Betty Cunneen (1933-2012)
I delivered this speech at the Pamakid Runners Club General Meeting on March 26, 2012.
I’m a little sweaty and in sweats instead of being formally dressed but I think Betty would forgive me. I’m wearing the same shirt I was wearing in 2010 when I took this photo, my favorite photo of those I’ve ever had the privilege of taking with Betty.
Betty Cunneen was our club’s first President.
Some of you may have seen her at the club picnic last July. Alzheimer’s had taken its toll on her but it was nice to see her at a Pamakid event.
She went into hospice care early last week. The Cunneen kids (Connie, Kelly, Pat Jr., and Garrett) were all there with Pat Sr. in her final days. Pat assured us that they were at peace and ready to let go. On Sunday, Betty passed on.
Our club, the Pamakid Runners began in 1970. The Cunneen and Boitano families met every Wednesday evening for a run around Lake Merced and then pizza at Shakey’s. At the time there were members of the San Francisco Dolphin South End Runners (DSE), the San Francisco Rowing Club, Dolphin Club, and South End Rowing Club who wanted to compete as a club at local races. The AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) would not recognize them because they were a combination of multiple groups, not one single club.
Armed with a desire to run as part of an official running club, Betty Cunneen called a meeting to form a new AAU club. They set a date for September 2, 1970 to discuss club details, including the name. The group tossed out several good ideas, including gems such as the Lake Merced Striders, Pacific Pacers, and my personal favorite, the Runaway Pancakes. Grant Newland invented the name Pamakid Runners and a bird called Soonar as the club mascot. That name and that mascot, won by a landslide.
With their name intact and Betty Cunneen on board as the club’s first president, the Pacific Association of the AAU officially sanctioned Pamakid Runners Club in January 1971. The Wednesday night runs continued for more than 15 years. The club’s first organized race was an 8-mile jaunt from Daly City to Lake Merced. A few years later, they organized a relay race at Lake Merced. This race later evolved into the annual Rites of Spring Run and Dinner, which we still celebrate to this day.
That’s just a small part of our club’s history but in a few paragraphs it gives you an idea of how we got started. We are not a jump on the bandwagon kind of club – we were founded before the running boom of the 1970’s began. Before Frank Shorter’s 1972 Olympic marathon gold medal made running popular. Before women were freely allowed to participate in races (Pat Cunneen has told stories about Betty and the girls having to register with fake names to get into Bay to Breakers because women were not allowed to participate).
Pat has shared some great pictures and stories from the Pamakid years in the 1970’s. What stood out was that Pat and Betty were out doing what they loved – running. It seems like the Cunneen kids had no choice…they could either run with their mom and dad or wait in the car.
Malinda shared this photo with some club members last month. It’s of Betty running with the caption, “Watch out Cheryl Bridges.” Well it turns out the reference is to Cheryl Bridges, known now as the mother of Olympian and American record holder Shalane Flanagan. But in 1971 she was simply Cheryl Bridges, 2:49 marathoner, which happened to be the women’s world record at the time. Cheryl must have been one of Betty’s running rivals in the 1970’s. Malinda and I are casual acquaintances with Cheryl and when we contacted her, she commented that she distinctly remembers the runners with the bird on their singlet.
This got me thinking that it’s a good thing Betty helped pick Soonar and Pamakids as our mascot and club name. I don’t know if I would be so excited to have a big pancake on my singlet and to be yelling “Go Flapjacks!” before races.
Let’s take a moment to remember and reflect on Betty and what she’s meant to the club. We all owe Betty as well as Pat and the Cunneen family a lot.
If you didn’t get to meet Betty take a moment to realize that when you race for the Pamakids, when you attend a Pamakid social event, when you’re part of a “Go Green!” cheer or feel pride in the success of your running club or in the fact that your club donates so much money to charities, remember that it all started 41 years ago in large part to Betty Cunneen.
For those that knew her, think of a favorite memory of Betty.
With that in mind, let’s pause for a moment of silence.
Thank you. This ends the official part of our general meeting. I invite you to now mingle and share some favorite memories of Betty Cunneen.