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Don Cunnings' legacy is 'nearly every park in Coquitlam'

Don Cunnings, a recipient of Coquitlam’s Freedom of the City award and the namesake for Cunnings Field at Town Centre Park, passed away at age 92.

A recipient of Coquitlam's Freedom of the City award and the namesake for Cunnings Field died last week.

Don Cunnings was 92.

Born in Vancouver on Feb. 17, 1931, Cunnings lived most of his life in Coquitlam before moving to Pitt Meadows a few years ago with his wife, Betty, with whom he celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary on Oct. 8.

Son Ian Cunnings told the Tri-City News today, Dec. 11, that his father battled prostate cancer for several years and died of congestive heart failure on Dec. 5 at the Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.

"He was a pioneer, a leader, caring, an educator, an athlete and he had a very high vocabulary," Ian remembered.

"Some folks may need a dictionary for his celebration of life service."

Ian said Don’s legacy is "nearly every park in Coquitlam."

A 1962 physical education graduate from UBC and a city employee for 39 years, Don Cunnings rose from the civic position of recreation director — under then-mayor Jimmy Christmas — to the director of parks and leisure services before his retirement in 1994.

During that time, he helped to establish the BC Recreation Association; was the vice president of the Canadian Association of Physical Education, Health Education and Recreation; and created and directed Coquitlam Search and Rescue.

Prior, the nationally ranked gymnast and coach worked as a recreational therapist at Essondale (now səmiq̓ʷəʔelə/Riverview Lands), founding the hospital’s music therapy program.

Cunnings also volunteered regularly, including with the Eagle Ridge Hospital Foundation, Douglas College Foundation and the Coquitlam Heritage Society.

In 1999, the City of Coquitlam, Douglas College and School District 43 (SD43) named Cunnings Fields at Town Centre Park in his honour.

Ian said he remembers as a youth riding his dirt bike around Lafarge Lake and wondering what his father was envisioning for the development of Town Centre Park.

"Now, when I pass these parks, it just blows my mind what he did," Ian said.

"He was a great guy. One of the best parks and rec directors we ever had,” former mayor Lou Sekora told the Tri-City News.

"He was ahead of everybody else and showed real leadership with the Town Centre Park stadium and Riverview Forest. Every mayor should have a recreation director like Don Cunnings."

Added Nick Zupan, president of Coquitlam Search and Rescue, "His vision, dedication and unwavering commitment has been the cornerstone of our organization's foundation. His passing while sad is also a time to celebrate a life well lived and give thanks to being the recipients of a great legacy.

"Don's vision for Coquitlam Search and Rescue will forever remain a guiding light for us, inspiring our actions and shaping our future. He leaves behind a profound impact on our organization that has endured through many changes over the years and will continue to endure into the future."

Cunnings leaves behind his wife, Betty; children Lesley, Ian and Bruce; and four grandchildren.

The celebration of life will take place on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. at St. Andrew’s-Wesley United Church (1026 Nelson St., Vancouver). The family is asking for donations in Don Cunnings’ name be given to Coquitlam Search and Rescue, the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation and the BC Cancer Foundation.