Cheryl Heckler leaves legacy with Miami journalism students

Cheryl Heckler

Cheryl Heckler was a passionate, caring teacher who took great delight in teaching journalistic writing, showing students the world through the lens of international journalism and talking for hours (and hours) about celebrated Civil War journalist Whitelaw Reid, one of her fellow Miami University alumni. She also was an accomplished journalist, focusing mainly on covering the influence of religion on politics, political figures and world events.

Heckler, an associate professor in Media, Journalism & Film, died, Feb. 18 at her home in Carthagena, Ohio. She was 59.

She developed extraordinarily strong personal ties with generations of Miami students — many of whom maintained close relationships with her for decades, obvious from their posts on her Facebook page years after she most likely “friended” them.

Whether these students came to regular “pasta nights” at her condo in Oxford or her extended “office” hours at Kofenya, they could always count on her support of praise.

“Cheryl was absolutely one of my favorite people I met at Miami, and had the pleasure of learning from,” said Jenna Sauber, a media relations & public outreach manager at the National Communication Association in Washington, D.C. and a 2007 Miami graduate. “All these years later, she continued to check on me and believe in my journey. She never gave up on her students, on journalism, on living. Her bright spirit and intelligence will be missed by so many.

“She was always so energetic and happy in the classroom, it’s hard to imagine Miami without her,” Sauber added.

When her students succeeded, she was often the first to celebrate with them. When they suffered, she empathized and comforted them. And as she herself faced a series of health problems over the years, and in one case had to take visible precautions like wearing a sterile mask during chemotherapy, she was forthcoming with her students and modeled what it was like to face a life-threatening disease with positivity and humor.

Heckler graduated from Miami in 1981 with a degree in journalism. She went on to earn a master’s degree from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Her research focused on Civil War journalist Whitelaw Reid, a Miami alum who was the editor of the New York Tribune and a vice presidential candidate in 1892 who ran unsuccessfully with Benjamin Harrison.

She found creative ways to convey course content. Students in her “Media and the Military” class, for example, helped wounded veterans or got a taste of the rigors of military training by going to the gun range with Miami’s ROTC instructors.

Heckler also was the impetus behind (and primary donor for) the Reid-Heckler-Gambrell Scholarship for Overseas Reporting, named after Heckler, Reid, and Heckler’s fellow Ohioan and Miami alumnus Jon Gambrell, a former student of hers who went on to become an accomplished international correspondent now serving as the Associated Press’s Senior Gulf Correspondent in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

She was the author of two books, “An Accidental Journalist: The Adventures of Edmund Stevens, 1934-45” and “Heart and Soul of the Nation: How the Spirituality of Our First Ladies Changed America.” She was the co-author of “The Carpenter’s Apprentice: The Spiritual Biography of Jimmy Carter.”

During her time at Miami, she also was a correspondent at Ecumenical News International, an international religion wire service based in Geneva, Switzerland.

She wrote for ENI from the United States, focusing on religion in American politics, as well as breaking news stories related to religious leaders or inter-faith events.

Before she came to Miami she worked at the Celina Daily Standard, Florida Today, and the Urbana Daily Citizen.

She came to Miami in 1997 and served as the adviser for The Miami Student for many years. She loved being with students and was famous for the pasta nights she held at her home for students.

Leah Rupp, a 2006 Miami alumnae who worked for The Miami Student during Heckler’s time as adviser, remembers Heckler fondly. “The staff had to make some tough calls the year I served as editor of The Student,” Rupp said. “Cheryl was there with us every step of the way. She allowed us to operate independently, but also offered much-needed critique and guidance, which made us better writers and professionals. Cheryl’s faculty office door was always open for her students, as was her heart and home. I’ll never forget the investment she made in me and my career, and the difference her time and teaching made in my life.”

Zach Swarts, a senior in journalism and public administration who was one of Heckler’s research assistants, said Heckler made him want to become a journalist. “She saw something in me,” he said. “She was unlike any professor I ever had. She legitimately cared about everyone who walked through her door, not just as a student, but as a person.”

During the past several years, Heckler also distinguished herself as a talented painter and a proud mom to Pipster “Pip” Dayshaun, her beloved golden doodle dog.

In 2016, she sold her condo in Oxford and moved into St. Charles Center in Carthagena, Ohio, near her hometown of Celina, Ohio. The building where she lived was a seminary that was turned into a retirement community for Catholic priests and with apartments for religious and lay people.

Heckler is survived by her children Brady (Abigail) Feltz of Oakwood, Ohio and Leah Feltz of Lexington, Kentucky; siblings Susan (Alex) Heckler-Pittman and Karen (James) Philpot all of St. Marys, Ohio; one niece; one nephew; and her beloved Pip.