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Cunningham Lab Gift Announcement

March 11, 2003

Merced College announced Tuesday it has received a $100,000 gift from the Carlston Cunningham Trust which will benefit the Carlston Cunningham Lab, an on-campus program designed to assist students with learning disabilities.

The Merced College Foundation held a reception for members of Carlston Cunningham’s family, including the late Cunningham’s sister Nancy Lint and niece Bernice Shields. Merced College President Dr. Benjamin T. Duran spoke to Cunningham Lab students about the generosity of the Cunningham family and what the gift will mean to students.

“Carlston Cunningham gave Merced College a gift that keeps on giving,” Dr. Duran said. “Community colleges are the place where disabled students can gain access to higher education, and we are grateful to Nancy and her family for their generosity.”

The funds will be used to purchase several new computers and to relocate the lab from its current cramped location in temporary portables to its new, spacious home in the Communications Building.

Because of Cunningham, what began as a small program developed to assist in the rehabilitation of stroke victims, has flourished into a state of the art computer-based curriculum designed to assist students with several different learning disabilities.

Former Cunningham Lab instructor Nancy McElwain recalled how she met Cunningham.

“About 20 years ago, Carlston and his wife visited my class,” she said. “I thought he was a student.” She later found out that he had seen a television broadcast regarding the class and took an interest in it because “we were using phonics instead of whole language to instruct our students. He learned to read using the phonics system and was a passionate believer in the use of phonics.”

McElwain said that Cunningham “pretended to be a student in order to observe what we were doing. We didn’t see him again, and some time went by, and then one day, we arrived at the class to find 25 Commodore 64 computers waiting for us, all given by Carlston. It was incredible.”

Cunningham’s avid interest in the program was based on the fact that he had suffered from a learning disability all his life, which went undiagnosed until the Le Grand rancher was nearly 70 years old. The disability was dyslexia. Little was known about it and even less was known about how to treat it.

“When Carlston learned of this disability called dyslexia, he asked a doctor about it and was told there was no such thing,” said Lint. Instead of accepting that answer, Cunningham researched the issue and learned all he could about dyslexia.”

All his life, Cunningham suffered because he couldn’t learn to read, according to Lint. In high school, he became belligerent and would fight with everyone. At the age of 70, when he found out that he suffered from dyslexia and that he could read, “he went to all the people he fought with in high school and apologized for his meanness,” said Lint.

The Cunningham Lab has seen several success stories and has instructed over 2,000 students with learning disabilities over the past 20 years. Lab adjunct instructor Judy Wood spoke of the success students have achieved through the program. One such student who began class as a non reader went on to graduate from California State University, Stanislaus and is now a teacher. Wood commented that she grateful to the Cunningham family for providing the opportunity for students with learning disabilities to succeed.

“When you have a learning disability, you learn to live with it and work around it, but sometimes you can use a little help along the way,” Wood said. “We have former students who still come back to get help.”

Student Stacy Zieger learned to read words from pictures. “It’s such a challenge, but it’s an exciting opportunity for me to come to this class each day and I want to thank the Cunningham family.”

After listening to some of the student’s success stories, Lint said, “This was Carlston’s dream come true. Our family is also so thankful to Merced College for providing us a place to do this.”

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