“Happy Times” With Jimmy Cunnyngham

“Happy Times” With Jimmy Cunnyngham

The Vol. 50 staff of the Rhea County High School’s 2024 AERIE Yearbook dedicates their publication to the legendary photographer Jimmy Cunnyngham.

A Dayton native, Mr. Cunnyngham, graduated from Rhea Central High School in 1957. Three years later, he started his own photography business with the assistance of his wife, Shelby. His two sons, Andy and Micheal, eventually worked alongside him.

The Cunnyngham Studio was responsible for all pictures in the yearbooks for Rhea Central High School from the years of 1959 up until the consolidation with Spring City High School. The Studio was also responsible for the portraits in the final three yearbooks for Spring City High.

Mr. Cunnyngham and his family then worked for Rhea County High School until 2006, either as the official school photographer or as an activity or sports photographer. During that time, the studio photographed approximately 12,000 high school seniors. He never charged the schools anything for his services; the only profits he made were from families purchasing the actual portraits.

As a photographer, Mr. Cunnyngham was well known for saying his iconic catchphrase when taking photographs. Today, even when alumni from his active years hear the words Happy Times, they likely cannot help but flash a smile, remembering how Mr. Cunnyngham would make them do so before every photo. His desire to produce excellence in every published photo inspired THE AERIE staff to pursue excellence in their publication, even at the risk of having to deliver the publication later than expected.

On the afternoon of June 20, 2024, at the Clyde W Roddy Public Library, Rhea County High School’s yearbook adviser, Austin Marsh, presented a copy of the 50th volume of the yearbook to the library and to the legendary local photographer Jimmy Cunnyngham. The 2023-2024 yearbook staff dedicated this special edition to Cunnyngham in recognition of his historical photographs, which span decades of the school’s history.

Local historian Dean Wilson provided the photographs, taken from Cunnyngham’s original studio negatives, to enrich the commemorative yearbook. The dedication to Cunnyngham on the final page highlights his invaluable contributions and enduring legacy and details his service to the high school from its inaugural year in 1974-1975 until 2006.

The final sentences of the dedication page in the yearbook read as follows: “Contrary to his own beliefs, we do remember, recognize, and respect his contributions to documenting and preserving Rhea County, history with determination, passion, and excellence. Generations of Rhea Countians thank you for your service to our community, Mr. Cunnyngham.”

Mr. Cunnyngham continues to live out his retirement years in Rhea County with his wife Shelby.

Jim Cunnyngham Studio
(Pictured L-R) Brittney West-Library Director, Jimmy Cunnyngham, Shelby Cunnyngham, Andy Cunnyngham and Austin Marsh- Yearbook adviser for Rhea County High School.
(Photo by Dean Wilson)
(Photo Courtesy Austin Marsh-Yearbook adviser and Megan Prince-Yearbook Staff)

History would be incomplete without Cunnyngham Studio’s vast archive of negatives. See the link below to get information on obtaining your families old portrait files on a digital USB Disk.

Cunnyngham Studio’s Negative Archive

The dedication page and this article was written and provided as a courtesy by Austin Marsh-Yearbook adviser and Megan Prince-Yearbook Staff


Published byDean

Born and raised in Dayton Tennessee, I have served in various public service positions in the past. I have a great interest in the History of our town. This site is a way for me to share some of the great history of the area.

1 Comment

  • Jo Anne Cowden

    June 24, 2024 at 1:45 pm Reply

    Jim and his right-hand girl, Shelby, are two special people who brought much joy and beauty to so many people. Consummate professionals who truly cared about making special memories for their customers

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