For student editors, Thursday nights in the 2000s were spent on the third floor of the Branch Student Center. The small room that housed The Stallion newspaper was filled with the sound of keyboard keys clicking and editors rushing to layout the paper out for publishing. The managing editor and advisor, Dr. Eric Cash, would spend layout nights at the office.
On those nights, his wife would be labeled as “The Stallion widow”. What once was a joke, has now become bittersweet.
Cash arrived at ABAC in 1999 alongside his wife, Erin Campbell. Some students saw him as just another professor, but for other students, Cash changed their life.
“He completely changed the way that the students experienced the journalism program at ABAC. He was constantly trying to improve the student media department and the program to give the students as much real-world experience as possible,” said Campbell.
Before his arrival, the program was advised by Helen Strickland. Their styles differed immensely. Strickland was very hands-on with the newspaper, whereas Cash let the students have supervised free-reign. Strickland was also strictly print journalism, while Cash was multimedia journalism. He created ABAC student media; which included WPLH radio station, The Stallion newspaper, Pegasus Literary Magazine and Stallion TV.
“He created television broadcasting at ABAC. Without him, our broadcasting program probably wouldn’t exist today,” Campbell said.
Upon his arrival, The Stallion was run solely by three students: the editor, Janet Heard, and two reporters, Christy Day and Bo Moore. The newspaper flourished under his advisement and the next semester, they welcomed seven new members. In 2004, Cash hired the first African American editor in ABAC’s history, Larius Johnson. Making history at ABAC is only one of his many accomplishments.
“He would have said that his biggest achievements were what his students accomplished. How they took a monthly paper and turned it into a weekly paper. They wrote their own stories, they learned how to do investigative reporting and they were the ones who earned the awards. That’s what he would tell you, honestly,” said Campbell.
The Stallion has a long legacy of earning many awards, beating out many top colleges and universities in the nation. Past co-editors, J.D. Sumner and John Rodman, reflected on the awards that the newspaper received.
“The newspaper, for a number of years, before I arrived and after I left, consistently won the best newspaper in the division. It’s all about the quality of the program, not the size of the school,” Rodman said.
Sumner and Rodman won many individual awards, including photography and news writing. The greatest award that they earned was the General Excellence for the paper.
“You’re grateful for the individual awards, but you realize that you’re carrying on a legacy and that in the general excellence piece means that the paper as a whole is doing things that are innovative and that are elevating the art of journalism. At the end of the day, it wasn’t all about the awards. It was about making sure that we were growing as students and that we were telling the stories that needed to be told,” said Sumner.
Cash also earned an award that stuck out to Campbell, “He won the Wilson C. Scott Award for Excellence in Scholastic Journalism at Savannah State University. Our daughter was almost two and we went to Savannah to get the award. We have this picture of her where she’s on the bed in the hotel room, she’s holding the award and it’s like half the size that she is.”
The Stallion faced many hardships during Cash’s advisement when it was labeled as a “club”. They had to present their case to the Student Government Association (SGA), where they documented their expenses, budgets and membership growth. Some years they would get the funding that they asked for, but others they struggled to make ends meet. Their only hardships weren’t just with the SGA, but also employees who didn’t understand the need for journalism.
“The president of the college at the time, Dr. Harold Loyd, wanted to shut down the controversial stories about the college. Eric refused to do that. He would, out of courtesy, let the president’s office know what was coming. He refused to censor or not run a story. The stories were never contentious, they reported facts. Eric wouldn’t allow his students to not be able to report the news,” Campbell said.
The Cash family received the best news on April 7th of 2010, they were pregnant with their second child. Exactly one month later, following the best news was the worst, Cash was diagnosed with stage-four inoperable lung cancer. Tragedy struck their family when Dr. Eric Cash passed away in his home on December 18th of 2010; leaving behind his wife, their four-year-old daughter and five-week-old son.
Campbell discussed why she believes that he’s an inspiration, “He was a first-generation college student. He had a B.A. in Anthropology, a Master’s in Journalism, a Master’s in English, an education specialist degree and a Ph.D. That’s four advanced degrees. He wrote his Journalism thesis and his Ph.D. dissertation while teaching English and Journalism full-time for ABAC. In addition, he started the scholarly journal, which he edited and published, The Undying Fire: The Journal of the H.G. Wells Society of the Americas. I believe that he’s a role model. He always said that student loans are an investment in your future.”
Cash’s legacy lives on at ABAC and through the many students and faculty members that he left an impression on.
“I would say that Dr. Cash was the primary mentor that gave me the most tools. I used his teachings throughout my time in law school and today while writing legal briefs. He’s the person that I remember as the most impactful professor that I’ve ever had, but more importantly, he was a great friend. He continued to give me advice in my career, my personal life and advancement after I graduated,” said Rodman, “In the years since he passed, I can’t tell you how many times that I have come across, especially in today’s world, media and journalism being under attack. I wish that I could just have a conversation with him about that. I really miss those conversations.”
Sumner also expressed how Cash had influenced his life, “The biggest learning experience was looking at his life after I left ABAC. Friending him on Facebook and following what the paper was doing and what was happening around ABAC. How he dealt with being sick and how he managed that while being a dad. It has nothing to do with the journalism end of it, but it has everything to do with being a good person.”
Campbell ended the interview with, “He was such an advocate for the students. Having them well educated and giving them real-world experience, not just education, but that real life stuff that you can’t define. He was always professional and he cultivated many close relationships with his students. He changed journalism as ABAC had known it. What we have now is because of the groundwork that he laid.”
Campbell has established a memorial scholarship in his honor, the Eric W. Cash Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is available for Writing and Communication majors, ideally first-generation college students. The funding began with few donations, most notably from Cash’s dissertation director and friend, Dr. David Galef.
Campbell said, “According to the previous dean of Arts and Sciences, Johnny Evans, this scholarship will be endowed so that this part of Eric’s legacy also continues. He really believed that education can, and would, change the world.”