Editor's note: As part of The Blade's coverage of Black History Month, In the Public Eye will spotlight area blacks who are making a difference in the community.
To make ends meet for his family about 33 years ago, Chester Gant took a second job cleaning banks after hours. He occasionally brought his children along to help out.
The oldest, Eric J. Stockard, said he carried those memories with him as a student and athlete at Central Catholic High School and an administrator at the University of Toledo and at Defiance College.
Mr. Stockard, 44, who in December became the vice president for institutional development at his high school alma mater, said he credits his father and other family members with providing him with a work ethic and drive.
“It motivates me to be the best person I can be,” said Mr. Stockard about his father's efforts to make a better life for his family. “It gives me a reason to get up every day, to make a positive difference with the people I come in contact with.”
In his new job, Mr. Stockard becomes the chief fund-raiser for the largest Catholic high school in Northwest Ohio.
The former sales representative for Owens Corning Fiberglas said the job of selling Central Catholic will be easy because he knows the material.
“I have always been impressed with the direction Central has been taking and the vision Central has for its students,” Mr. Stockard said. “With anything you're selling, you have to believe in the product. I did when I worked at Owens Corning and I do here.
“I believe in the mission and what they're trying to do for the community. Central is the most diverse of any of the Catholic high schools. This is what Catholic education is supposed to be about,” he said.
For the last five years, Mr. Stockard was selling students on Defiance College as vice president of enrollment management. Dr. James Harris, president of the college, said Mr. Stockard played a vital role in recent growth at the school.
Dr. Harris credited Mr. Stockard and the staff he put together for a 46 percent increase in freshman enrollment over five years and organizing computer training for staffers to streamline services to students.
He said the retention rate of those freshmen students to their sophomore year increased from between 60 to 65 percent before Mr. Stockard arrived, to a record retention rate of 73 percent by 1998.
“He's a big picture kind of person,” said Dr. Harris, who attended the University of Toledo with Mr. Stockard and taught with him at Central. “He is a man of integrity. I think of Dr. King's dream of America and I think Eric Stockard is an embodiment of what he would have believed all people of all races should be like.”
Before joining Defiance College, Mr. Stockard worked 10 years at the University of Toledo, starting as coordinator of minority admissions before leaving as assistant to the vice president for academic affairs.
He has a master's degree in education administration from the University of Toledo, has done volunteer work through his fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha as well as the Boys and Girls Club, Aurora House, and at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, where he is a member.
The Rev. Martin Donnelly, pastor of St. Martin de Porres, was assistant principal when Mr. Stockard was a student at Central and its administrator when Mr. Stockard taught there.
“As a high school student, he was ahead of his time,” Father Donnelly said. “He was a pioneer at Central Catholic as far as the issue of diversity at the school. He was a leader in those efforts to make Central Catholic accustomed to the African-American culture.”
A large, framed picture with the images of Martin Luther King Jr., Mary Bethune Cookman, Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, and other late African-American leaders hang behind Mr. Stockard's desk, seemingly looking over him at his desk.
“I never want to forget where I came from,” Mr. Stockard said in his office. “A lot of people fought hard for me to have an opportunity to sit in this chair. I think black history is for everyone to learn, not just black children. We must tell the whole story of this country, the bad and the good.”
Mr. Stockard has a busy family life. His son, Cameron, 13, is a sixth-grader at Meadows Choice charter school. He has three stepdaughters, Amber, 21, a student at Grand Valley State; Angie, 19, a student at Eastern Michigan University, and Bridgette, 17, a senior at St. Ursula Academy.
“They see how Anne [his wife] and I treat each other and how we treat other people, and they know that's what we expect of them,” Mr. Stockard said. “If you don't love a child, how will they ever learn how to love. If I'm respectful of elders, then they will learn to be respectful as well.”
Mark Tooman, spokesman for Central, said Mr. Stockard's addition has generated excitement among those connected with the school.
“He knows the school and its tradition of excellence and spirit. We've heard nothing but praise from staff, faculty, and alumni. ... He has the experience and the background to be very successful."