Established in 1875

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Ritva Aulikki Kokko-Cunningham

December 20, 1936 ~ September 10, 2017 (age 80)

Ritva Aulikki Kokko-Cunningham, M.D., D.Sc., left us suddenly on September 10, 2017. She was a beloved wife, mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, and great-aunt. Originally from Finland, she remained a Finnish national, living 40 years in Champaign-Urbana. We, her family, American and Finnish, mourn her death deeply.

Aulikki, as she was known, or Kokko to others, was born in Viipuri, Finland on December 20, 1936, the third child of Erkki and Anni Kokko. She saw two wars between Finland and the Soviet Union before the age of 10, the family having to escape their home, in Viipuri, twice. When Viipuri finally fell into Soviet hands, the family escaped and settled in Helsinki. Always very intelligent, well-read, and strong, after high school, she worked one year as a teacher in a one room school house in the countryside.

After her teaching year, she applied to University for both Teaching and Medicine. Being accepted to both, she chose to concentrate on Medicine. She graduated Candidate of Medicine from Helsinki University in 1959, Licentiate of Medicine in 1963, and Doctor of Medicine in 1966. After her training, she started in the Anatomy Institute at the University of Helsinki, as a vice-professor.

In 1967, on a Fulbright Scholarship to teach and research Cellular Anatomy at Yale University, she met and fell in love with Clark Cunningham, who was teaching in Southeast Asian Studies. Clark had two children and, after the year at Yale, moved back to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where they had been living. Aulikki joined them. She and Clark were married on June 2nd, 1969 in Bangkok. She formally adopted his two children and was their true mother ever since. In 1970, the family moved to Urbana, IL, where both she and Clark worked as professors at the University of Illinois until retirement.

During her long academic career, Aulikki, remained a loyal and committed faculty member of the University of Illinois School of Medicine, who made an unwavering teaching commitment to her students. She focused her energies on medical student instruction where her teaching excellence was recognized by a coveted “Golden Apple” award. During her 25-year career as a creator of future doctors, she taught Microscopic Anatomy, Histology, and lectured on Histochemistry.

In a more lasting contribution to the teaching of Histology, Dr. Aulikki KokkoCunningham, with her colleague Richard Mintel, created and developed a unique microscopic slide collection which was converted to a computerized atlas of the human body. This Internet Atlas Of Histology features a collection of plastic sections of the human body, including over 1000 labeled histological features with accompanying functional descriptions. It is used globally in the teaching of medicine today.

In addition to her dedication as a teacher, Aulikki, contributed to the University of Illinois community through service on various committees and other deliberative bodies. Upon her official retirement in August 1997, she was cited by her department head as demonstrating “dedication and outstanding performance in service to the curriculum.”

In her retirement, she never stopped being a life long learner, always keeping up with the latest medical information, as well as taking courses in many differing subjects. She was also part of many different groups, from her daily swimming group to the board of the Sacha Runa Foundation. With Clark, she traveled widely. Among her many talents and joys were cooking, gardening, and Poker with friends. But most of all, was a fiercely loving wife, mother, and grandmother.

She is survived by many loved ones both here and in Finland. Her husband Clark, daughter Nathalie and her husband John, son Eric and his wife Aimee, her grandchildren Chase, Kai, and Delphine, her elder sister Raili Vainionpää, as well as Raili’s three daughters and their children, her beloved younger sister Tuulikki Eskola and her husband Jorma, as well as their children and grandchildren. To say that Aulikki Cunningham was loved is truly an understatement.

There will be a memorial. 

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