My Clemson: Bennie Lee Cunningham Jr.

 

“Bennie Cunningham was a man whose priorities were family and friendship — and the line was fuzzy between the two.”

December 23, 1954 – April 23, 2018

 


He has been called the greatest tight end in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The first African-American football player to make an All-America team in school history, he came to Clemson in 1972 and played on the football team from 1972 to 1975. He was a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976, and he played for that team until 1985, bringing home two Super Bowl rings. He was one of the greats of college and professional football. Yet, while his fame may have come from his prowess on the football field, his legacy was the many lives he touched and changed in those years and the years since.

Bennie Cunningham passed away on April 23, 2018, at the age of 63 after a battle with cancer.

When Cunningham retired from the Steelers, he returned to the classroom, first to finish his bachelor’s degree and then to earn a master’s degree in secondary education. He went on to a long career as a guidance counselor at West Oak High School in Westminster, where he shared his wisdom and direction with thousands of students over the years.

At his funeral at Seneca Baptist Church, filled to capacity with family, former teammates, professional colleagues and friends, the stories made it clear that Bennie Cunningham was a man whose priorities were family and friendship — and the line was fuzzy between the two. Friends became family.

Cunningham’s son, Bennie Cunningham III ’10, talked about his father’s legacy at Clemson, in Pittsburgh, and with his family: “My father planted trees that he may never have enjoyed the fruit from, and I think that’s our purpose: planting trees we may not enjoy the fruit of.”

As a student at Clemson, Cunningham won the Frank Howard Award, presented to an athlete each year for “bringing honor to Clemson.” He continued throughout his life to bring honor to Clemson. Coach Dabo Swinney called him “one of our greatest players, arguably the greatest tight end in our history and ACC history.”

But Swinney went on to say that “more importantly was the way he represented Clemson as a professional athlete and in his life after football.”

We are grateful for the life of Bennie Cunningham, and grateful that this was his Clemson.

Hardin Joyce’s lost ring comes home

Priscilla Joyce with her late husband’s Clemson ring — lost and found.

When Hardin Joyce graduated from Clemson with an engineering degree in 1951, he purchased a Clemson ring, which he wore proudly. He had served in the military after high school and chose Clemson in part because a fellow soldier was always talking about his time there. In 1966, Joyce lost his ring, and no matter how much he and his wife, Priscilla, searched their home in Thomasville, N.C., they never found it.

Hardin Joyce died in 2011, and Priscilla now lives in a retirement facility. In March, she received a phone call from Jessie Chambers, who lives in the Joyces’ old house. Chambers had been replacing shrubs near the back porch and came upon a Clemson ring from the Class of 1951 with Hardin Joyce’s name and hometown inscribed on it. Buried from 1966 until 2018, the ring was in near-perfect condition.

The lost Clemson ring of Hardin Joyce ’51, unearthed from the yard of his old home.

While Hardin Joyce wasn’t alive to enjoy the return of his ring, it meant a great deal to Priscilla, who shared the story with McLaurin “Chuck” Rivers, who shared it with us. She now treasures that physical symbol of his pride in Clemson. 

“I was delighted,” Priscilla says about the return of the ring. “It brought back such wonderful memories. The ring was very valuable to him and meant a great deal. He had so many wonderful memories of his days of being in Clemson.” In years past, the Joyces regularly returned to campus for sporting events and to visit favorite spots from his college days, when he played on the baseball team. “He loved his Clemson,” she says.

Do you have a ring story to share?

Email to nspitle@clemson.edu or share it here:

Soccer Startup: Blakely Mattern M ’16

It was like something out of a movie. Blakely Mattern was picking up her journal one day in 2014 when a newspaper clipping slipped out of its pages. It was a small article she’d cut out months before from The Greenville News. Flipping it over, she saw, fitting perfectly in the cut-out square, an advertisement for Clemson’s MBA program. Mattern took it as a sign.

A Greenville native, Mattern attended the University of South Carolina on a soccer scholarship and graduated with an international business degree in 2009. She went on to play professional soccer abroad in the Netherlands and Sweden before returning to the U.S. and taking a head trainer position at a gym in Greer. In between playing overseas and nursing an ACL injury, Mattern met India Trotter through a mutual friend. Trotter was the assistant coach for the USC Upstate women’s soccer team at the time but had previously played overseas and on the U.S. women’s national soccer team.

While playing on various teams and coaching different groups, both Mattern and Trotter discovered a need in the young soccer community: comprehensive, supplementary soccer training. In addition to regular practice, girls were paying monthly gym memberships to keep up their strength and were also seeing trainers or personal coaches for technique and speed work. While Trotter was coaching and Mattern was training at the gym, the beginnings of a business model were taking shape.

“A couple of girls that summer asked if India and I could train them, so we started putting together sessions. … The funniest thing is that we started on this random baseball field like a mile away from my house, probably the worst field possible,” Mattern laughs. “But it was all we had at the time.”

Soon after, Mattern began to think of grad school, and the fateful newspaper clipping practically fell into her lap. She decided to pursue her MBA at Clemson, a decision that would help to catapult 11.11 Training from a developing idea to a full-fledged business.

11.11 Training, cofounded by Mattern and Trotter in 2016, is an all-inclusive soccer training facility for girls in the Upstate. Ages range from 10 to 18, and every girl is asked to come in hungry for improvement.

“Any girl that comes here is obviously taking the time and financially investing whatever it takes to get better, but those who grow fastest are those that learn — those who are humble and listen to those who have gone before them,” Mattern says.

While it was certainly a winding road to get to where she is now, Mattern is in her element — back in her hometown, training young girls in the sport she loves.

“11.11 is very much who I am and who India is. It’s a product of both of us and our experiences. And now, we’re giving back to the community and the girls that are trying to achieve what we’ve done.”

Crafting a Plan: Bobby Hottensen ’11

It’s a way of life the locals call “tranquilo,” and it led Bobby Hottensen to take a leap of faith and trade a fast-paced urban lifestyle in Washington, D.C., for the laid-back tropics of Nicaragua.

A series of trips to the beach town of San Juan del Sur brought Hottensen and fellow surfers Brendan DeBlois and Matt Greenberg to a life-changing realization: “There was no craft beer here — not one brewery,” says Hottensen, a December 2011 graduate in environmental and natural resources. “It’s just an awesome little tourist town, beach surfing hub, and there were no options as far as craft beer goes.”

Hatching an idea to change that, the friends went to work raising funds, developing a business plan and scouting the area. And in early 2013, New York City native Hottensen left behind his job in D.C. and made the move to Nicaragua’s Pacific coast to start the country’s first craft brewery.

After some initial trials and tribulations, “The Cerveceria” opened in late 2014 and has grown into a bustling 100-seat brewpub that annually produces about 350 barrels and serves about 20,000 customers — an eclectic mix of backpackers, surfers, adventure travelers and locals. Construction is underway on an expansion that will double the business’ production and add a bottling line for product slated to be distributed throughout Nicaragua in the late spring.

After breaking new ground in the craft brewing industry in Nicaragua, the Clemson alum and his business partners are working to share a taste of the country’s laid-back lifestyle with the United States. In September 2017, Hottensen and his partners launched Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. in New York and Los Angeles. The concept: to leverage the allure of Nicaragua that they had fallen in love with and ride the wave of America’s fast-growing premium import market segment.

“It was always in our business plan that we wanted to export and share this unique brand and story and the things we love about living here,” Hottensen says. “We always thought it would translate well, especially as Nicaragua became more and more popular. So, it’s always been our goal, but the real goal was just to open the first brewpub.”

And the vessels for sending that “tranquilo” lifestyle back to the United States are 8-ounce squat cans filled with a brew dubbed “Panga Drops,” a crisp, unfiltered Keller Pilsner that sits at the intersection of a hyperlocal craft beer and an easy-drinking Mexican-style beach beer.

“The packaging is probably the most unique thing,” Hottensen says. “It’s an 8-ounce craft beer, which is the same footprint as the normal 12-ounce can, but just shrunk down. The idea is that down here it is so hot, and you’re drinking a can of beer on the beach, and the last couple sips are always pretty warm. So, we just decided to eliminate them.”While the initial launch was limited to New York and L.A., Hottensen hopes that the beer can reach a much wider audience. The company now has distribution in D.C. and Maryland and is adding Rhode Island, with hopes of eventually reaching South Carolina and Georgia.

Working to help spread the brand’s footprint is another Clemson graduate: regional marketing representative Catherine Czerwinski, who finished her bachelor’s degree in marketing in 2012 after a senior-year internship for Sweetwater Brewing Company.

Czerwinski’s father operates a distributorship, so the beer business runs in her family. But after she graduated it was a random encounter with Hottensen that led to the opportunity for the two college friends to team up.

“The summer after I graduated, I actually moved down to Costa Rica. A couple months later I was in Nicaragua and ran into Bobby, and I was like, ‘What are you doing here?’” Czerwinski says. “And he told me how he left his job in D.C., and he and his friends were starting a brewery.”

Czerwinski continued living in Costa Rica for nearly three more years but would visit Hottensen in Nicaragua to follow the development of his business. After moving back to the United States, Czerwinski’s location in New York made her an ideal candidate to help Hottensen and his friends launch their products in America.

“I’m still doing my non-profit work here, but also helping them expand their company through marketing and sales efforts,” she says. “It’s going really well. It’s fun to keep those memories and that time alive with me in New York. I get to talk about Nicaragua and Central America a lot. And that’s really something they try to push with the branding. It’s not just the beer; it’s the whole lifestyle — they say ‘tranquilo.’ It’s just Spanish for chill, pretty much.”

A Delaware native, Czerwinski’s choice of Clemson came because her older sister attended college in North Carolina, and she wanted to head south for her own collegiate experience, too. She knew very little about Clemson when she applied — and had never even visited campus before freshman orientation.

“I can’t say enough good things about Clemson,” she says. “It was amazing. I think it was fate that I ended up there because I totally fell in love with the place.”

From a marketing perspective, Czerwinski said Panga Drops occupies a unique corner on the American beer scene as both the only 8-ounce can currently on the market and the only craft export to come out of Nicaragua.

“That’s probably the most exciting part of all of it,” Czerwinski says. “It’s different for Bobby because he just uprooted his way of life and went down there to try out something totally new, but then the beer itself is just such a market disruptor that it’s really interesting that he’s bringing it back to the States. It’s totally new here; it’s something that’s never been seen before here. It’s cool that there’s a Clemson alum behind it.”

Designing Dream Worlds: Colie Wertz ’92

Colie Wertz taught himself to draw by copying the characters and vehicles he saw in Star Wars comic books.

“All I had were pictures,” Wertz says. “I bought all the comic books, studied all the ships and read about all the ships. I didn’t really have any big dreams. I just wanted to keep drawing.”

Today, Wertz designs the ships he might’ve copied in those early days as a veteran concept artist and modeler in the film industry. He has five Star Wars films under his belt, including one notable recent addition to the franchise.

“I did a bunch of concept art and modeling for Star Wars: Rogue One’” he says. “It was a passion project for the people working on it. The amount of research each one of us had done over the course of our careers really came into play and helped add to it.”

Wertz has worked on plenty of recent blockbusters outside of the Star Wars orbit. His resume reads like a roll call of the past two decades’ megahits: Avengers: Age of Ultron, Transformers, Iron Man, Captain America: Civil War, Men in Black, Flight and Looper.

Getting to this place in the movie business took some time. When he graduated from Clemson he moved to Charleston to be an architect. There, he made a discovery. “I enjoyed making the models more than I actually enjoyed designing someone’s house,” he says.

Wertz quit his job at the architecture firm and moved to Los Angeles. There, he bounced between his day job at a software company and nighttime training in Photoshop and 3D art. After honing his technical skills, he entered a design contest. One of the judges took a liking to his work and offered him a job at Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco, a famous visual effects company founded by Star Wars visionary George Lucas. He couldn’t say no.

After 21 years in the film industry, Wertz still feels pretty close to that kid sketching Star Wars comic books. He’s still refining his craft, hoping to get a little better each day.

“Over the years I’ve just gotten better and better at being able to express form through sketching,” he says. “As you put yourself out there, people start talking to you, and you get even more education. I’m a research education junkie.”

STEM Trailblazer: Wayne Tolbert ’83

According to Wayne Tolbert, earning an engineering degree was probably the most difficult thing he’s ever done. But then Tolbert doesn’t like to take credit for the strides he took to make sure minority students felt included in campus life during the 1980s, a change that made a positive impact on Clemson students past, present and future.

“There were approximately 300 American-American students on campus at that time. There were a couple of older native African students in the ceramic engineering program, but I didn’t have anyone like me in my classes,” remembers Tolbert.

During his junior year, Tolbert joined 23 other students to found the Clemson University chapter of the Society of Black Engineers (CUSBE). Tolbert was elected president.

“I remember going to the national convention in Atlanta and seeing other [African-American] engineering students and thinking, ‘There are others going through the same thing!’”

Tolbert continued to bring awareness to minorities in the workplace through his work as a systems engineer on Department of Defense military contracts. Last year, Tolbert received the Science Spectrum Trailblazer Award at the 2017 Black Engineer of the Year Awards Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) conference. The award is given on behalf of Career Communications Group’s U.S. Black Engineer and Information Technology magazine, the Council of Engineering Deans of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and Lockheed Martin Corporation. Tolbert was nominated by his employer, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). The award recognizes engineers who, among their many talents, possess the ingenuity to open career doors for others.

“It’s pretty amazing to be honored with this award. I believe I received it in part because I’m able to get along with a variety of personalities,” Tolbert says. “I think it goes back to my days at Clemson being the CUSBE president and a part of many other organizations on campus. There’s something in me that strives to pull people together to succeed; I think they [the awards committee] appreciated that, especially since the typical impression of an engineer is someone buried away in a cubicle or laboratory.”

Tolbert admits it’s cliché, but the advice he shares with others from his time in college and beyond is to never give up: “There’s a reason you are here on this earth. Find it and don’t stop doing it until you’ve blazed your own trail.”

Woman on the Move: Norma Hudnall ’72, M ’74, M ’80

As one of five children, Norma Hudnall jokes that she comes from a long line of overachievers. Today at 68, the former counselor is still competing.

Hudnall runs a 7:18 mile, and last spring, the Spartanburg resident competed in the World Masters Indoor Track and Field Championships representing Team USA and the Atlanta Track Club. She took home the bronze in the triple jump and long jump, placed seventh in the 800-
meter race and took sixth in both the 1,500- and 3,000-meter races.

“I couldn’t do it without the peer pressure of my 5:30 a.m. running group,” Hudnall says about her rigorous training schedule that keeps her in top form.

But having competitive sports open to her wasn’t always a given. Hudnall competed in high school tennis, but when she came to Clemson in 1968, no women’s sports were recognized by the NCAA.

“I was dating this guy who was on the fencing team, and they let me fence with them,” she says. But awards weren’t hers to take home. Despite the roadblock, she feels like she’s making up for lost time now.

She began racing at age 40. Since then, she’s run 10 full marathons, including ones in Boston, Honolulu and Ireland.  When she turned 60, she started running for the Atlanta Track Club, competing in her most recent events in South Korea. “I just decided to start experimenting with steeplechase and triple jump, and quite frankly, it’s just more fun to compete in more than one thing.”

Hudnall says naysayers who worry about injury or ailments keeping them from pursuing similar endeavors shouldn’t have so much trepidation. “One of my problems has been arthritis, and the first line of treatment for arthritis is exercise. I have severe scoliosis and spinal stenosis, and exercise can only make it better. Running can be therapeutic. But there’s also walking or water aerobics or cross training. Exercise is a good injury preventer as you age.” And that’s sage advice from an overachiever who hits the track every morning.

Erwins Become Second Cornerstone Partner for Academics

When Joe Erwin first began his advertising career in New York, the Clemson brand was still up and coming. He laughingly recalls having one of his training instructors refer to Clemson as “that Southern liberal arts school” in a room full of his Ivy League colleagues.

Clemson has come a long way since Joe Erwin graduated in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and began working in advertising. He met Gretchen, an alumna of the University of Georgia, while they were working at Leslie Advertising in Greenville. After getting married and moving to New York to work for major advertising agencies, the couple returned to Greenville to launch their own advertising agency, Erwin Penland. Erwin Penland grew to be a national company with more than 400 employees and a prestigious client base across the country.

After transitioning away from Erwin Penland, Joe Erwin founded Erwin Creates, a company that continues his legacy of cultivating, growing and influencing a creative community in South Carolina. Through Erwin Creates, the Erwins created the Erwin Center for Brand Communications at Clemson in 2012.

The Erwin Center prepares Clemson students for the workplace by providing them opportunities to put their classroom skills into practice. They learn from marketing professionals who can provide real examples, and they address actual client needs that require them to utilize research, strategy, creative development and analytics to produce meaningful solutions.

The Erwins’ most recent gift makes them Clemson’s second Cornerstone Partner for Academics, placing them in a special group of bold and visionary donors who give transformational gifts of $2.5 million or more to lay a foundation for Clemson’s future. This gift includes $1 million for the new College of Business building and $1.5 million for student scholarships and programming support for communication students and adjunct faculty.

“That investment that we made and continue to make is about changing lives, and what we’ve seen in the last five years is that our investment has paid dividends at Clemson,” Joe Erwin said. “We’ve seen young people go on to great jobs right out of Clemson, working at agencies and brands that, when I was a kid, I don’t think we could have imagined.”

“Because of our great adjunct faculty and other faculty, they’re getting the kind of professional training that really makes them a hot commodity,” he continued, “and I love seeing Clemson people being hot commodities.”

Fair Winds and Following Kites: Phil Broder ’90

“When the education career came to a sudden end, I was kind of looking around like, ‘OK, what do I do now?’”

Phil Broder worked in environmental education for 25 years before his career path suddenly changed, and he found himself starting his own kite-making supply business.

As a student at Clemson, Broder studied wildlife and fisheries biology with “a grand plan to become the president of the National Wildlife Federation.” While that dream didn’t quite pan out, Broder enjoyed serving as the first nature instructor at Clemson’s outdoor lab after graduation and moved on to work in a nature center outside of Chicago, where Broder’s career would take a wild turn.

“I was literally driving to the mall one day and drove past this kite festival,” Broder says. “I thought, ‘Huh. That looks cool.’ And I stopped to talk to some people, and found out that this kite shop had just opened up the street from my house. That was $100,000 ago.”

Broder’s newfound interest in kites soon blossomed into professional purpose when America’s biggest kite-making supplier closed. “There was a niche in the market, so I moved to fill it,” he explains. And so around four years ago, his online business, Fly Market Kitemaking Supply, was born.

While currently based in Lewisberry, Pa., Broder travels on a regular basis to show off the kites he crafts in events and competitions all over the world: “Besides kite festivals all around America — including the EPCOT Festival of Kites in Orlando to Kites on Ice on a frozen lake in Wisconsin — I’ve been to England, France, China, India, South Africa, Poland, Portugal and Canada.”

Becoming a kite-making supplier and award-winning kite maker was never in the plan for Broder, but he’s grateful for finding his passion and sharing it with his clients. “One of my customers sent me an email the other day of all the kites that he’s built with my supplies. As a business owner, that’s really cool. People are taking this stuff from me, and they’re making it into something beautiful.”

For Broder, the future looks bright. Recently married, he’s planning on taking a trip next fall to one of his favorite destinations: Cape Town, South Africa. “There just happen to be two kite festivals there in October,” he says, “so the idea is kite flying and honeymooning all together.”

Sonoco Partnership to Develop New Technologies, Package Formats

Every year, billions of dollars worth of packaged food is lost due to spoilage. Sonoco, one of the largest global diversified packaging companies, has announced a new research partnership with Clemson to address that packaging challenge.

“Sonoco is committed to serving fresh brands, using packaging to tackle the challenges they face,” said Sonoco President and CEO Jack Sanders. “Optimizing fresh food packaging to extend shelf life and maintain quality makes fresh produce more accessible to communities, and helps brands and retailers extend sales opportunities and eliminate food waste.”

The Sonoco FRESH (Food Research Excellence for Safety and Health) initiative will develop new technologies and new forms of packaging to optimize the fresh food lifecycle. Sonoco will contribute $1.725 million over five years to establish the multi-disciplinary hub for innovation and research. The company also will sponsor business-driven research projects totaling $1 million over that period. Sonoco FRESH is an extension of the partnership that created the Sonoco Institute of Packaging Design and Graphics at Clemson.

“Working with outstanding industry partners like Sonoco allows us to do more to develop solutions for the grand challenges facing the world, and it helps us to prepare our students to become future leaders,” said President Clements. “Leveraging the expertise of our faculty, Sonoco FRESH will play a key role in exposing our undergraduate and graduate students to issues related to the crisis of food waste and sustainability so that they will be informed and responsible decision makers as they enter the workforce.”

“We are honored to be working with Clemson, as reducing food waste is central to our combined efforts — and finding ways to extend freshness through new technology is key,” said Vicki Arthur, Sonoco’s senior vice president of plastic packaging and protective solutions. “We believe this partnership will deliver breakthroughs to help the entire packaging industry and will have a major impact on the distribution of fresh food across the country and around the world.”