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Dr. Eric Wake: A UC Legend


Wake enjoys teaching as much now as he did when he started some 47 years ago.

Williamsburg, KY., - Few people can honestly say that their life was a dream come true, but Dr. Eric L. Wake can. After losing both parents, which forced him to spend a number of years in a children’s home, Wake had the courage to dream a dream and then to set the goal to make that dream a reality. And that is exactly what he did. When asked what UC meant to him, his immediate reply was, “Everything.”

Wake was born in Louisville, Kentucky to two loving parents. At the age of eight, life robbed Wake of his mother to cancer. About that same time Wake’s father was also diagnosed with cancer and was unable to take care of himself and his son. Wake’s older sister took on the responsibility of caring for him and his father. She was working and it soon became more than she could handle. The decision was made for Wake to live in the Children’s Home in Louisville, Kentucky for several years.


Dr. Wake and wife Sue cherish their grandchildren.

Wake’s experience at the Children’s Home was quite different than most people would first assume. The home was filled with older women who cared very much for the children and instilled in them discipline, order, and responsibility, which every child should be taught at home. Wake did not hate living there although he did terribly miss his parents and his sister. Wake never played the pity card. He knew that he was not going to be there forever, and he had big plans for his life. There was never a point in his life while he was at the Children’s Home where he wanted to give up or felt as if life as it was, was as good as it was going to get for him.

After his father passed away, Wake’s sister moved him out of the Children’s Home. He had to find work in order to support himself. He was employed at a local grocery store by Mel Keeling. Keeling was the closest thing to a father figure that Wake had at this point in his life. It was a crucial time and Wake sought Keeling’s guidance and support. Keeling had Wake doing everything imaginable at the supermarket; he swept the floors, stocked the shelves, ran the cash register, opened and closed the store, assisted and greeted customers and whatever else needed to be done. Keeling taught Wake that “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well,” and Wake has lived his adult life trying to instill that message into his own children and students.

After leaving the Children’s Home, Wake began attending Lyndon Baptist Church in Louisville and was welcomed into a good church group. This group of new friends took a trip down to Williamsburg, Kentucky to visit Cumberland College. The boys loved the town and school so much that the majority of them ended up enrolling for classes; Wake was one of them.

Wake put the skills he had learned from Keeling and the supermarket to good use as he worked at the college to pay his way. He had no financial help coming from parents or other family members so he had to learn how to manage it all on his own. Wake knew this is what he wanted out of life so he had to make it happen. He lived in Mahan Hall where he also cleaned the building and served as a dorm manager or residential assistant. He also found work at the post office and even worked his senior year as a teaching assistant. He loved Cumberland College and felt as if he had finally found the real family he had longed for as a child. He had professors that he enjoyed, learned a lot from, and felt as if they truly cared about him and his future. During school breaks and holidays, Wake would go back home to Louisville and visit Keeling and help him out in the store to make extra cash and spend time with him. Wake considers Keeling one of his biggest role models and inspirations. Keeling believed in him and helped him grow up.

In 1965, Wake graduated from Cumberland College with a Bachelor’s Degree in History. He chose history as his major and made the bold decision to teach the subject because of a professor he had at Cumberland named Dr. Elizabeth Cockran. She was a tiny little lady who was full of spunk and set a wonderful example. She taught history and made it enjoyable and interesting for Wake. She was one of his motivators to become a history teacher and expand the minds of his potential students.

Wake left Williamsburg to travel to Texas to attend Texas Christian University (TCU) where he earned his Master’s degree in History in 1967. He then returned to Williamsburg to become a p art of Cumberland College’s faculty as a history professor. A few years later Wake again enrolled at TCU to continue his studies and was awarded a Ph.D. in Early Modern European History in 1973. Afterwards Wake returned to Cumberland College and continued his career path as a history professor.

“University of the Cumberlands means everything to me,” expressed Wake whole-heartedly. “It is my home. I honestly don’t know what I would do if I retired. My family is right here at UC.”

Dr. Wake was enjoying life and his newfound love for teaching when he met his future bride, Sue. She was enrolled at Cumberland and was trying to earn an education and build herself a bright future. They were instantly attracted to one another, fell in love and married soon after in 1969. Wake says that until he met Sue he never remembered having a real family. He and Sue built a family together with their two daughters, Kimberly and Jennifer. Now, with Wake’s Cumberland family and his biological family, he felt as if his life finally made sense.

“I’ve been married forever,” said Wake. “Sue and I have had a long-lasting marriage and I deeply treasure that. People should recognize the longevity in marriage.”

He always thought of Cumberland as his family and considered Williamsburg his home, as cliché as that might sound. There were even days when childcare would fall through and he would have to tote his two young daughters with him to class. The girls enjoyed going to class with their daddy and made their own fun and entertainment while there to occupy their time. He recalls the girls playing underneath the desks, singing songs for the college students’ enjoyment and laughter, and using their imaginations to create make-believe worlds. They were well behaved children though and were never a problem. Dr. Wake’s daughters grew up on Cumberland campus and Cumberland quickly became a part of their lives as well.

Years passed and now Dr. Wake is in his 47th year teaching History at University of the Cumberlands. He is reminded about the road he took in order to get to where he is today. He now not only has his Cumberlands family, his wife and their two daughters, but the brood has now been added to with three wonderful grandchildren; Jake, Megan, and Sydnee.

Dr. Wake has made such an impact on the university, his family, and all the students who have come into contact with him. Dr. Wake has acted as faculty advisor for Upsilon-Upsilon, the college’s award-winning chapter of Phi Alpha Theta National Honor Society in history. He is also an active member of the American Historical Society, the Southern Historical Society, and the Kentucky Association of Teachers of History. Dr. Wake is the author of a newly published book entitled; A City Set on a Hill Cannot be Hidden, which is the story and reflection of the University of the Cumberlands last 25 years. It took him two to three years to write and publish the book but he carefully took his time to ensure the accuracy of the work. Dr. Wake is no stranger to publications as he has published many works over his years. He wrote another book in 2006 as his hometown church in Williamsburg, Main Street Baptist, celebrated its 100th year of service. The book was titled, What God Has Done: Main Street Baptist Church (1906-2006), which discussed and highlighted, memorable moments and events throughout the church’s history and shared the beauty and growth of a church family for a hundred year span. He has no plans to write additional books but he is not opposed to doing so.

Dr. Wake organized the Kentucky Regional Phi Alpha Theta conference at UC in 2007, he presented a paper at the National Phi Alpha Theta convention in New Orleans, Louisiana in 2004, he participated on a panel at the Phi Alpha Theta conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico on “Successful Student Journals” in 2008, and wrote Upsilon-Upsilon: Twenty-Five Years, Department of History at Cumberland College in 1999, just to name a few activities.

He and his UC students received the “Best Chapter Award” in the nation for schools in his division in Phi Alpha Theta for 33 consecutive years. He was named Outstanding Professor in Southeastern Kentucky by the University of Kentucky (UK), received numerous service awards, and was honored as a professor in 1980. He branched out from UC and serviced the community by attending and teaching a few of his daughters’ elementary classes when they were younger. He donated his time to both daughters’ social studies classes. He taught a class about Hitler and another class about the French Revolution. Recently he taught his granddaughter’s class about citizenship. He also served as president of the Williamsburg City School PTA for two years.

“I always tried to be involved in my daughters’ lives and be an active parent,” said Wake. “They are everything to me and being raised without a father, only made me want to be a better father for Kimberly and Jennifer.”

“Without University of the Cumberlands, there would have been no college education for me,” said Wake. “I could not have done what I did without UC and the people who have helped me along the way. I wouldn’t be teaching either and I would literally feel lost without my teaching career. UC has been the basis for all I’ve done. It is also because of UC that I have the wonderful wife, children and grandchildren that I have. I owe everything to this university.”

Out of everything that Dr. Wake has done in his life, he considers his biggest accomplishment to be his family, earning his Ph.D., being able to get a job at UC, and having the opportunity to see many of his students become successful in life and in their careers. Several of his students have now earned Ph.D.’s as well. Dr. Wake takes great pride in seeing how well they have done in their own lives. He tries to keep track of his students after they leave and many of them often come back to visit him when they can and even ask for his advice on life and important decisions.

Dr. Wake is a true asset to the University. He has helped shape the lives of thousands of youngsters and he will leave the university as a legend. He takes much pride in his college family. Sue Wake is Vice President for Advancement at Cumberlands and daughter Jennifer worked for several years as the football Athletic Trainer. She is currently Sports Information Director at Cumberland and the director of the Multimedia and Athletic Services Department. Daughter Kimberly is retired from a career at Cumberland River Comprehensive Care Center in Corbin. Granddaughter Megan and daughter-in –law Nicole are Cumberland graduates and grandson Jacob is a Cumberland student. Nine year old granddaughter Sydnee has her goal set on becoming a teacher someday just like her ‘Pa.’

Located in Williamsburg, Ky., University of the Cumberlands is an institution of regional distinction, which currently offers four undergraduate degrees more than 40 major fields of study; ten pre-professional programs; ten graduate degrees distributed over eight areas, including two doctorates and seven master’s degrees; certifications in education; and online programs. For more information visit