Gavilan alum Marty Cheek uses media innovation to unite peopleby Jan Janes on Jul 12, 2019
Without Gavilan College, there might not be a Gilroy Life or Morgan Hill Life.
The Gavilan Library retains archives of old The Rambler issues. Marty Cheek
worked on the student newspaper during the 1986-87 academic year.
Marty Cheek remembers, as a small child, walking the new Gavilan College campus with his father during the mid-1960s construction. His next visit with Sunnyslope Elementary School students opened his eyes to theater.
Bused to Gavilan, the children walked through campus to the theater and watched The Invisible People. “As a first grader I thought it was all spontaneous,” said Cheek. The memory of the play, along with stints to rehearsals accompanying his father, a teacher and musician, stirred a lifelong interest in the arts.
While he was in middle school, Cheek’s father, Raymond Cheek, suffered a major stroke, leaving him permanently disabled. The family became round the clock caregivers.
During his senior year, Cheek met with his Palma High School counselor to plan for college. “It was an ego boost when he suggested I apply to Stanford,” said Cheek, “But I told him I wanted to attend Gavilan.” The counselor expressed a low regard for community colleges. Family responsibilities and financial issues made it imperative to remain close to home.
“From my experience, community college is the best way to get the first two years of college,” said Cheek. “It’s cheaper than a four-year school, with good quality instructors and less stress. You get out of it what you put into it.”
With high school graduation just five months away, his father died. “At the reception after the funeral,” Cheek said, “The first president of the junior college, Ralph Schroeder, told me there was a big debate about where to locate the new college.”
After more than four decades educating area students, the original San Benito Junior College needed room to expand. All three cities – Hollister, Gilroy and Morgan Hill – wanted it. “My dad saw a ranch for sale along Highway 101,” said Cheek. “He floated the idea to the community of building the new campus up in the hills, 15 minutes from Hollister, 10 minutes from downtown Gilroy, close enough to Morgan Hill.” The current site was chosen as a compromise.
Cheek started classes at Gavilan College in fall 1985, still grieving his loss and simultaneously inspired by the new movie Superman, featuring a mild-mannered reporter from a small town who could save the world with his superpowers.
“It was 15 minutes from Park Hill to campus,” he said, commuting in his box-on-wheels Dodge Omni, giving friends rides when they needed them. He recalled several classes and instructors who impacted his college learning.
“I took drawing from John Porter,” he said, “And I hated it, so frustrating. But I loved Art History.” Later, during his Study Abroad travels in Europe, he was able to see many of the originals he had studied.
His liked his English teacher, Mrs. Burrows. “My first essay in her class was the first C- I had ever received,” he said. The straight-A high school student was humbled to learn college had different standards.
“I learned to appreciate the environment,” Cheek said, “And the impact we have on the world.” As a reporter on the college newspaper The Rambler, he wrote a feature story about Gavilan ecology students studying in Yosemite. He also debated environmental issues in class.
A two-page spread on the ecology students visit of Yosemite in a bound,
archived edition of The Rambler, written by student reporter Marty Cheek.
“This was the first time I had heard about climate change and global warming,” he said. California was considering oil rig installations along the Santa Barbara coastline. “No one wanted to take the pro view, in favor of them.” So he teamed up with another student, convinced the class to their side, and learned how an argument works with facts and persuasion.
“Robert Funk, the college newspaper advisor, influenced the stories I wrote,” said Cheek. Journalism students learned about Edward R. Murrow's style of reporting. “I did a lot of profiles. The big story in 1986 was Gavilan had more than 2000 students attending.”
Cheek served as the student paper’s managing editor, then associate editor during two semesters. His wrote feature articles on several instructors and students, the war in Vietnam, testing athletes for steroids and local educators Sam Bozzo and Gene Takahara, the Gilroy Garlic Festival cooking duo.
Journalism student Marty Cheek is shown, fourth from left, in a group
photo of The Rambler staff, spring of 1987.
“The benefit of Gavilan is lifelong learning,” said Cheek. “College is not the end all, but just getting started.”
Cheek graduated from Gavilan College in 1987 and transferred to San José State University, majoring in journalism. “Writing for the Spartan Daily was not as much fun as writing for The Rambler,” he said. After college, he continued work in journalism as the European bureau chief for Editech in London. Cheek also co-wrote Clean Energy Nation with Congressman Jerry McNerney (CA-09), proposing ideas to free America from dependence on fossil fuels.
“Don Klein, my philosophy instructor at Gavilan, taught us that ethics is to do the right thing,” said Cheek. The issue of the 1930s, his instructor had explained, was that Germany didn’t have a moral compass and didn’t do the right thing. Cheek’s mother was from Germany and lost family members in the war. Cheek expressed concern the United States faces similar pressures today.
“Being in the center, listening to all sides of the issues,” he said. “We’re not doing that anymore as a nation.”
Marty Cheek, center, talks with business partner Robert Airoldi, in their
office of Life Media Group.
He teamed with Robert Airoldi, previously with the Gilroy Dispatch, to launch Life Media Group in 2016 with its two publications, Gilroy Life and Morgan Hill Life. “We started Life Media, not to make a profit, but to make the world better,” said Cheek. He cited fractious politics and social disorder as impetus.
“We have this amazing window of technology to really unite humanity,” said Cheek. “We can create a global media system with high quality content.”
In 2018, Morgan Hill Life was named small business of the year by the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce.