By Mark Kass
Editor-in-Chief Milwaukee Business Journal
Acclaimed broadcast journalist Eric Von, who passed away in September 2016, is among the group of four Milwaukee-area business executives who will be inducted this year into the Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Hall of Fame.
Von, who since the 1990s was the leading voice in Milwaukee African- American talk radio, was a well-respected talk show host and community leader most recently through a morning drive-time show on WNOV-AM (860). He also was seen regularly as a panelist or guest on Milwaukee-area television talk shows.
He was honored by the Milwaukee Business Journal as a 40 Under 40 winner in 1994.
The Milwaukee Business Journal has been honoring Milwaukee’s up-and-coming young professionals with our popular 40 Under 40 awards for 25 years. We announced our 2017 class of winners last week. We know that many of our past winners have gone on to accomplish many amazing things and make Milwaukee a better place to live and work.
That is why we decided to start a 40 Under 40 Hall of Fame in 2015 and honor past winners each year. The three additional honorees for 2017 will be announced over the next three days. All four winners will be honored with the 2017 class in a special section in our publication Feb. 17 and at a Feb. 21 event at The Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee. Von had a passion for his community and kept the issues involving Milwaukee’s African-American population and other citizens at the forefront of his programs. Before his passing, Von was working on initiatives to address challenges in Milwaukee’s Sherman Park neighborhood after two nights of riots Aug. 13-14.
“His purpose on this planet was to facilitate opportunities for dialogue involving diverse perspectives,” said Von’s wife, Faithe Colas.
“Those discussions that involved people from all walks of life, with racial, intergenerational or class diversity were critical conversations for Eric.” In 2013, Von co-founded a website — Brain Brawn & Body — with Colas. The website was dedicated to the health and wellness of African-American men. “Black men need to know as much as they can about living healthy lives not just for themselves, but for the ones they love and for the ones that love them,” Von said in a 2013 interview about the website with the Milwaukee Business Journal.
Colas will be accepting the award on his behalf. I caught up with her recently to talk about Von and the impact he had on the Milwaukee business community.
Q: What is the most important lesson that Eric left for the business community?
”Many people knew that Eric was a native of Washington, D.C., having spent most of his childhood in a black neighborhood. The neighborhood was full of black homeowners and business owners. His family was full of entrepreneurs including his father, who also served as the music director for several churches in the DC area. His aunts and uncles owned businesses and Eric worked in those businesses as a young boy.
His first radio job was with a black radio station in DC.
“He believed in supporting and growing black business as an economic engine to build black communities and the cities of those black communities. So, it’s not really difficult for me to pin down just one important lesson that my husband left for the business community. I think the one consistent aspect of business he spoke of often was he believed and encouraged Milwaukee’s business community to do business with area black radio and print press, advertising and public relations companies.
“He encouraged these businesses to support diverse communities. At the same time, he believed that Milwaukee’s black consumers and businesses had a responsibility to support black business and black media. He was a strong proponent of entrepreneurship for young professionals, people of color and women.”
Q: What was Eric’s most meaningful accomplishment during his business career?
”Eric was a journalist’s journalist. He embodied the art of true journalistic fact finding throughout his career. His commentary, writing and reporting was based on and supported by facts. He never guessed on any subject he spoke about. He was transparent and honest.
He had the distinct ability to call individuals out about critical issues impacting the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee’s black community, hold you accountable, debate with you, put you on the hot seat, and get the answers to questions all in reasonable conversational tones.
“And, if you were a friend, when it’s all said and done, you’d still be a friend or you’d be a new friend. He was well-respected in this community and nation for his critical journalism and engaging interview style.”
Q: What lessons did Eric try to teach young professionals about how to be successful?
”There are a host of individuals who have been impacted by the life of Eric Von. Throughout his time in Milwaukee he was often called upon to engage young professionals, serve as a model of inspiration and support young men and women eager to learn more and do more professionally.
He was a mentor to many young people in broadcast and business. Eric admired the energy, passion and creativity of young professionals. He loved that they are fearless. He encouraged young professionals to listen, understand and connect/network with experienced individuals already in their industry of interest.”
Q: How important is it to recognize Milwaukee’s up-and-coming young professionals?
”My husband understood how critical succession planning was for the city of Milwaukee in all areas of business and community. In fact, he served as a moderator in bringing an intergenerational conversation to the Sherman Park community when the neighborhood faced significant unrest. His purpose on this planet was to facilitate opportunities for dialogue involving diverse perspectives.
Those discussions that involved people from all walks of life, with racial, intergenerational or class diversity were critical conversations for Eric.
“Eric made connections with and for people that mattered. He was a connector. Eric believed in connecting people with similar and common interest. Recognizing up-and-coming young professionals is critical to the future success of Milwaukee.
Showcasing the talent of the millennials is essential to the success and growth of our business and social community and it also keeps young professionals here in the city.”
Mark Kass is the editor-in-chief of the Milwaukee Business Journal.