The Saluda couple who died in a weekend crash near Gilbert were “just the most compassionate people you would ever meet,” their niece JoAnn Givens said Monday.
Harry “Peewee” Gunnells, 73, and his wife Barbara, 74, along with their grandson Stephen Cooper Gunnells, 16, were killed late Friday after a pickup truck crossed the center line and struck their vehicle on U.S. 378.
The driver of the pickup, Robert Moore Jr., 62, also died after the crash that remains under investigation by the South Carolina Highway Patrol.
Givens, 53, said the Gunnells treated her like one of their children.
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“I was their baby until they started having children of their own,” she said. “At 3 months old, my father passed away. They kind of stepped in and helped my mother with me.”
The Gunnells moved to Saluda 50 miles west of Columbia in 1984, where he was postmaster prior to retirement and she worked at Quality Stitching, their son Stephen said.
The couple joined Red Bank Baptist Church there, where they remained members throughout their lives. They also maintained ties with Open Doors Baptist Church in Bamberg, where they grew up.
“If you could have a dual membership, that’s what they were,” their son said. “They were members of Red Bank on paper and members of both places in their hearts.”
The two also were close with grandson Cooper, who played trumpet in his high school band even with spina bifida, his father Stephen Gunnells said.
“Cooper was in the marching band at Greenwood High School,” he said. “He was in a wheelchair, and every game, my dad pushed him – and in every parade.”
Neighbors and friends have rallied around the family after the crash, Gunnells said.
Though struck hard by the loss, Gunnells said there’s no doubt the values instilled by his parents continue.
“We have no doubts about where they are,” he said. “They were both good solid Christians and they raised their children and grandchildren to be the same way.”
A graveside service for the grandparents will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday in the Bamberg County Memory Gardens. A memorial service for their grandson will be at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Harley Funeral Home in Greenwood.