Cameron resident Eddie Dunning spends every Friday before home games painting a famous image on a college football field. But he won’t take credit for any artistic talent – he says it’s all the Lord’s work.
For the past 33 years, the groundskeeper for the University of South Carolina Athletics Department has painted the Gamecock emblem on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium before home games, except for one season when USC was using their bicentennial logo, he said.
Dunning said he never really showed any artistic talent as a youngster, but he discovered he had something within him in 1984, when he got the chance to take over painting the logo. But that talent doesn’t originate with him, he said.
“It was a gift that came from up above,” he said.
“When I started in 1984 ... the Lord spoke to me and he said, ‘Today, I’m going to make you an important man if you have faith in me,’” he said.
Of course, there’s other work to be done by Dunning and the rest of the crew on that Friday and during the rest of the week – upkeep of the football field, cutting the grass, painting the lines as well as the block letters in the end zone. And at other times, he also lays the lines of the baseball diamond at Founders Park.
But he’s most famous for emblazoning the image of that garnet-and-black bird at the 50-yard line.
“We do most of the painting on Friday, but you’re going to start on Thursday afternoon,” he said. “We paint the end zone on Thursday afternoon.”
If the field’s not too wet, he said, the painting of the logo starts at about 8:30 a.m. and is usually completed by noon. It takes a while because he has to layer three different colors individually.
“We’ve got to do the white, we’ve got to do the garnet, then we’ve got to do the black,” he said. “You’ve got to put the white around it first, and you’ve got to let that dry for a bit.
“It’s a whole process, depending on how the weather (is),” he said.
Dunning said he was hired by the university in 1976 and worked the grounds of the main campus for a while. After taking another job for a few years, he was hired by the athletics department in 1983 for work on the baseball field.
At that time, artificial turf was being used on the football field, he said, but the school moved to natural grass in 1984 when he began painting the logo. He’s seen some other transitions too – for example, the Gamecock emblem has changed over the years, he said.
Technically, he’s retired now but has stayed on in a temporary role as he trains his nephew, Jonathan Dunning, to take over the painting of the Gamecock logo.
Dunning said that he got another opportunity from God in 2003 when the late Rev. Rufus Gaymon, his pastor at Brown Chapel AME Church, approached him about bringing food from Harvest Hope Food Bank back home to Calhoun County to feed people in need.
“The Lord prevailed to me,” he said. “’He said, ‘You are in Columbia. You can go to work, then you can bring the food back.’”
Once a week, he takes a day off from work at USC to transport the food to his home church to be distributed. Once a month, he helps serve meals to the hungry.
According to Harvest Hope’s records, Dunning has distributed more than 216,000 tons of food, providing 332,378 meals to 14,632 families since he began his ministry.
He was recently recognized for his selfless work when he was presented with the WIS-TV/Mungo Company “Community Builder” award. Calhoun County Development Commission Chairman Pat Black, along with Harvest Hope CEO Denise Holland, nominated Dunning for the honor.
“He’s behind the scenes,” said Black, who’s known Dunning for many years. “He would be the last person in the world to say, ‘Hey, look at me, look what I’m doing.’”
Black said Dunning has a lot of other duties in his job at USC, “but his main thing is he puts that Gamecock there, and he does it freehand.”
“He’s got a gift for artwork. All he’s got to do is find the center of the field, the center of the bird,” he said.
Dunning said that his favorite part of his job at USC is working with all the coaches over the years and seeing the team do well. A Gamecocks fan, he said he’s only missed one home game in the last 30-plus years, when his mother passed away.
His least favorite experience was several years ago when heavy rains flooded the football field. Painting was delayed until the morning of game day, and even then, the field was still a bit soggy.
Dunning and his wife Mimi have been married since 2015. He said he knew her years ago when the two youngsters attended the same country church. She went off later and served a long career in the military, but the couple reconnected after she retired and returned to Calhoun County.
“She survived three wars,” Dunning said.
His wife has a daughter and two grandchildren that Dunning said he considers his own.
In his spare time, Dunning helps older people in the community by assisting them with yardwork.
He said that he helps out whenever he can because “I’ll get to that point and I won’t be able to do it too.”