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Betty Cunneen (1933-2012)

Posted in Pamakid Runners by Andy Chan on March 27, 2012
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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 and I volunteering at goodie bag stuffing the day before the 2010 KP Half Marathon - the first Pamakid President and the current Pamakid President.

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.

Betty Cunneen running for the Pamakids in the 1970's and going after marathon record holder Cheryl Bridges.

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.

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4 Responses to 'Betty Cunneen (1933-2012)'

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  1. Andy et al: I have the fondest memories of Betty and the Pamakids group as I was a runner in the 70’s with Connie, her daughter. Betty and Pat made running FUN when racing with my other AAU team, Millbrae Lions, was not always fun. We did ‘fun runs’ together. I will never forget her lively spirit, encouragement and support of all things running and family. My family wasn’t like the Cunneens; they had other gift. But there were many joyous times in those running years that stay with me to this day. Thank you, Betty, for being a shining light to so many. Sheila Meehan


  2. Thank you, Andy, for your beautiful tribute for one beautiful lady. I have been a dear friend of Betty’s since 1959 and her pamakids has always been her favorite topic. She loved running and instilled that in her kids and, as a family, they always participated together. She was very proud of her founding of and affilitation of the pamakids. Love the picture of the goodie bag stuffing with the first president and the 2010 president. That is how I will always remember Betty. God bless you, Betty, and may you rest in the peace that has been eluding you for some time. Love,
    Lori


  3. Andy, You are one gifted writer. Thank you, Us Cunneens.

  4. Scott Thomason said,

    Andy,

    Thank you for remembering the founding ‘mother’ of PaMaKids. I joined the club in the late 70’s and quickly came to know and love Betty and Pat who were just two of the most wonderful, supportive people you could ever meet. As the club’s Race Director for many years, I was lucky to have worked with so many talented and selfless runners and volunteers. None was more giving and supportive of everything PaMaKid than Betty.

    I relished all the races, the dinners, the meetings, the informal get togethers we celebrated over the years and I watched Betty’s children grow up and learned of their lives through Betty’s proud sharing of their achievements.

    Betty and Pat were just two of the finest human beings you could ever hope to meet, who gave their love and support to everyone who had anything to do with PaMaKid Runners.

    Believe it or not, she was on the cover of Runner’s World, back in its fledgling days or earliest publication, way before the running boom had happened.

    The Rites of Spring Run was another of Betty’s ideas turned into reality, if my memory serves me correctly. Her passing has left a huge hole, both in my heart and in Bay Area running, past and present. Her legacy, fortunately, lives on in spirit and in PaMaKid Runners. May God bless her, Pat and their family now and forever.

    Scott Thomason


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