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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.