The local group Church Women United will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its Interfaith Luncheon by honoring the woman who helped start the annual gathering.
Members will remember the late Carlie Cunningham during the event at noon Oct. 7 at Ceruti's Summit Park, 6601 Innovation Blvd. Cunningham, who died at age 96 in July 2008, also helped found the local Church Women United group, and she and her late husband were generous supporters of programs and projects at their church and in the community.
“I think she did a lot of behind-the-scenes work people didn't know about,” said Martha Dawson of Fort Wayne, who knew Cunningham for 35 years or more.
Luncheon guest speaker will be Lynne Ford, host of the “Mid-Morning” show at 10 a.m. weekdays on the Fort Wayne-based WBCL Radio Network, a Christian network broadcasting locally at 90.3-FM. In keeping with the event's theme of “Music, Music, Music,” Ford will speak about music from the Bible.
Entertainment will be provided by harpist Michelle Kyrou, dancer and singer Sonya Wheatcraft and guitarist Fred Rothert. Cost is $10 per person. Reservations are due by Monday.
Church Women United members describe Cunningham as a quiet woman, but one who enjoyed travel and valued getting to know people from other nations.
Cunningham seemed to believe that, if people of different religions and nationalities got to know each other better, there would be a lot fewer problems in the world, said Dawson, who has compiled a brief biography about Cunningham for the Oct. 7 event.
That view contributed to Cunningham helping to found the Church Women United group in Fort Wayne and its Interfaith Luncheon.
Cunningham and her husband, Joseph, an executive with Essex Corp., frequently also provided free housing in their home to international students who came to Fort Wayne to study at Indiana Institute of Technology, Dawson said.
The Cunninghams, who didn't have children of their own, donated generously to Indiana Tech, Dawson said. The university's Cunningham Business Center, located at the southeast corner of the campus at Maumee Avenue and Anthony Boulevard, is named for the couple.
They also contributed to many projects at their church, Crescent Avenue United Methodist, Dawson said.
Dawson also provided this additional background on Carlie Cunningham:
A native of Rockford, Ohio, she was a member of Crescent Avenue United Methodist Church for more than 60 years. There, she was active in United Methodist Women, including serving as president; served as chair of the church administrative board; and assisted with many church activities.
After Joseph died in 1983, she established the Joseph P. Cunningham Scholarship Fund at the church to help provide financial aid to young people in the congregation planning to attend college or a trade school.
Carlie also was active with many other community organizations, including the Fort Wayne YWCA, including serving as a board member; the Literary Club and the Parliamentary Club.
Cunningham, who was ill the last several years of her life and didn't get out much, did all of her community work without fanfare.
“She would not have gone around slapping herself on the back for all that she has accomplished,” Dawson said.
But local women still are reaping the rewards.
Cunningham left money to the local Church Women United group so it could keep the cost low — $10 per person — to attend the annual Interfaith Luncheon, current president Carol Moore said.
Many members of the luncheon planning committee also said the event and Church Women United have been blessings in their lives.
“It helps we as church women to unite together to grow our faith,” said Pat Green, a local member who also is current president of Church Women United groups in Indiana.
For example, one year the luncheon theme was the “10 Commandments,” Green said. Discussion with people of other faiths helped her realize all faiths have the equivalent of the 10 Commandments, though the people may not refer to them by that name.
Other women spoke of the benefits of sharing ideas between denominations and faiths, such focuses for missions projects or advice on how to do them.
Cunningham “is the one who started it and promoted it,” Green said.