and Carlene Cunningham
“There is honey in this land sweeter
than any I know of . . .”
From their home in eastern Merced County,
the land flows out in all directions.
To the west, fertile fields are stitched
in a patchwork blanket of farms. Further
eastward, the land rises up into rolling
foothills, eventually forming the jagged
peaks of the Sierras.
For several generations, the Cunningham
family has made this area their home.
For Jim and Carlene Cunningham, though
they have traveled widely, it remains
the best place on earth.
Today we honor Jim and Carlene with the
2016 President’s Medallion, a distinction
given to those members of our community
who have worked tirelessly and selflessly
to improve the lives of all who call this
area home. Though they have not sought
public recognition for their philanthropy
and volunteer efforts, we are grateful
to them, and today we give them the praise
that is their due.
The Cunningham’s relationship with
Merced College goes back to the very founding
of the community college district. Jim’s
father Byron was one of the original members
of the first governing Board of Trustees,
a seat that Jim would later hold for many
years. Jim and Carlene sent each of their
three children to Merced College and they
have all gone on to enjoy successful careers
while raising Jim and Carlene’s
53 years ago in the Planada Community Church,
Jim and Carlene live on the 2,000-acre Cunningham
Ranch where they still raise cattle and
where James Cunningham, Jim’s great-grandfather,
first settled in 1853. In fact, Jim’s
father “was born in a little house
down the road.”
At its height in 1883, the Cunningham Ranch
encompassed about 16,000 acres with 1,200
head of cattle, 4,000 sheep, 200 hogs, and
scores of chickens, ducks, and geese. Though
smaller by comparison, the ranch today normally
supports 300 cattle and several long barns
full of chickens.
That long history of stewardship of the
land and their own personal ethic of community
involvement mark the Cunninghams as one
of the area’s most respected families.
“We believe it’s important to
give back to the community,” remarked
Carlene. “We’re part of the
community, and we want to help make this
a better place for all.”
And they have.
The list of local organizations and activities
they’ve supported over many years
is extensive. The local 4-H and FFA chapters
were well served by their volunteer leadership
and their children, Mike, Kelly, and Jill,
grew up in 4-H programs, an experience that
Jim says taught them valuable life-long
lessons and responsibilities that prepared
them for the adult world.
Serving on the Merced County Board of Education
(1969-75), the Planada Elementary School
Board (1975-79), the Le Grand High School
Board (1979-83), and the Merced College
Board of Trustees (1985-1994), Jim has helped
guide educational programs for many thousands
of students. Carlene’s work to preserve
local history found her serving on the Merced
County Historical Society board for many
years, including being elected president
twice. She has also at various times been
a Brownie, Girl Scout, and even a Cub Scout
leader. Carlene, who worked for the US Postal
Service for 31 years, the last 11 as the
Postmaster for the community of Planada,
was also a project leader of the Le Grand
4-H Club from 1978-82. With a bit of wry
humor, Carlene says that she also “ran
a taxi service, taking our kids to their
different club and sporting events.”
Jim and Carlene are both proud to be early
supporters of UC Merced, and Jim continues
to serve on the Mercy Medical Center Foundation
Board and the Merced Theatre Foundation
Board. He was named by the Merced Chamber
of Commerce as its “Citizen of the
Year” in 1996.
The couple has made major gifts to Merced
College, UC Merced, the Merced Theatre,
the Mercy Medical Center, Friends of the
Fair, and many other worthwhile organizations.
In fact, the amphitheater area we are enjoying
today would not have been possible without
their financial support.
The list of Jim and Carlene’s volunteer
activities and their philanthropic contributions
are as numerous and as far ranging as the
hundreds of cattle that roam the quiet foothills
of eastern Merced County.
President’s Medallion Award
Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy
Dr. Hanimireddy Lakireddy was born in
the remote village of Velvadam in British
India in 1942. He was 5 years old when
India gained its independence.
By the time he began attending primary
school, Velvadam was still without electricity
or paved roads. Transportation was lacking
and for most of the villagers, education
was only a dream.
Dr. Lakireddy’s father believed
he should become a farmer rather than
going to school, and though he pleaded
with his father to allow him to go to
school, he actually missed two years of
his education while working on a farm.
Although he lost his mother when he was
in 8th grade, he was able to complete
high school at a recently established
local school which was two miles away.
Dr. Lakireddy walked to school without
shoes and his only clothing were two 2
pairs of shorts and two shirts.
Despite intense competition and with little
guidance from his elders, he gained admission
to medical school on the merit of his
standardized exam scores. After successfully
completing his medical education, and
after getting married, Dr. Lakireddy returned
to his village to practice medicine.
During this time, his oldest brother had
come to the United States to study chemistry
at UC Berkeley. He eventually settled
here and encouraged his family to migrate
after seeing the many opportunities this
country could afford.
Dr.Lakireddy eventually followed his family
and arrived in America in 1978 with his
wife Vijaya and their two young children.
He completed his training in Internal
Medicine and Cardiology and began his
successful practice as a cardiologist
in Merced in 1984. He has been serving
our local community for the past 30 years,
serving his patients with compassion,
and earning great respect from his peers
in the medical community.
In addition to his invaluable service
to his patients as a cardiologist, Dr.
Lakireddy has helped many people informally
as a mentor and advisor. It is his role
as a philanthropist that we are recognizing
and celebrating today.
most of us know, his largesse has been focused
on educational causes because he fundamentally
believes that knowledge is the most effective
vehicle to change the trajectory of one’s
life. He feels strongly enough about this
that his generosity is felt and acknowledged
not just here in Merced, but also in his
native country where he and Vijaya have
donated generously to advance educational
causes. He has been instrumental in building
several schools and most recently, a college
near the village where he grew up.
Here at home, along Vijaya, he has given
generously to various causes including Merced
College, UC Merced, and Merced High School.
Although they have been recognized recently
for their large contributions to Merced
College and UC Merced, it has been largely
unnoticed that they have provided scholarships
in the name of Dr. Lakireddy’s parents
to Merced High School graduates based on
merit and need for the last 29 years. They
have done this without any fanfare or ceremony.
Philanthropy has been his way of thanking
the local community for all that it has
done for him and his family. Dr. Lakireddy
sincerely appreciates the United States
for providing him with the opportunity to
Farms Trust Scholarship
Thanks to a long-time Merced College professor
and her husband, students wishing to pursue
teaching careers will have extra help
in the form of scholarships.
History professor Amerjit Johl-Hundal
and Par Singh Hundal, joint owners and
trustees of Hundal Farms Inc., have established
a $10,000 scholarship endowment through
the Merced College Foundation.
“We are very grateful for this generous
gift, which Par and Amerjit have provided,”
said Foundation Executive Director Robin
Shepard. “The Hundal Farms Scholarship
Endowment will provide scholarships for
students wishing to pursue careers in
teaching. This is wonderful investment
in our students, one that will produce
lasting benefits for our society.”
Based in the Central Valley and Monterey
County (Pebble Beach), Hundal Farms Inc.
has been involved in the agricultural
business for that past 25 years, mainly
in the almond and pistachio production
industry. The business presently encompasses
several thousand acres and employs 30
full-time and 15 seasonal workers.
Hundal Farms Trust has been involved in
philanthropic endeavors for the past 10
years, including endowments established
with UCLA. Professor Johl has been teaching
at Merced College since 1992. While she
has educated local students, Hundal Farms
Trust has made been a major contributor
to our local economy. Together, the couple
has made the local community a better
place in which to live.
“This is our way of giving back
to the Merced community. With this gift,
we hope to encourage and motivate our
students and benefit the people who live
With a heart to change lives, Parvinder
S. Hundal and Amerjit Johl will be pleased
to know that their philanthropy will do
President’s Medallion Award
Don and Betty Stewart
Morrow Lindbergh once wrote, “To
give without any reward, or any notice,
has a special quality of its own.”
That special quality is evident in the
lives of longtime Merced residents Don
and Betty Stewart.
The Stewarts have given back to their
community over many years with little
fanfare. Expecting no reward, no honor
or recognition, but humbling themselves
in service of others, Don and Betty Stewart
exemplify the spirit and essence of philanthropy.
They are, however, deserving of recognition
today, and we are honored to award the
2013 President’s Medallion Award
to Don and Betty Stewart.
Having built a very successful regional
business, raising five children, and becoming
fully engaged in the life of their local
community, the Stewarts have made major
contributions to Merced College, UC Merced,
Mercy Hospital, the Merced Theatre Foundation,
and many other local charitable organizations.
For many years, they have provided generous
scholarships to Merced College nursing
students, as well as having made major
contributions to other campus projects.
Don and Betty were married in the chapel
of Stanford University in 1948.
former Betty Santi then convinced the tall,
handsome WWII veteran that “Merced
was the perfect place to raise a family.”
They did just that with daughters Melinda,
Jana, Andrea, and sons Don Jr. and Robert
who have provided the Stewarts with 13 adoring
As owners of Delta-Sierra Beverage Company,
the Stewart’s ties to Merced go back
to the early 1900s when Betty’s family
owned and operated the largest milk processing
plant in Merced. Merced Dairy eventually
became the Merced Dairy and Ice Company,
then Sunshine Farms, which stayed in the
family until being sold in 1976. Betty’s
father, Ben Santi, had also established
a beverage distribution business in 1933
and after a series of expansions it became
the Delta-Sierra Beverage Company of today.
The Stewarts are strong advocates for Merced
College and its presence in the local community.
Betty remarks “How fortunate we are
to have these many acres of property so
perfectly suited to our students and faculty.”
They have both enjoyed “roaming the
campus” over the years, admiring the
landscape and facilities. The couple appreciates
Merced College for providing local residents
with many educational, recreational, and
cultural opportunities. As Betty says, “It’s
too good to be true!”
Today, we show our appreciation to Don and
Betty Stewart by naming them the 2013 President’s
Medallion recipients, and it is fitting
that they become the first of Merced College’s
friends and supporters to receive this honorary
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