Just what DO you do with flat feet?
By Karen Zach
Quite an interesting fellow was born in Montgomery County at 8 in the morning, the first child of Jesse and Inez (Shields) Cunningham. It was April 3rd in 1913. Jesse was 32 and a dairyman and as most women of the day, Inez was a housewife (and seven years younger than Jesse). George “Kenneth” Cunningham was delivered as a normal birth by Dr. Faye O. Schenck and five years later was joined by Ruth Josephine, Ken’s only sibling.
The Cunningham kids grew-up in Crawfordsville, both graduates of CHS, Ken involved in orchestra, band and Hi-Y. His senior year the Hi-Y basketball team went undefeated but I’d guess in lieu of what I’ll tell ya’ next he didn’t play although he was a half inch shy of 6’ which was tall for the time. Plus, I think he was more interested in working. His first job was at Jones’ Drug Store and he enjoyed it immensely but doggone it, his feet hurt. Discovering he had a severe case of flat feet, to keep working his job, he purchased a pair of orthopedic shoes and a new career began!
His interest in those shoes and how they aided him to get back up and moving got him a job with the shoe company that had sold him the shoes. He was constantly figuring and studying about this new passion. Impressed with his enthusiasm and new-found knowledge the company sent him to the Orthopedic Institute in Danville, Ill. There he learned the standards of correcting shoes for proper fit and comfort. He noted, “The principle of the proper fitting of shoes is to try to set-up the balance and function of the foot.”
Ken understood this concept perfectly, intellectually and comfortably. After his schooling, he went to work in an orthopedic shoe store in Toledo, Ohio and not long afterwards, became its manager. He met the love of his life there, Mildred Maxine Krouse and on a Monday morning, March 27, 1941, they were happily married by Rev. Lyle Snyder, a cousin of Mildred’s. A wedding breakfast and reception immediately afterward was held at her parents’ home. Then, they were off on a honeymoon. After this trip, they came to Crawfordsville where he worked for Burroughs Shoe Store beginning their long, happy 48-years of marriage before death parted them in 1989, when Mildred passed away. Sadly, his sister passed away the last day of that same year, then Ken followed the next July. Sister Ruth lived in the Indianapolis area most of her life working at the American States Insurance company and was the wife of Leo Joseph Falke. Ken’s father, Jesse passed in 1955 at age 74 and his mother lived to be 97.
An interesting job Ken had was not too long after returning to Crawfordsville, when the newlyweds moved East where he worked in an arsenal fitting 15,000 workers with shoes that “dissipated all electricity from the body,” because any spark caused by a scraping shoe could torch off an explosion. After this impressive feat, he was becoming well-known in his field at this time.
Then the war came and on June 7, 1943 in Toledo, he enlisted. Because of his own flat feet, he was on limited duty and was sent to Camp Wolters in Texas then studied the “art of manufacturing braces.” By October of ‘43 he was able to erect his own up-to-date shop on base and in his first year alone, manufactured over 700 orthopedic braces and other equipment to aide soldiers in having a better life.
Ken was featured in the newsletter of Camp Wolters by writer, Cpl. Herb Brin November 10, 1944 where Brin noted, “His shop is equipped with shoe repair machinery, a drill press, metal cutting lathe, power grinder and an acetylene torch,” making him capable of performing even the most intricate repair jobs. A story about one soldier he helped wasn’t even foot-related but for six days, Ken bent steel bars to
contour to the upper portion of the soldier’s body. Being hurt, the soldier would be out soon and needing to work – this aide would cost him hundreds of dollars on his own. When Ken finished, there was such relief to the man that Ken became a hero. I believe he was to the many soldiers he helped in his 21-months of service.
The Cunninghams lived in Toledo, Ilion, NY and places where Ken did various managerial jobs, often relating to shoes. In August of 1969, he and Mildred moved to the Reno, Nevada area where Ken managed Dunham Distribution Center, then the Riverside Manufacturing Distribution Center, retiring in 1978 (obit).
They were active in St. John’s Presbyterian Church there and he became a 32nd degree Mason (Scottish Rite). Ken was cremated at his death and ashes buried in the same cemetery beside Mildred (Reno Washoe County, Nevada cemetery). Although Ken and Mildred had no children of their own, they were close to nieces, nephews, and children in the church.
I want to thank Brian N. for calling my attention to G. Kenneth Cunningham who grabbed an idea of interest to him, went forth, prospered and helped so many people! I sure admire that! How about you?
Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. You can reach her at Karen@ thepaper24-7.com.