A memorial of flowers, pictures and posters flood the intersection of 18th Avenue and High Street, where Curtis Cunningham used to tell nearly all passersby to “Have a nice day, now.”
After Buckeye Donuts announced his passing on Twitter Wednesday, Ohio State students mourned the loss of Cunningham, setting up a memorial and a poster for the community to share their favorite memories of him. He was known for his kindness and encouraging words, taking the time to greet or compliment students and brighten people’s days.
“He’d put a smile on your face and he’d just make you feel good. And he knew that he made you feel good, and he was proud of that,” Sarah Bodony, a fourth-year in dance, said. “It felt like he was a part of our community and really knew us, and he was special for that.”
Connor Davis, a Buckeye Donuts employee, said Cunningham’s girlfriend called the shop to let them know Cunningham passed away Tuesday in his sleep. Buckeye Donuts tweeted a photo of the 18th Avenue and High Street intersection with the caption, “Rest in Peace Curtis” Wednesday.
Flowers, candles, photos and trinkets have slowly taken over the sidewalk where Cunningham usually stood. Outside of Buckeye Donuts, two posters hang on the side of the building, filled with small messages and memories. One reads, “He lived and lives in our hearts. We miss you and we are so proud of you! RIP, my man!”
Students have grown close to Cunningham, including Zaida Jenkins, a second-year in public affairs, who was able to learn about him through their run-ins on the street. Jenkins said Cunningham had two bullet wounds from his time in the military, a dog named Brutus and an affinity for apple juice. Last semester, he moved into a new apartment, and he told Jenkins he was excited to cook collard greens in his kitchen.
Some may know Cunningham from the T-shirts he sold, complete with his face and his catchphrase “Have a great day, now!”
Maddie Taylor, a fourth-year in psychology, said she connected with Cunningham two years ago after moving into the area, passing him every day to go home or to class. Taylor said she and her friends planned to include him in their senior pictures, but now they may wear the shirts he gave her instead.
People took to mourning Cunningham’s death on social media, sharing their gratitude and experiences with him, quoting his signature phrases such as, “My man!” Others visited his memorial and left flowers or a token for him.
Bodony said she’s lived on 18th Avenue for two years, so she saw Cunningham frequently. She said he remembered everything, always asking her about her graduation this spring and her mother. Once, Bodony straightened her naturally curly hair, and even when her friends could not recognize her, Cunningham did.
Taylor said Cunningham never forgot about her spinal surgery last year, telling her he would pray for her at night and asking if she was feeling well.
Jenkins said she met a group of women who said that, upon learning graduation ceremonies in spring 2020 were canceled, Cunningham cried with them.
He was protective of the students he interacted with, keeping an eye out for them as they walked by him. Davis said on multiple occasions Cunningham escorted women to their homes and defended them when he sensed they were unsafe.
“He saw students as his babies,” Jenkins said. “He, above nothing else, just cares about these students, and it shows through.”
Cunningham had a great sense of humor to go along with his energetic demeanor, Taylor said. When he saw her and her friends walking with a group of their male friends he had yelled, “Treat those queens well!”
Emma Berlin, a fourth-year in world language education and Spanish, said she originally only knew Cunningham as the “have a great day” guy, but their friendship grew after a short introduction when he gave her one of his T-shirts. She said she considers him a prominent figure in her life, and that she knew Cunningham loved all of the students he spoke to.
Berlin said she is happy to see the bright flowers and balloons at Cunningham’s memorial, matching his vibrant personality. Even on his bad days, Berlin said he would show up and try to make other people happy.
“It’s great to see how much he impacted everybody,” Berlin said. “His spirit will continue to live on in all of us. I know I will think about him for the rest of my life.”
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