Merle Cunningham


Merle Avery Cunningham, 81, of Bemidji, MN died Monday, December 21, 2020 at his home.

Private Family Memorial Services will be held Monday, December 28, 2020 at Calvary Lutheran Church in Bemidji with Rev. Genelle Netland officiating. Interment will be at the White Oak Cemetery near Akeley, MN under the direction of the Cease Family Funeral Home in Bemidji.

Merle was born July 16, 1939 in White Oak Township near Akeley, MN the first born of Avery and Ardena (Piepkorn) Cunningham. He lived in Akeley, MN, with his parents, and younger siblings, Elton and Carole. He graduated from Akeley High School in 1957. He attended and graduated from Bemidji State College in 1963 with a degree in Music Education. Merle’s first teaching job was in Strandquist, MN, where he taught High School Band and Choir and Elementary Music. In 1966, he moved to Pine River, MN, teaching both High School and Elementary Music, and transitioned a year later to Elementary Music which he taught for his remaining twenty-nine years of teaching. His music program was well-known for his 5th & 6th grade choir called the “Choraleers & Choralettes”, as well as the annual Christmas pageant that he wrote each year involving every grade K-6.

He married Roine Merrill in 1971, building a marriage of 49 years, raising two children, Nicholle and Christopher, and enjoying their five grandchildren. Merle enjoyed music of all sorts, traveling with family – especially Roine, and was an avid reader. He loved summer nights at the lake and playing his recorder at sunset. He lived fifty years in Pine River, and moved with Roine to Bemidji in 2016.

Merle’s faith in God has been an important part of his life and relationships. He attended First Lutheran Church during his years in Pine River serving as the church organist and choir director for many years. Through the years, he also taught children’s Sunday School, Confirmation, and later, Adult Bible studies. He and Roine made Calvary Lutheran their home church in Bemidji and enjoyed Men’s Bible Study, Adult Sunday School, and Sunday worship.

He is survived by his wife Roine of Bemidji, MN, daughter, Nicholle (Eric) Bieberdorf of Bemidji, MN; son, Christopher (Karla) Cunningham of Pine River, MN; brother, Elton (Marian) Cunningham of Stillwater, MN; grandchildren: Laura, Ryan, and Aaron Bieberdorf, and Avery and Jordan Cunningham; niece Sara (John) Travis, and great-nieces Amanda and Emma Travis.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Avery and Ardena, and his sister, Carole.

Condolences may be left at

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to support the Calvary Lutheran Foundation or to the family.

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