AAP staff report
A pillar of the India Minnesotan community will be laid to rest this Sat., Dec. 17, in Burnsville, Minn. Daniel Arayil Kunjummen passed away Dec. 10 from a lengthy illness at the age of 84.
Kunjummen’s life of fearless journeys began at Kerala, India, where he was born a citizen of the Raj in the British Empire on April 14, 1927. Decades later as an immigrant he would arrive on American soil with just seven dollars in his pocket, where education, faith and hard work would lead him to become the Controller of the City of Minneapolis, a missionary and a cornerstone for a family and community.
The son of Idikula and Elizabeth (Aleyamma) Kunjummen, Daniel was one of nine children in a prominent family of Kerala’s Syrian Christian community. These are descendants of Middle Eastern Jews that converted to Christianity and migrated east to India after the Roman Diaspora in the first century A.D. He took great pride in his Jewish heritage and cultivated amongst his family a deep appreciation for its ancient traditions.
In 1946, Kunjummen married Sara Abraham, the eldest daughter of Cheruvallethu Mathunni Abraham (Avarachan Upadeshi) and Mariamma Abraham. Both Kunjummen’s father-in-law, a respected businessman who gave up his holdings to become a revered evangelist, and his father were founders of the Christian Evangelical movement then awakening in India among the previously Eastern Orthodox Christian community.
Daniel and Sara Kunjummen raised six children together on two continents, LucyJoy Kunjummen Paulose, Lizy Daniel Johns, Babu Daniel Kunjummen, Professor Raju Daniel Kunjummen, Jessy Kunjummen Thomas, and Dr. B. Daniel Kunjummen. As the patriarch of a family that grew to 47 people by 2011, Kunjummen saw four generations of his family thrive in the United States, including his six children, their six spouses, 15 grandchildren, six grandchildren-in-law, and 12 great-grandchildren.
Kunjummen placed a premium on close family bonds and demonstrated a lifelong commitment to his relations near and far. While he was still a newlywed, both of Kunjummen’s parents died, leaving him to care for three younger brothers and his infirm elder brother. He raised his siblings on the family plantation, supported them through college and arranged their weddings.
Kunjummen earned his bachelor’s degree in commerce from Kerala University. He trained as an accountant and advanced to become the Chief Accounting Officer for the Kerala Electricity Board.
Overseeing far-flung state projects, Kunjummen worked long hours and lived during the week on sites across the state. He came home each weekend to the family plantation in Pathanapuram. His children recall their “Papa” as Hemingwayesque, in not only his appellation, but also in his physique and charisma. His infectious joie de vivre filled the Kunjummen house with laughter when Papa came home each weekend, bearing gifts of fresh flowers and books.
Journey to the United States
- Daniel Arayil Kunjummen as a young man.
Kunjummen immigrated to the United States and arrived in Minnesota in 1968 as a student at Central Bible Seminary. He worked multiple jobs to support his family and finance his education at the seminary, from which he ultimately obtained a master’s degree in religious education and became an ordained Baptist minister.
Kunjummen remained active in his local evangelical church while working in the secular world. A deeply devout man, he instilled the importance of faith in his children and grandchildren through traditional daily family prayer, scripture reading and singing. A frequently requested favorite hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” by Martin Luther was among his favorites during family devotionals.
Through the 1960’s and 1970’s, Kunjummen eventually brought his wife and six children to Minnesota and the family bought a home in Bloomington, where they lived for the next 40 years. He would eventually sponsor his brothers, nephews, nieces and other family members.
Many of the sponsored relatives would live with the Kunjummens in Bloomington while transitioning to life in America. Today more than 100 of the Kunjummen family reside in Minnesota. Many more relations live in cities across the United States.
Deeply patriotic, Kunjummen became a U.S. citizen in the 1970’s, and proudly voted in elections thereafter. As an early member of the relatively young Indian-American community in Minnesota, he guided other immigrants through the process of assimilation. With compassion and generosity, he assisted with everything from finding new jobs to financing homes.
Mr. Kurian Cherucheril, retired head of the Science Department at Cretin-Derham Hall, and a founder of the Minnesota Malayalee Association, was a lifelong friend of Kunjummen.
“I considered him first, a man of faith who raised his family with the fear of the Lord,” Cherucheril said. “Moreover, he believed in the pursuit of excellence. He always wanted the best for his children. He received that blessing from the Lord, and he stood for his convictions all his life.”
In the 1970’s, Kunjummen became a licensed CPA and went to work as an accountant for the City of Minneapolis. His leadership, excellence and integrity earned the respect of his colleagues and he retired in 1994 as the City Controller, one of the highest-ranking civil servants in the City.
Refusing to go quietly into retirement, Kunjummen founded an organization to help support charitable works in India. He visited frequently to help train these evangelists and today the organization supports over 50 missionaries and their families.
Born on a plantation, Kunjummen loved to raise flowers, fruits, and vegetables all his life. He maintained extensive gardens at his Bloomington home from which he gave produce and plants to his family, friends and people in need.
A brilliant man who loved great literature, Kunjummen regularly regaled his family and friends with long passages he recited from memory of Shakespeare, Tennyson, and Kipling. He amassed a personal library of nearly 1,000 books to nourish his intellectually inquisitive mind. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects, from current events to theology.
A dynamic speaker, Kunjummen enjoyed lively debates on virtually any topic. He occasionally employed the Socratic method in conversing with his children and grandchildren as a way to challenge them to think independently.
A loving but strict father, Kunjummen insisted that his children excel. All six of his children went on to become educated professionals, including a CEO, a doctor, a professor and three corporate executives.
In his later years Kunjummen suffered and fought cancer, Lewy Body’s, and pulmonary attacks. He fought back as doctors predicted imminent decline. After suffering an aortic aneurysm in 2011, which is typically fatal, he rebounded once again until he passed.
Visitation will be held at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 2300 W. Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, from 5 to 8 p.m. on Friday. Funeral Services will be held Saturday, 10 a.m. at Berean Baptist Church, 309 East County Road 42, Burnsville.
Born under the British flag, he grew to adulthood under the Indian flag, and served and died under the American flag. He leaves a legacy of abiding faith, ceaseless care for his family and community, and committed service to his beloved country. Perhaps Tennyson’s closing lines from Ulysses best capture Kunjummen’s quintessentially American journey.
Excerpt from the conclusion of Ulysses, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.