Those hard-working Hurricane Sisters

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Shirley Cunningham-Martin and Judy Cunningham-Hanes — aptly nicknamed “The Hurricane Sisters” due to their whirlwind energy as painters and wallpapers. They were quick on the draw with paintbrushes and rollers. And Scioto County was their home.

Take a drive with them through Portsmouth and they would point out myriad of houses they painted, both inside and outside. They wallpapered several restaurants: Ponderosa, Bonanza, and Arby’s. Scioto County residents were repeat customers because of the infamous reputation of the Hurricane Sisters.

Their work was deemed excellent. Shirley rolled walls like she was on fire and Judy trimmed and did the detailed painting—a perfect team. Judy patched and dry-walled holes. She was queen of the caulking gun while Shirley was the queen of mixing paint. They charged a fair price, and often threw in extras without charging.

And customers loved them. The sisters were natural comedians — and they didn’t know how funny they were. Chuckles and laughter accompanied them to jobs.

And local work crews loved them: carpenters, electricians, plumbers. They often worked on the same commercial jobs together. And the sisters worked circles around the men.

And renters loved them. In their latter years, they bought and fixed up rental properties.

Resilient pioneer ladies of Appalachia. Judy recovered and returned to work after surgery for a brain aneurysm. Shirley recovered and returned to work after colon cancer. They are the hardest working women I know.

Lyrics to a song by Peggy Lee described their get-up-and-go. “I can bring home the bacon. Fry it up in a pan.” That’s what the sisters did in the younger years while raising children.

“Retirement” was a dirty word to them. When they down-sized public painting, they kept working on rental properties.

And they kept shopping at thrift stores, Flea markets, and yard sales. The Grandview stores were a favorite place to buy paint. The sisters could stretch a dollar like nobody’s business. And they never forgot their country roots.

Shirley Ruth was born in Scioto County, Ohio to mother, Lydia B. (Wiehle) Cunningham and she was raised in South Webster. Both Shirley and Judy followed in the hard-working footsteps of their mom; also a painter and wallpaper. The 3 women were as comfortable standing on a ladder as they were on land.

Unfortunately, Shirley passed away too soon. She died on May 3, 2017. She is missed by her family, friends, neighbors, fellow dancers, card-playing friends, customers, and renters.

Scioto County was a livelier place when Shirley lived in it. But, the legacy of the Hurricane Sisters is forever in our memories.

A year later, Judy and I are able to revisit memories of Shirley with dry eyes (mostly) and laughter. We know Shirley is painting God’s Heaven and waiting for us to join her someday.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. Contact her at