Tag Archives: Tara Spencer

Let Halloween Carry On

November 1, 2018 by

Subscribe to this free weekly newsletter here.

Thursday, Nov. 1: Don’t miss the ninth annual celebration of straight-out-of-Nebraska talent at the Premiere: 2018 Film Streams Local Filmmakers Showcase at Film Streams’ Dundee Theater. With 12 different (mostly) short films to watch, chances are you will find at least one that intrigues you. Learn about a piece of dark, Irish folklore from an animation short or an outstanding young pianist from Russia in a brief biographical film. You can also catch a video from the local music virtuosos behind Closeness. With topics that run the gamut, be prepared to laugh, cry, and think. Click here for a preview.

Friday, Nov. 2: Coming to Omaha from Portland, Oregon, and just over the Colorado border (technically, Boulder), Gregory Alan Isakov and Haley Heynderickx are bringing their folksy, roots-based music to Sokol. If there’s a theme to this show, it’s definitely “earthy.” From Isakov’s farming connection to the land, ever-present in his songs, to Heynderickx’s new album titled I Need to Start a Garden, the desire to feel connected is evident. So get out and connect. Get your tickets here now.

Saturday, Nov. 3: You know you haven’t had enough of the costumes yet, so head to Omaha Masquerade Ball 2018 at Nuri Event Studio. Brought to you by the Omaha Diversity Experience, this magical masquerade will feature pop, Afrobeat, and hip hop music from DJ AK. VIP and bottle service packages are available, but you’d better dress the part. This is your chance to pretend, and who doesn’t love that? Get your tickets right here.

Saturday, Nov. 3: Still in the mood for some costume fun, but don’t want to go through the hassle of having to dress up yourself? Head to Suicide Girls: Blackheart Burlesque at Slowdown. Watch the women-of-the-weird perform choreographed dances that pay tribute to a wide range of pop-culture classics, from Star Wars to Sailor Moon. Pit-side seats are already sold out, so you’d better get your tickets here asap.

Sunday, Nov. 4: It’s the time of year for the well-known, yet mystifying Midwest combination of chili and cinnamon rolls. Not for you? The Chili Crawl & Cookoff in Midtown Crossing at Turner Park is the perfect opportunity to find the best chili for whatever you like to pair with it—even drinks. With over eight restaurants participating, there will be plenty to choose from. Be sure to try them all, so you can vote for the best! Get all the details here.

Chloe Kehm

October 11, 2018 by
Photography by Keith Binder

With her bobbed blond hair, flowered orange dress, and a jean jacket covered in pins (mostly cats in some form or another), artist Chloe Kehm looks like she could have stepped out of one of her favorite anime shows. But while her art may often depict that culture, her interests and influences are far more diverse.

“I listen to podcasts a lot,” Kehm says. “I’ve just been listening to this one podcast and hammering out stuff.” 

Kehm is describing a part of her creative process. One of her favorite podcasts is Saw Bones, a medical history program. “It’s about all the stupid things we’ve done medically in the past…they talk about the Victorians a lot. They did a lot of weird things,” she says with a laugh.

Also, she adds, “If my room’s a mess, I can’t do anything. Which is unfortunate, because I’m not the cleanest person.” Regardless, she manages to get a substantial amount of creating done, including an entire comic book for her BFA program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It’s something she’d been putting off because she says she wasn’t confident in her skills. But after many life-drawing classes, she finally thought, “Let’s just do it now.” 

Having grown up watching animated shows such as Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon, it’s not surprising she became interested in drawing what she calls “fandom things,” such as characters from video games, comics, and television series. But what she really enjoys is making her own, original work, and a big part of that is telling a story. Besides working with digital mediums, watercolor, oil and acrylic paints, and experimenting with ink and marker drawings, she also creates short, four-panel comic strips. “I love writing,” she says. “I took a couple of creative writing classes before and I’m always writing comic strips.”

While pop culture clearly influences a lot of her current work, she does have an appreciation for the classics, such as Van Gogh. Her favorite work of his is “Almond Blossoms.” “His colors are gorgeous and I like to think I could pull some of those into my own work.”

Her pieces are definitely more contemporary, though. “A lot of the artists I really love right now are currently living,” she says with a smile, “and they are young female artists in the comic book industry.” She lists Babs Tarr, Fiona Staples, and Leslie Hung as her top three, but adds that there are countless others. “It’s just really inspiring.”

It’s unsurprising that Kehm admires these artists. She says that, while she didn’t really start considering herself a feminist until college, she has always believed equality is important, “across the board.” She credits those animated shows she grew up on with helping her develop that ideal. “A lot of animated shows directed at young girls [are] showing them in positions of power and being strong and independent. I think that just kind of sat in there…and it inspires a lot of what I want to do with my storytelling and my animation,” she says, before wryly adding, “And I’m a woman. I should care about that stuff, right?”

Kehm says she likes her creations to be fun, but also to have a message. “I like depicting different people in different ways. I like to show the vastness of the human race.” She pauses, then breaks into laughter. “Which sounds…a little lofty.”

She says she believes art in general has a hand in almost everything we do as a society. “You don’t realize how much art plays into everything you interact with on a day-to-day basis. Like your shoes. Someone designed that, someone drew that.” She gestures around the coffee shop as she speaks. “The layout of the building you’re in, the house you live in—an architect did that. They have artistry skills, and I think it gets overlooked a lot. But I think art is pretty integral to everything that we do. Be it political or day-to-day life.” 

While she hopes her message of equality comes through in her work, Kehm says she’ll be happy if it just makes people smile. “That’s ultimately what I want to come out of it.”

etsy.com/shop/KuroesCreations   | instagram.com/kuroedraws

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Encounter Founder

September 7, 2018 by and
Photography by contributed

Encounter Founder

by Tara Spencer

Encounter Magazine recently underwent a pretty major transformation. For some, the product you see now may not resemble the original at all. It shouldn’t. Media has evolved, and Omaha Publications has consistently leveled up as time and progress demands. Encounter has expanded its focus, and now features individuals who represent not just the Old Market neighborhood, but all the burgeoning artistic areas of Omaha. 

Looking at issues of the original The Old Market Encounter, it’s easy to see why Barbara Shaffer felt the need to cover the bustling neighborhood she loved. It was the place for creatives to gather and exchange ideas, resources, and support as they grew their businesses. She felt it was underrepresented in traditional media and wanted to ensure its significance was recognized. 

Shaffer passed away on Sunday, June 3, 2018, at The Nebraska Masonic Home in Plattsmouth. Her contributions to Omaha’s cultural scene were enormous, and Encounter would not exist without her.   

We at Omaha Publications also feel a need to cover the artistic and cultural landscape of an ever-changing Omaha. In our own way, we are carrying on her tradition of giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard. 

Encounter in its current form is ground zero for Omaha’s emerging artists. Shaffer was the woman who started it all. Without her work on The Old Market Encounter, Omaha’s beloved arts and culture magazine might not be in your hands today.

Her longtime friend, Paula Steenson, recalls here how it all got started.

Who was Barbara Shaffer?

by Paula Steenson

In March 1995, my friend John Prouty from Wessco Graphics introduced me to Barb Shaffer. She was looking for someone to design and produce a new magazine that she would devote to the Old Market. Her plan was to call it The Old Market Encounter. Her goal was to have a publication that would represent all of the small businesses in the Old Market, featuring stories about them and the people moving into what were then uncultivated spaces above and around the Old Market businesses. 

Shaffer’s husband, Cliff, was a writer. He would write pieces such as “Around and About,” dropping tidbits about what was happening—and there was always something happening—in the Old Market. Independent photographers and writers would submit pictures and articles about one of Omaha’s most unusual tourist locations, including some very unique shops
and restaurants. 

The magazine was in all of the downtown businesses, as well as hotels and doctors’ offices. You never knew what was going to be in the publication, but you knew it would be intriguing.

Barb and Cliff lived in a wonderful apartment in The Greenhouse, which overlooked the Central Park Mall, and Barb was always visiting with folks and businesses in the Market to see who was new. She was always happy to feature them in The Old Market Encounter to help them grow their businesses. 

That was what Barb was all about—helping people, businesses, and her downtown community. Besides being involved in the Old Market Business Association, she was also very involved in Downtown Omaha Inc. Along with Joan Baillon, Shaffer brought about the first biennial gala in 1997 at the Embassy Suites Old Market shortly after it opened. There were 750 people in attendance. 

She also was one of the people who started Dickens in the Market, a forerunner to the Holiday Lights Festival. For a special weekend early in December, volunteers dressed in Dickensian garb and walked around caroling. Various performers danced and played instruments while the restaurants served special holiday food.

In early 2004, Barb and Cliff moved to a drier climate for health reasons, and Barb decided to sell the magazine to Todd Lemke, who owns Omaha Publications. She felt that Todd would be able to keep the feeling going that she had started.

Without Barb, the Old Market wouldn’t be the lively location it is now.

Encounter staff members reached out to other longtime friends, some of whom chimed in with their own stories about Barb.

Ron Samuelson—SamFam LLC, former owner M’s Pub 

In this time of the independent woman, Barb Shaffer may well have been the prototype. Self-made entrepreneur, well-educated, and actualized, she excelled in all of the areas life offered her—family, business, the arts, community, and public service. All were benefited by her love

and participation. She was energized to improve, and her handiwork is imprinted all over our

community. Lights in Central Park Mall, Downtown Improvement District, Encounter Magazine,

and Delice Bakery were small samples of her energies.

She was a student of life, a gentle and impassioned teacher who showed unconditional love

as a wife, mother, sister, and friend. Omaha is a better place because of her presence here and, as in all areas of her life, she left us better than she found us. Hers was a life well lived. We miss her.

Jeff Jorgensen—owner of Tannenbaum Christmas Shop

Barb was a co-founder of Delice European Bakery, originally located at 12th & Howard streets.  Perhaps that led to her involvement in Downtown Omaha, Inc., where she served on the board, and Old Market Business Association, where she served on the board and as president. When Barb identified the need to let visitors know about the Old Market, she created The Old Market Encounter and later the Old Market Directory (both now published by Omaha Publications). Barb was appointed to the Downtown Omaha BID Board where she served as chairperson to create an active organization to promote and improve downtown, resulting in the creation of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District Association. Barb was one of the visionaries who conceived of lighting the Gene Leahy Mall during the holidays. Her legacy is the foundation of many of the successes now visible throughout downtown and the Old Market.

Molly Garriott—former writer for The Old Market Encounter

Having perused the pages of The Old Market Encounter, I decided to reach out to Barb with the aim of becoming a freelance writer. I had, maybe, two bylines to my name, but she treated me like a seasoned pro. Barb was graciousness personified. Each year at Christmas, she and Cliff would treat the magazine’s writers and their spouses to dinner at a downtown restaurant. We dined at establishments like Vivace’s and The Flatiron, places a young couple with babies and student loans could ill afford. That dinner was a holiday highlight. I recall the fare and festive atmosphere fondly. But mostly I remember animated conversations, boisterous laughter, and the feeling of camaraderie Barb fostered. Over 20 years later, I am still writing, thanks in large part to my beginning with Barb.

This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of  Encounter. 

Fashion Nomad

August 19, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In the fashion world, often known for inflated egos and shameless self-promotion, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is in it for money and fame. 

Up-and-coming local fashion designer Paige Modlin isn’t buying into those ideals. And, like her clothing, it’s downright refreshing. 

In person, her demeanor is quiet. She is hesitant when speaking about herself and her sentences occasionally trail off. One look at her social media tells a different story, though. When modeling her own clothing or just hanging out with friends, her confidence in herself and her personal style is clear. 

Her style, by the way, is very street. She says she likes to focus on shape and silhouette, though color clearly plays a key role in her designs. But most importantly, she likes to make clothes that people feel comfortable in, no matter their gender. “I definitely design clothes for men and women, but that either gender could wear.” 

She adds that her personal style is “sort of all over the place.” One day, she might be feeling the sporty look, the next she may want to do super preppy. Or maybe she’s just feeling a certain color. 

“I was trying to wear all pink today, but I didn’t really have the jacket for it.”

Modlin says she got interested in fashion as a sophomore at Westside High School, from which she graduated last year. She says it’s “crazy how good the program is” there.

She says she was already interested in clothing and shopping, so she decided she “might as well try” making her own. 

Her mother, Pam Modlin, says Paige is the artsy one out of her five children. She was the one who liked to draw or wanted to play the flute. However, “It wasn’t until high school when she started sewing that she really blossomed on the art scene.”

“I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist, but ever since I started making clothes, I was over painting,” says the 19-year-old Modlin. 

She says she finds inspiration everywhere. For her clothing designs, she especially enjoys searching thrift shops, which she visits at least once a day. And of course, “definitely the internet,” specifically Instagram, where she tends to follow others interested in vintage clothing.  At first it may be difficult to see where that vintage inspiration is represented in her designs, but she says it’s usually in the color palette. “I like the bright, retro jumpsuits.”

Modlin says one of her favorite creators is Belgian fashion designer Raf Simons, which makes sense once you’ve peeped his classic yet contemporary designs. While they both emphasize the structure of a piece, Modlin’s clothing is definitely more colorful. That bit of inspiration stems from her affection for Japanese streetwear and designer Takashi Murakami. 

Her love of fashion also drives her to travel. She recently visited her father in Mexico, and before that she travelled to Europe to “self-study” fashion. She was in France and Italy during fashion week, though she didn’t get to attend the actual shows. But she says she found the street art very inspiring, although she did think the lack of color was odd. 

“All the young kids were wearing black or neutral colors, and I was wearing these bright colors. I stood out so much,” she says. “I have this picture [taken] in Rome of me wearing one of the shirts I made and everyone in the background is wearing a black coat…like I’m some crazy girl.” She adds that the people in Amsterdam were more relatable and “way nicer.” 

Next up on her travel list is Japan. “Streetwear is very big in Japan, and that’s where a lot of my inspo comes from.”

When it comes to the future, Modlin says she will continue to study fashion, and she plans on taking classes at Metropolitan Community College. “They have a lot of fun classes there,” she says. Besides fashion design, she also really enjoys photography. Graphic design is another medium she would like to get into more. Plus, she adds, it would be a good skill to have to fall back on. Not that she plans on falling. 

“I want to be able to make my own brand and sell it, and graphic design would definitely fit in with that.” But for now, where she’ll end up is a mystery. “I don’t know,” she says. “I never know!”

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

See more on the designer’s instagram instagram/@__unknown.jpg

Big Daddy

July 12, 2018 by
Photography by Dave Weaver, Debra S. Kaplan (provided)

Regular readers of Encounter may wonder what’s going on here. We don’t really do an editor’s letter in this publication. We like to let the stories, artwork, and photography speak for themselves and leave the interpretation up to you, the reader. 

However, this issue is special. As many of you know, we lost our fearless leader, Eric Stoakes, this past February. He had only been back at Omaha Publications for a little over a year, but in that time he helped shape and redefine Encounter into what you hold in your hands now. Edgy, earnest, honest, and always pushing the envelope, it was his dream publication—his dream job. He said as much to his friends and coworkers and we’re glad he was able to find his true niche after decades in this industry.  

In this issue, we pay homage to Big Daddy—our creative and spiritual leader, our conscience, our heart. 

The Lime Punch fashion spread was his idea, his way of celebrating the colorful future of fashion. He had a whole storyline planned out in his head, though he never wrote it down (as was often the case, he enjoyed having his surprises). 

We’ve done our best to stay true to the ideas he did discuss, and we think he would approve. 

You may also have noticed the absence of our special farty unicorn kitty as of late. Derek Joy, our extraordinary designer, has replaced kitty with a simple illustration of red glasses, in honor of the ones Eric would often coordinate his own outfits around. (Kitty’s head will still be floating around, though.)

The future of Encounter now depends on us. Not just the staff here at the magazine, but also with you. We will keep bringing you stories of the up-and-coming artists, musicians, and creative visionaries who are reshaping Omaha’s cultural landscape. We ask that you keep giving us your feedback and send us your story ideas. Seriously. The weirder the better. 

Eric wanted to help develop and engage the artistic community of Omaha. It was his life’s passion. And while it may have been cut short, the work he did was important. His impact on many in the arts community is not easily measured, but I’ve encountered many who say they wouldn’t be where they are today had he not pushed them out of their comfort zones. 

So we will continue his work—creating, developing, and sometimes pushing people out of their comfort zones. 

Stay tuned. And stay weird. 

Tara Spencer, Associate editor of Encounter

This letter was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Encounter. 

Tribute to Eric Stoakes

February 21, 2018 by and
Photography by Debra S. Kaplan, Contributed by friends

Omaha’s journalistic and creative community is a poorer place without Eric Stoakes. We lost a beloved friend, an editor, our “Big Daddy” (as many knew him).

His funeral took place on Thursday, Feb. 22, at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Wahoo, Nebraska (504 W. Eighth St.). A celebration of his life will be planned for a later time to be held in Omaha.

After an unexpected hospitalization, Eric was absent from the office of Omaha Magazine for nearly a month as he fought to regain his health on a ventilator, enduring tests, tracheotomy, antibiotics, and more. He fought hard. But on Friday, Feb. 16, Eric left this earthly realm surrounded by his family. He was 51 years old.

He was born in Omaha on March 19, 1966, to parents Norman and Sharon Stoakes. He was part of the high school newspaper at Millard South High School and graduated in 1984. He went on to graduate with honors from the University of Nebraska-Omaha after serving as the editor of the university’s student-run Gateway newspaper.

Eric started his professional journalism career as the graphics editor for Kidz Magazine, and through that role joined the Omaha World-Herald. He was the editor-in-chief at Omaha Magazine from the late ’90s through the early 2000s. He then went on to co-create Medium Magazine, followed by a run of over 10 years as promotions and creative director at The Reader. He held various jobs with other local media outlets over the years, too, and returned to the Omaha Magazine family in 2016 to become the managing editor of Encounter Magazine.

Aside from his journalistic endeavors, he was also an event coordinator in the local creative community with his Puppy Pageant (benefiting the Council Bluffs Humane Society), Goth Ball, along with many other unforgettable events.

He leaves behind his three beloved Chihuahuas—Petey, Bullet, and Coco Chanel—and will be remembered as a talented writer, loving son, brother, and uncle. His obituary posted online at Svoboda Funeral Home states that he “believed in aspiring artists of all kinds and made a positive impact on the art, performance, film, and music scene in the Omaha area.”

A fundraiser on gofundme.com is gathering money to help cover medical bills associated with his prolonged hospitalization.

Here are some stories and anecdotes about Eric from some of the friends and former co-workers who miss him.

Mary Lichtenwalter

KPTM Fox 42, Writer/Producer

I had the privilege of knowing Eric for over 25 years. From the moment I met him, I liked him. He was charismatic, enthusiastic, loyal, helpful, and always there. One time Eric was helping me with an all-ages benefit concert at the Slowdown for the Omaha Food Bank. We were having a meeting at The Varsity and Eric came in with his eyes wide and sparkling. “I’ve got it! We will have models walk between the bands. I’ll bring in a DJ, and we can get donations from thrift stores. It will be AMAZING!” His exuberance and excitement caught everyone at the table by surprise. From that moment on, every benefit concert he helped me with had to feature a fashion segment. His enthusiasm was so contagious it spread to everyone there.

In fact, any time I was putting together an event, working with a charity, or even helping with my daughter’s drama club, Eric would jump in and help. His creativity when we collaborated brought my events to another level. I could never thank him enough for all he did. Both my daughters and I will miss him terribly. Omaha lost an amazing talent.

Andrew Norman

Rabble Mill (formerly Hear Nebraska), COO/Co-founder
Former managing editor at The Reader and City Weekly

My heart hurts knowing this rare, generous, sassy, talented human is no longer with us. Eric Stoakes literally launched my career (as he did countless others), giving me my first post-college real job as the managing editor of a new alt-weekly startup, despite my being hugely under-qualified for the position. Over the next six years, I spent countless hours working with him—in the office and the bar—to tell Omaha’s subcultural story. I learned so much from him about healthy work-life balance, creative thinking, relationship building, and event production. He genuinely had—and shared—one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known while managing a high-wire balance of being as, let’s say, prickly as he could possibly get away with and still net die-hard, loyal friendships. I love Big Daddy, and will miss the hell out of him.

Melanie Clark

President of Clark Creative Group

I met Eric Stoakes in 1986. We were both 20 and majoring in journalism at UNO. I recognized a kindred spirit immediately. Who knew then that we’d work on publications together for the next 30 years?

In the late 1980s we were both editors at UNO’s Gateway. I remember late nights writing lengthy features together as a team—something I never could do with anyone else. Somehow, Eric and I had a way of writing together that just flowed.

My most poignant memory of those days is our story on gang violence. Gangs were exploding in Omaha in the ’80s, and somehow Eric found a couple of gang members for us to interview. I was terrified, but quickly learned they were just scared kids. Eric and I stayed up all night writing that story to make the deadline, and it was some of the best writing either of us has ever done.

A couple years later, I brought Eric into my new job at Kidz Magazine, and soon we were pasting up the magazine—with a waxer—late at night. Of course, we’d take frequent breaks at the Pipeline bar, where Eric and I spent countless hours solving all the world’s problems over pitchers of Bud Light.

When I got married, Eric was a groomsman. Through my struggles with infertility, Eric was there, keeping me positive and even figuring out how to order fertility drugs over the (new) internet from England. When I found out I was pregnant with triplets, he was elated.

Eric saved the day when I had to get the premier issue of a new magazine to press from my hospital room, where I spent two months before our babies were born. Eric and I did that magazine, Today’s Omaha Woman, together for 20 years.

Eric featured Clark & Company, our triplets’ band, in his last publication, which I find comforting. It was his last gift to me because, of course, it’s gorgeous. Eric’s launch party for that January/February issue of Encounter on Jan. 10 was the last time I saw him upright and healthy.

Omaha has lost an amazing talent and huge fan—Eric loved this city and the people in it. He loved his family and the diverse family of friends he created. He believed in equality and “love is love.”

Eric believed in all of us, even more than we believed in ourselves.

Michael Braunstein

The Reader, Heartland Healing columnist

Eric Stoakes gave me courage. When I wanted to publish a hard copy magazine version of Heartland Healing in April of 2004, I had no idea where to start. But then there was Eric. He could do all the things that I couldn’t and knew all the things about graphics and layout that I didn’t know. He shared. He cared about what I was trying to do, and without him it would never have happened. I watched Eric give all that he had, time and again, to whatever project he embraced—fashion, pet rescues, art, performances, causes, friendships. He never held back.

Kyle Eustice

Omaha Publications, Contributing Writer

Eric Stoakes was one of those people who just made you feel good to be around. Since my humble beginnings in journalism over 15 years ago, Eric was a figure of constant support. He encouraged me and often called me his favorite writer. He told me to never give up. We stopped working together for a couple of years, but as soon as he was able to, he recruited me again to contribute to Encounter Magazine. After I sent in my first story, he said, “I’m so happy to have you back.” I felt so honored he valued me so much. I was ecstatic to be working with him again, too. I can’t believe I’ll never get another email from him or a funny Facebook message about Bullet and Petey. We both have chihuahuas and always bonded over that. Much love Eric. I’ll never forget you.

Derrick Schott

Pioneer Publishing, Web Developer/Designer

I first met Eric in December of 2009 at his annual Sexy Santa party at The Tavern in the Old Market. I noticed this guy that the crowd just moved around and decided to make conversation. He ended up giving me his business card from The Reader and told this fresh-faced college graduate to get in contact for a possible internship.

Eric, that proved to be one of the most pivotal moments of my life. Without a doubt, you set the course for the rest of my professional career. Thank you.
For six years we “worked” together. Through all the late nights to meet the press deadlines with sleep-deprived weekends spent learning “how to do the web,” it never truly felt like work. I loved every minute of it with you.

But we didn’t just work together. I still remember the first beer you bought me at The Attic; our “Brunch Bunch” days; picking up Petey’s poo…next to my desk no less; lunchcapades; jokes; music; and so much more. No, we didn’t just work together, we lived life together.

The most bittersweet memory I have left with you now was getting to see you one last time in the hospital and letting you know, after all these years, how much you still mean to me. Love you, Big Daddy.

Tricia “Shor-T” Pugsley

Power 106.9, On-Air Radio Personality

Eric Stoakes, you will be missed and remembered my friend. I will never forget all the times you brought me out of my comfort zone knowing I’d rock it, even when I wasn’t so sure. You had me spinning all Mötley Crüe during a fashion show, booked me to play six hours of rock at biker party, and booked me for my first photo shoot complete with several shirtless dudes. I loved your creativity, your sense of humor, how much you cared, and how hard you worked when it came to bringing your ideas to life. Your support and friendship have meant so much to me over the years. Rest In Peace.

Photo by Dave Weaver 

Sarah Wengert

Omaha Publications, Contributing Writer
Medical Solutions, Senior Creative Content Wordsmith
Former managing editor at The Reader

Eric Stoakes was a wonderful friend, incredible teammate, and inspiring creative collaborator to me and so many others. Just being in his proximity as a colleague, he taught me endless unscripted lessons about publishing, journalism, creativity, communication, kindness, grit, the ability to always just “make it work” no matter what, and so much more. And, very importantly, he made me belly laugh more times than I can count. He was hilarious.

If you had the pleasure to know him you’re likely aware that Eric’s substantial impact on Omaha’s creative community went far beyond his own prolific personal contributions—because of his extraordinary knack for uncovering and nurturing talent in others. He was a true original, and championing others so effectively was just one special part of his magic. One hopeful thought that’s comforted me in the cheerless wake of his loss is that Eric’s vision, creativity, and spirit will continue to live on in all of us whom he developed, mentored, and lifted up. You touched us all and we love you, Eric. You’ll never be forgotten because you live on in all of us. Cheers, Big Daddy!

Sean McCarthy

Omaha Publications, Contributing Writer
West Corporation, User Experience Designer

Upon hearing the heartbreaking news of Eric Stoakes passing, I went into Gmail to see if I could post an amusing anecdote or quip from Eric. None were to be found. All of his responses were straight-up professional. All asked the right questions.

What I did notice was an unmistakable pattern. Over the last decade, the stories that I enjoyed working on the most (a profile of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop; an article about Dixie Quicks’ move from Omaha to Council Bluffs; and a story about Trey and Lallaya Lalley of Brothers Lounge) all had Eric’s fingerprints on them. The Omaha Press Club states that their hall of fame honors “journalists who have made notable contributions to Omaha-area journalism.” There are few that fit that description better than Eric.

Kara Schweiss

Omaha Publications, Contributing Writer
Schweiss Communication Services, Owner
Former editor of Millard South Tomahawk

I have to recognize that our friendship was inevitable.

I was a 14-year-old high school freshman in 1983 when I joined the Millard South Tomahawk. Eric was a section editor and two years ahead of me—a significant disparity then—but even then he made people feel welcome and valuable. His talent as a writer and illustrator became evident early on, but he always had a special enthusiasm for design, which was much more complex in those pre-desktop publishing days. As a senior, he spearheaded a complete redesign of the paper that netted multiple awards. It was a joy to see him continue on to become a successful college journalist and launch his career locally.

The night after my college graduation, I inexplicably chose to celebrate at a pub far from my usual hangouts. As kismet would have it, there was Eric. He’d been following my work in the UNO Gateway and offered me my first freelance assignments on the spot.

We stayed connected through several publications and other professional projects. (I confess that we indulged in a lot of amusing gossip about our host of shared friends and acquaintances, too.) At what we didn’t know would be our last mini-reunion with high school friends, we perused old Tomahawks and talked of both the past and our plans for the future.

I will miss Eric’s irreverent humor as much as his professional support and admirable talent. It shocked a few people when Eric referred to me as his “first bitch,” but the two of us would always get a chuckle out of it. My friend, it was an honor.

Jody Lovallo

High school and college friend
Co-edited a short-lived Omaha entertainment magazine, Contempo, with Eric Stoakes in 1986

As we have come to find out, Eric had circles and circles of friends. I knew him as editor of our high school newspaper and chief of all things outrageous to do on those crazy ’80s weekends. In his passing, many of us are meeting for the first time. We all went to school with him or worked with him, and we all seem to have a general understanding of that special something that was Eric Stoakes. He was a bright star, yet a subdued mellow soul. Eric was as comfortable in a five-star restaurant as he was in a little dive bar on Underwood Avenue or in a hidden Mexican lunch place on a side street in South O. There was an incredible dynamic of quiet and loud with Eric. He was a working journalist who preferred not to have a byline or even a masthead if he could. Yet, he never shied away from loud controversial topics in his work (and certainly his fashion). His humor was big and loud and outrageous, but he worried very much about never hurting people’s feelings or coming across as crass.

If there is a slow-motion movie that runs in my mind, it was the day we found out our high school newspaper had been recognized for several awards. We couldn’t stop cheering and jumping. Our feet were barely on the ground that day. It was an important day, a revelation. It springboarded Eric to major in journalism as he went onto UNO. The early success gave Eric encouragement and a pathway to his hard-fought career as a local journalist. But all in all, Eric seemed to have a reputation for encouraging others to do things. His praise was like a magic power he had. It was heartfelt. He always praised my writing and encouraged it, but I never dreamed I’d have to write this.

I went into a drugstore about an hour after I heard the news of his death and over the loudspeaker was Donna Summer singing “She Works Hard For The Money.” And I am 100 percent positive that was Eric playing that for me, that song was one of our ’80s anthems that he would blast loudly in his car when it came on the radio. Since then, another friend has told me that she too heard the same song playing in an unexpected place. To your Donna Summer, Eric, I send back to you…doves are crying…and I want to thank you for giving me the best days of my life.

Melissa Seffens

KPTM Fox 42, Creative Director

Eric Stoakes brought a sense of fashion to everything he did. He knew what was in style and how to bring style and class to everything he touched. Whether he was coordinating a fashion show or managing a puppy pageant, he knew how to make a statement.

Tessa Jeffers

Premier Guitar, Managing Editor
Former arts editor at The Reader
Former editor at Today’s Omaha Woman

A dear friend and beautiful soul entered the great beyond last week. I’m still in disbelief, but one thing is for sure: Eric Stoakes was a special person who impacted my life deeply. I’ve been in shock and trying to find the words to express how truly good he was. When you’re blessed with a friend like Eric, it’s all about unconditional love. Our work relationship quickly blossomed into a camaraderie and creative back and forth where we exchanged advice. Our best ideas often came after work hours when we were just dishing on various projects, art, culture, life…everything. Most of the good ideas were Eric’s though—he was definitely the mentor in this scenario. We hung out virtually every day for years, and working with him made long hours at a small, scrappy newspaper bearable. Eric was someone I could count on. He supported me and I him, and my life in Omaha wouldn’t have been full without him. He was extended family to me, and I loved being around him. I wish I was hanging out with him right now. Eric was an artist, and he remains one of my favorite people ever to conceive a vision with on a project. Some might not realize that he was also extremely talented in knowing the pulse of things, and he was a brilliant writer, too. For all of his fabulous color and original magic, he also had a keen reporter’s nose and business side. When it came to journalism, he wanted to do the right thing, to make a difference. He wanted to tell a good story but he also wanted to tell the truth. He always helped me figure things out when I was working on a stressful article. He had this way about him, where even though he didn’t want to be the center of attention, he wasn’t afraid to go against the grain if he believed in it. And so even though I live far away now, I feel his absence in the Omaha community. My heart goes out to all those who knew Eric. Grieving never stops. We’ll be missing him forever, but in these times of sadness, that’s when he’ll be there, helping us to remember the good times. I’ll never forget him.

Tara Spencer

Omaha Magazine, Editor-at-Large

There is really nothing I can write that will do him justice. Larger than life, with a heart 10 sizes too big—too caring, too trusting, too much. Beloved by most everyone who knew him, (and if you didn’t like him, question your judgment) it’s a damn shame not everyone could.

There are many events, projects, and writers that wouldn’t be around today had he not helped create, promote, and push them toward success. He helped so many people meet their full potential, sometimes at a cost to himself, but he never complained. Seeing others succeed truly made him happy, and he didn’t hold a grudge if they forgot what he’d done for them. (That’s my job.)

While working with him was beneficial, you were really fortunate if you had his friendship. With his friendship came unwavering support. His praise was empowering and his criticism thoughtful and motivating. He didn’t just tell you it was wrong, he showed you why and how to fix it. His patience was infinite, no matter how many stupid questions you asked. (A lot, in my case.)

The idea of Project: Puppy Pageant was his favorite pet project (oh, so punny). It combined two of his great loves—fashion and puppies. He considered all dogs puppies, by the way. There was no distinction between young and old. Typical Eric. He never fully grew up, thankfully. His childlike enthusiasm, optimism, and energy were catching and never dwindled, no matter how old he got.

For those who didn’t know him, I am very sorry. But for those who did, hang on to those memories and remember his spirit. Strive to put that same kind of positivity into the world. Don’t let haters diminish your power. Have fun with abandon, and don’t let anyone shame you for your choices. They are yours. Own them and be proud. If they were bad, learn from them and keep going. If they were good, keep working to make better ones. Most importantly, don’t be bored, because that’s boring. And we’re going to need all the extra-ness and fabulousity we can muster now that the world lost this beautiful, thoughtful, creative, supportive, never-boring man.