Gannon adjunct doubles as Reader editor
“It’s raining pretty hard out there,” Ben Speggen said when he arrived precisely at 11 a.m. to the English adjunct office in Gannon University’s Palumbo Academic Center, just in time for our interview.
Speggen, a Gannon alumnus, current English adjunct and managing editor of the Erie Reader, collapsed his umbrella and shook off the straggling rain drops. He opened the door to the office that he shares with the rest of the English adjuncts.
The room was crammed with hand-me-down desks, chairs and bookcases. There was a small aisle running in between the aligned desks. None of the scruffy desks belong to any adjunct in particular; taking no notice, Speggen makes himself at home by putting his brief- case on the nearest desk and pushing the leftover papers off to the side.
Born in Morgantown, W.Va., Speggen grew up in Carmichaels, Pa., a small rural town. Being a rural town, he said he spent a lot of his time hiking and exploring in the woods. He also played baseball frequently and listened to and played a lot of music.
There is a lot left to learn about the Erie Reader, as it is a fairly new publication,. Speggen related the publication’s background like he had said it countless times before, but still maintained his zest for it. The idea for the Reader started when its co-founders, Brian Graham and Adam Welsh, moved to San Diego from Erie and took notice of the San Diego Reader. Graham and Welsh, having backgrounds in business, wanted to fill the need for a weekly independent, alternative publication.
They both moved back to Erie in 2009. In December 2010 they enlisted the help of Speggen to deal with the writing and grammatical part. After three months of pushing their product and advertising it, the first issue came out March 30, 2011.
Although he did not come up with the idea, Speggen is still an integral part of making the paper a success. Graham openly described what Speggen brings to the table.
“If there is a face of the Erie Reader, it’s Ben,” he said. “He regularly makes public appearances on our behalf. His writing is very popular, especially his reviews. We often get specific requests for Ben’s talent when we are setting up writing assignments.”
Since the initial issue, the Reader has grown into a thriving publication.
“Every small business has the potential to outgrow itself, but how Graham and Welsh are running it, they are preventing that,” Speggen said.
It is also not in competition with any other publication because there is nothing like it. The newspapers are placed in high traffic areas, such as Gannon’s campus, and since the publication is free, the Reader relies on advertisements to fund it. Even before the first issue was out in print, Walsh and Graham had businesses lined up to have their advertisements placed in the paper.
Speggen feels strongly that Graham and Welsh are successful and savvy, and the same mutual respect is shared among each other as well.
“Ben is a pleasure to work with,” Graham said. “He is dedicated, enthusiastic, good-natured, and always well-prepared. He’s been with the Reader since very early on, and we certainly would not be where we are today without his contributions.”
“I’m happy to be of service to the Reader,” Speggen said. “I am continually looking for ways to improve it as well as my own contributions, and I hope to continue to do that as long as I am needed.”
He also reflected on his opinion behind his writing.
“Like any writer, I’m always looking for ways to tell stories better since I believe that everyone has a story to tell,” he said. “It’s the challenge of the writer to find the best way to share it with others.”
Speggen is well aware of Gannon on both sides of the spectrum; a former student and now a teacher, he has experienced Gannon through and through. Although it’s not apparent now, his strongest subject in high school wasn’t English. He really had to work at it. All it took was one influential high school teacher to notice his potential for him to work up the ranks and improve and hone his skill as a writer. He started in his high school newspaper and when he attended college he started as a staff writer for the Gannon Knight and then moved up in positions to eventually become editor-in-chief.
Achieving his undergraduate degree in English at Gannon as well his Master’s Degree in English and now teaching at Gannon, that’s a lot of Gannon and a lot of Erie.
“For most people they say ‘I have to get out of here’ but for me there was nothing specific calling me out of Erie,” he said. He had fallen in love with the teachers and the department. He had seen the opportunity for growth at Gannon and couldn’t pass it up.
Before attending Gannon University, as a child, enjoying his music as much as he did, it’s obvious his tastes have now change and grown with him. He shares a story of seeing one of his favorite bands, Maps and Atlases at a concert.
The lead singer, Dave Davis sang an acoustic version of one of his favorite songs by them since Speggen mentioned to Davis that he was bummed that he didn’t get to hear it during the concert.
Telling this story, Speggen lit up and projected the same excitement he must have experienced that night.
His personal review resembles something you would read in a magazine about the album. And the same goes his opinion on directors and movies, and, yes, books.
“Turn off your TV and read,” he said. “I love Cormac McCarthy, modernism and post modernism. Kurt Vonnegut is great. I love ‘Slaughterhouse–Five’ and ‘The Sun Also Rises’ by [Ernest] Hemingway.”
Having two very time committed jobs isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Speggen said that he’s not a 9-to-5 job kind of guy and if he had to pick one job, teaching at Gannon and working for the Erie Reader, he couldn’t.
“There is something so rewarding about teaching an 18-year-old how to write a review of a restaurant and seeing them grasp it, and on the other end, seeing a professional writer going into a restaurant and giving their opinion,” Speggen said with conviction.
One of his former students, Cristianne Johnson, had Speggen as a teacher for Intro to Literature and said that his love for English shows through in his teaching.
“He’s very hands-on, he loves what he is doing and it shows in his teaching,” she said. “He tries to get his students involved as much as he can.”
Johnson said she was not the only one who felt that way, at least in her class.
“It seemed that [the students] were responding well to him,” she said. “I liked him and I wish I could take more classes of his.”
At the Erie Reader, Speggen’s talent and now knack for English is put to good use. “His passion for English and writing is very evident,” said Graham. “Whenever we have a question
regarding grammar or style, Ben is the first person we ask. And if he doesn’t know the answer, which is rarely, he always has his AP style guide or dictionary within close reach to set us straight.”
Speggen has garnered the respect, admiration and friendship of the people he encounters in his job environment. His talents are noticed easily by others and are appreciated immensely. A feat, not easily ascertained by many, he remains humble and his infatuation for his craft is not going away anytime soon. And that’s just how he wants it to be.
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