic Charities, Camp du Nord, or a charity of your choice.

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