Wednesday, November 23, 2011

IPR production manager 'was such an inspiration'

Maybe you have responded to his witty on-air pleas and made that call to Indiana Public Radio with a pledge.

Perhaps - as a cancer survivor - you've been motivated by his Relay for Life theme song.

Maybe you've shared a beer together - and more than a few jokes - at The Fickle Peach.

Or maybe you've heard him lift his voice, leading the choir every Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi Church.

Chances are, if you live around here, your life has been touched somehow, in some way, by Brian Eckstein.

Eckstein, who died unexpectedly Monday night, is being remembered today for his passion for public radio; his love of music; his strong faith, and his unwavering determination to make the most out of every second of every day.

"His small shoes leave an enormous space to fill at the radio station, and in our hearts," said Angie Rapp, friend and co-worker at Indiana Public Radio.

His small stature - and the aforementioned shoes - belied an enormous spirit, friends like Jason Sloan would tell you.

"It is my hope that everyone in the Muncie community and beyond carry on the torch and legacy that Brian taught all of us; to soar like eagles and never let any obstacle prevent us from achieving any dream - big or small," Sloan said.

Eckstein started in radio as a Yorktown High School student, volunteering at WBST (Indiana Public Radio).

As a Ball State University student, he continued to work there, this time on the air. After earning his degree in telecommunications, he left to work at a Fort Wayne station for a few years before returning to IPR. And that's where he remained. As the station's production manager, he was the man behind several programs, most recently The Scene, which featured local musicians.

Co-workers at the station referred to Eckstein as the X-man, a superhero of the board, able to produce a segment with lightening speed.

Eckstein also worked tirelessly as a freelance composer and musician, writing theme songs for cancer walks, university celebrations and award ceremonies.

And he loved to travel.

John Disher was a frequent travel companion. Eckstein of course, was the mastermind behind each adventure, Disher said with a laugh.

The last big trip was a two-week, 2,000 mile trip in a rented Jeep that took them to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.

"He was such an inspiration," Disher said. "he never let any of his limitations get in the way. If he put his mind to it, he did it. He truly taught me the value of living life in the moment."

Eckstein had a seemingly endless list of what, for many, would be medical road blocks - two kidney transplants, cancer (twice), leg braces, near-blindness. But he never complained. He never played the sympathy card.

Marcus Jackman, general manager at Indiana Public Radio, said Eckstein "gave good gifts." But not just the unique ones, like the hot air balloon ride he gave Jackman as a wedding gift. "He gave gifts of humor and of friendship," he said. "He gave anything and everything he had."

Eckstein was on the receiving end of a special gift - a kidney - in 2004 from friend Lee Ann Mengelt. But it is Mengelt who said she benefitted most.

"I felt blessed being able to share something I had with a man who truly touched absolutely everyone person he met," she said. "One thing Brian always carried with him was his dignity and compassion. I'll now carry that with me, forever."

Eckstein lost his father Mike, who donated the first kidney when Eckstein was 12, in a car accident 10 years ago. He said he got his sense of humor from his dad, whom he spoke of often. He and his mother, Patricia, were also very close. They just returned Saturday from a week-long cruise.

His sister, Lisa Eckstein, said she was "so proud" that he was her brother.

"I hope there's a piano with your name on in it in heaven, and I hope you and Dad are singing together," she said.

Calling hours will be noon-3pm, followed by a mass on Friday, at St. Francis.

- by Michelle Kinsey