By Hailey Hensley
Eugene Marsh ‘13 ‘18 — a lifelong learner, activist and veteran — passed away on Jan. 29 at 71 years old due to complications from COVID-19, according to email updates sent out by the Rider Veterans and Military Affairs Office (VMAO).
At the time of his passing, Marsh had received two degrees from Rider and was working on his Doctorate in Educational Leadership, also from Rider. He had previously received a bachelor’s in liberal studies and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling, according to a Jan 31 article from the university.
Marsh wanted to be educated not just for himself, but to help serve the communities he hailed from.
“African Americans are less interested in seeking mental health care than any other population,” he stated in a 2019 interview with university communications. “There’s a stigma within the urban communities, so I’m trying to identify some of the issues that are affecting people of color and raise awareness about the benefits of counseling.”
Marsh was born in Lancaster, South Carolina, in the midst of segregation and Jim Crow laws. He was raised by a foster mother who was unable to read or write. He chose to enlist in the United States Army as a way to escape the very limited opportunities available to him as a Black man in the south.
“I thought my life was doomed because I was poor, black and uneducated, I didn’t think the world had anything to offer me, and I didn’t have anything to offer the world,” he recalled in that same 2019 interview.
Sadly, when Marsh returned to the United States after his tour of duty, he was once again in an unfriendly environment, both as a Black man and due to negative sentiments towards Vietnam veterans at the time. This caused Marsh to be unable to become employed and he was then forced into homelessness for three years before finding his footing in the construction industry.
“My dignity as an African American and as a soldier was denied because of continued racism, discrimination and political controversy over the war,” he said in his 2014 commencement address.
Marsh always heavily emphasized the importance of education in his life, and especially the important role Rider played in shaping him into the educated person he became.
“I was accepted at Rider as a student who came with his heart full of hope, with a dream of obtaining a college degree. While acknowledging that Rider would not be easy, I found that the world of education I encountered would change my entire life,” he said in his address. “When discussing topics and writing essays that reflected my increasing knowledge, I learned that education is power and that what I was learning would increase my interest in the world. I now feel confident engaging in topics such as the environment, politics, and community issues.”
Marsh seemed to make strong impacts on every group he interacted with, with members of the military-connected community at Rider speaking especially highly of him.
Thomas Reddington, coordinator of VMAO at Rider expressed a deep fondness for Marsh, saying, “Eugene had a lot of energy. He was the consummate ‘people person.’ He loved to meet and learn about the people around him. He was always concerned about veterans. He always stopped by the Veterans and Military Affairs Office to find out what was going on and what he could do to help,” he reminisced. “When I started to work in the VMAO, Eugene and I started to work on more and more activities together. He would come booming into the office and say, ‘Little Brother! This is Big Brother! How are you doing today? What are we going to do to help veterans today?’ Eugene was fun and it was always comforting to have his big laugh in the office or lounge. I miss him a lot already.”
Caption: Marsh developed a passion for education due to his illiterate foster mother in South Carolina, where he was one of many foster children.