LIVING LIFE TO THE FULLESTMay 01, 2003 08:56PM ● By Don Kindred
Mikki Cumming's Cup Runneth Over
Every life has a story, and San Clementean, Mikki Cumming’s, is certainly no exception. Her birthplace, rearing and fate set the stage for the early part of her tale, and circumstances, her life experiences and innate character have set the tone for the latter.
Mikki’s story begins with her birth in the South, specifically New Orleans, LA. Though the prejudices of the times abounded there, Mikki did not share their tenants. She was raised Catholic, educated in Parochial schools and grew up believing all peoples deserved respect and should be treated as equals. This belief would eventually play its part in her saga.
While studying at Sacred Heart College in New Orleans, she met and married her first husband. Before long the young couple migrated to California, and, after joining the Marines and surviving the Korean conflict, her beloved spouse returned home to his family only to be killed in an automobile accident.
Now a young widow and mother of two, Mikki was faced with the task of supporting herself and her family. She eventually went to work for Lawry’s food company and soon became Public Relations Director. It was there that fate stepped in.
In her position as PR Director, it was Mikki’s job to wine, dine and entertain product buyers from all over the world. Enter Vic Cumming, a buyer from South Africa.
As destiny would have it, Mikki and Vic were both widowed and found they had lots in common. “I had dated on and off since my first husband’s death,” Mikki said, “although I never struck up any serious relationships before, this one seemed different.”
Vic obviously thought the same. Nine months after a courtship that included LA, San Francisco, New York and South Africa, he popped the question, and the rest is history.
Life’s next chapter would now take the heroine halfway around the world to start a new life in South Africa. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Mikki revealed, “because it was Africa I thought it would be a wild and very backward country. Was I in for a surprise.”
The new Mrs. Cumming found South Africa to be an extraordinary and breathtakingly beautiful country. Her first home was on the Vaal River near South Johannesburg and she and Vic spent much of their time sailing there. The only fly in the ointment was the fact that she came face to face once again with the distasteful prejudices she had grown up with in the South.
Like other light skinned people in the country, the Cummings needed to employ dark-skinned servants and workers for help with the upkeep of their property. Sharing the same feelings about the treatment of others, however, Mikki and Vic looked upon these helpers as equals, treating them accordingly. One way in particular was to help them master the skills of reading, writing and math.
“It was quite an adventure to live among and interact with these primitive, uneducated but very genuine people,” Mikki remembers. “One of my most exciting encounters was coming face to face with a witch doctor.”
As Apartheid heated up, the Cummings eventually sold their river property and moved to Ramsgate on the beach on the south coast. For the next two years they became involved in the business of selling language courses, eventually having the opportunity to become owners of a small airline, Margate Air. Their planes had a very limited route, transporting people from Durban (the city) to Margate (the resort area) for R and R. And as the company grew, ownership afforded Mikki opportunity to speak to Parliament regarding changing and increasing their air routes. “That was really something,” she said, “exciting but intimidating at the same time.”
Ownership in the airlines also afforded the Cummings the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world First Class. “Since returning to the United States to live,” Mikki laughed, “we have learned that you get to your destination just the same flying coach. It just isn’t quite as fancy,” she quipped.
Vic’s retirement brought the couple back to the U.S. and eventually, in 1986, to San Clemente where Mikki’s daughter was living. Never one to be idle, Mikki began writing letters to the editor of the Sun Post News. One day she received a phone call asking her if she would like to write a column entitled “A Slice of Life.” With this opportunity, the heroine suddenly moved into a new chapter in her life.
Happily writing her monthly column with no pressure nor deadlines, Mikki was taken aback when she received a call from the newspaper’s editor once again. This time asking her to replace the person who was writing the Citizen of the Day weekly column. “I had to think about that one,” she said eyes wide. “I was content doing my thing with no boundaries. Now I would have to work within some strict guidelines and also meet deadlines weekly. It took me a while to say yes,” she joked.
Strong beliefs being a part of her character, and feeling blessed to live in such a beautiful town, Mikki wanted to give something back to the community. So when invited by a friend to join the Kiwanis club in town, she did so enthusiastically. She was the second woman ever invited to join this club and ironically became the second woman ever to become president of the organization. Today, having come up in the group through the chairs - Secretary, President-elect, and finally President - she has recently accepted the position of Lt. Governor.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the support of my husband,” Mikki declared. “He has always been my biggest champion, encouraging and supporting my involvement and understanding the tremendous time it takes to fulfill my duties.”
At 70 plus years this heroine is now writing “mentor” into this chapter of her life. As Lt. Governor of the San Clemente Kiwanis, Mikki is responsible for clubs from Costa Mesa to San Clemente, 11 clubs in all. She meets monthly with each one, helping them in any way they need her, organizing high school Key Clubs, college Circle K clubs, installing officers, overseeing training sessions and a myriad of other activities. And she is always on call, ready to run when needed.
In her spare time Mikki, along with Vic, enjoys the company of their four children, (each having two from previous marriages) their six grandchildren and two great grandbabies. Vic has also taken up painting, while Mikki says her hobbies, for now, are writing for the Sun Post and working in Kiwanis. Between that and family, that is all she has time for.
There seems to be no end in sight for this life story. Perhaps the next chapters will include the writing of a novel about a South African boy that Mikki Cummings has previously begun, but hasn’t yet had time to get back to.