Hugh Gene Eaker died on August 20, 2017, in Tucson, AZ, where he had lived for several years. He is survived by his wife, Catherine, and by two daughters, Beth Eaker Sargent of Boone, NC, and Genie Eaker of Tucson.
THE EARLY YEARS
Professor Gene Eaker was a familiar presence on the Columbia College campus and in the community for 38 years. He, along with his wife and co-worker, Catherine, guided the Speech and Drama Department and brought magic to the campus stage. A graduate of Furman University in English and Theatre, he completed a Masters and course work toward a doctoral degree at the University of Florida. He joined the Columbia College faculty in 1957 and became chair of the Speech and Drama Department in 1973.
Mr. Eaker possessed great knowledge and skills in set design and construction. Many former students remember hours spent in the scene shop, creating the stage sets that would amaze theatre-goers. He was also known for his direction of full-scale musicals and plays; under his direction, Cottingham Theatre was one of the first in the area to use a full orchestra for musicals. Sara Nalley, long-time CC faculty member, recalls that her first directing assignment as a faculty member at Columbia College was Dames at Sea, featuring Mr. Eaker’s “Hollywood-glitter set.” She also recalled other memorable productions directed by Gene Eaker, such as She Stoops to Conquer, The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Oklahoma!, Brigadoon, Show Boat, and The King and I.
Mr. and Mrs. Eaker retired in 1995 to devote their time to The Patchwork Players, a traveling children’s theatre group launched by their daughter, Genie ’80. Their daughter Beth ’76 is also a Columbia College alumna.
THE MEDALLION AWARD
In 2007, Catherine and Gene Eaker received the Medallion Award, the highest award presented by the College. The nomination form submitted to the nominating committee contained 23 signatures from faculty/staff who wished to express their support. The event program read, “In their work to build dramatic arts as one of Columbia College’s most successful outreach programs, they pioneered efforts such as the Gingerbread Theatre (a children’s theatre program of the department) which took children’s plays into Richland County Public Schools. They even introduced theatre to unlikely venues such as the South Carolina prison system.” Under the Eakers’ leadership, the department hosted an annual competition sponsored by the South Carolina Speech Communication Association, hosting 600 students in 1992. Mr. Eaker also served as Treasurer of the first director’s committee of the South Carolina Theatre Association (SCTA), established in 1967.
As a former student noted, “Many of the students who acted, directed, built scenery, and ran sound or lights under Gene Eaker’s direction are still creating theatre.” No doubt others are learning from these former students, and the Eakers’ legacy continues.