Shortly after truck driver Darrell Nunley Jr. died in early June, his 10-year-old son, Darrell Nunley III, drew this picture of his father’s truck in the funeral procession. Shawn Nunley, the boy’s mother, found it in his backpack after the school year ended for summer break.
The Christmas season hits every grieving family hard, and the tight-knit Nunley family is no different.
Darrell Nunley, a trucker from Severn, MD, died in his sleeper at the age of 38 this past June from a congenital heart problem. Darrell left behind a wife, OOIDA member Shawn Nunley, and three young boys.
Darrell’s story first appeared in the August/September 2007 issue of Land Line Magazine. After meeting a trucking friend for dinner at a truck stop outside of St. Louis, Darrell made his nightly call home and told wife Shawn he loved her only moments before the phone line went silent.
Six months after Darrell’s passing, Shawn Nunley said she and Darrell’s mother are doing their best to create a normal Christmas for the boys, including Darrell and twin 8-year-olds Toby and Travis.
Shawn and the boys’ grandmother recently took a family trip to the mall to see Santa Claus.
Travis brought everyone to tears when Santa asked the boy what he wanted for Christmas.
“I would like my dad back,” Shawn recounted Travis saying.
For four years, Darrell hauled candy and medicine from Maryland to Kansas before making a return trip with frozen foods he picked up at the SubTropolis, an underground warehouse built into former limestone mines in Kansas City, MO.
During off-days, Darrell would spend free time fixing cars and making household repairs for his relatives.
The boys occasionally went with Darrell when school was out, and were accustomed to not seeing him for a few days every week.
Six months later, the boys occasionally forget Darrell isn’t making a run, Shawn said.
“I don’t think everything has fully registered,” Shawn told Land Line recently. “We have our ups and downs.”
On a positive note, Toby and Travis are in the same second-grade classroom. Last year, the boys were placed in separate classrooms and struggled while they were apart.
Shawn and Darrell both worked with a coalition of parents lobbying for a state law to allow twins to remain in the same classroom. The family has noticed that Travis and Toby do better when they’re together.
Nunley’s funeral procession included his purple 1998 Kenworth Classic W900 and a red wagon that pulled his casket to the gravesite. Darrell’s uncle built the wagon to replicate a red wagon he’d seen Darrell using to pull children in home movies.
Many readers contacted Land Line this summer after a picture of Darrell’s funeral procession drawn by Darrell Jr. appeared in the magazine.
The Nunley family has received dozens of letters from truckers and others who were touched by their loss. A memorial fund in Darrell’s name has received several donations, and Shawn has read several letters to the boys from strangers who couldn’t afford to give but who passed on kind words and inspiration, she said.
Shawn is creating a book of the letters for the boys to keep when they grow older.
The family is accepting donations for the boys. Checks may be sent to:
The Nunley Boys Memorial Fund
c/o the Provident Bank
670 Old Miller Road
Millersville, MD 21108
“That’s being used solely for the kids,” Shawn told Land Line recently. “Anything to do with schooling and education, that’s what I’m using it for.”
Shawn asked that Land Line thank truckers for the support she’s gotten since Darrell’s passing, and said she’ll continue to lead her family through the grieving process.
The boys recently helped Shawn decorate an artificial Christmas tree at Darrell’s gravesite, complete with ornaments and an angel on top.
“We’re doing all right,” she said.
– by Charlie Morasch, staff writer