A mentor and friend: Dr. Andrew Stoner remembered by students and colleagues

Sac State professor died Feb. 9


Andrew Stoner, Michele Sponsler and Jonathan Swain reunited at Mesh restaurant in Indianapolis in Dec. 2017. Sponsler, Swain’s sister, was a former colleague of Stoner’s. (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Swain)

Casey Rafter, staff writer

Sacramento State professor Dr. Andrew Stoner died Feb. 9, according to an email sent from Communications Department Chair Mark Ludwig.  

With several decades of experience as a communications and public relations professional under his belt, Dr. Stoner began teaching as a professor of communications and public relations at Sac State in fall of 2015. 

Stoner started off as a reporter for the South Bend Tribune in Indiana, and later worked as a spokesperson for the Indiana State Treasurer and for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department before pursuing a Master’s degree from Ball State. 

It was there in Muncie, Indiana where he met Jonathan Swain, senior executive director of media relations and communications of Harvard University and began a friendship that lasted over 30 years.

“We connected as friends and fellow students,” Swain said. “As he and I both were finishing up the program, he was just a helpful colleague in terms of helping me network and knowing the market.”

According to Swain, he and Stoner worked as public information officers for the Indiana State Department of Health for two years after completing the program. 

In 1997, Swain said he and Stoner found themselves working in close proximity once more at the office of  former Indiana governor Frank O’Bannon. Stoner remained in the governor’s employ until his death in 2003.

In addition to his work at the governor’s office, Stoner was an author of 12 books that explored various diverse topics and subject matter. Some of his works included biographies of journalist, author, and Stoner’s former boss Randy Shiltz, Betty White, whom Dr. Stoner would quote often.

One of his most notable works is “Cobra Killer”, which tells the story of the murder of a gay porn entrepreneur, and was made into a film starring James Franco.

Stoner’s first book was a biography on Governor O’bannon himself, during a time when he was closely connected with Swain. 

“We’d worked together then for 10 years, both directly and indirectly, in state government in Indiana,” Swain said. “He was a mentor in work, but also just a great friend.”

Swain said he looks back on the time they worked together fondly, especially what he and Stoner called the “4 o’clock follies” which was a routine where, Stoner would lighten the mood with jokes and playful interactions towards the end of more strenuous work days at the Indiana State Health Department.

“He really took a lot of joy in being able to recognize ways to make his friends laugh and engage them,” Swain said. “It’s key to recognize that humor is one of those ways that we build relationships, because if you can laugh about something together, you can find things that you have in common.”

Stoner’s reputation among his students and colleagues for his ceaseless sense of humor didn’t wane when instruction at Sac State went remote in March 2020 when Dr. Stoner was named Sac State’s Zoom Professor of the Year 2020 during The State Hornet’s annual Best of Sac State competition.

Freelance sports writer Nick Pecoraro, a 2019 alumnus of Sac State, took Stoner’s Writing for Public Relations class his graduating year and referenced Stoner’s notorious  ‘dad’ jokes, as his students and colleagues called them. Pecoraro said that as a father, he felt a knowing connection when Stoner made  jokes and looked in his direction.

“I liked his sense of humor,” Pecoraro said. “Maybe it didn’t go as well with everybody else, but I think he knew that I was a dad, too [and] would kind of, like give me a look, like, ‘I know you get this.’”

Pecoraro said he appreciated that Stoner was so encouraging when the class broke into groups to work on projects,and remembered him as an intense listener.

“If you ever had an issue, whether it has to do with school or just stuff that’s going on in your life, you always felt like he was genuinely interested in what you had to say,” Pecoraro said. “I appreciated that as well.”

Graduating senior Breyana Hilliard took Stoner’s Survey of Public Relations class in fall 2021 with no prior knowledge of public relations. She said Stoner’s dedication to connecting with his students changed how she understood the material he was covering in the class.

“He couldn’t go five minutes without making a dad joke,” Hilliard said. “But it wasn’t the jokes that stood out, it was his passion in teaching.”

Throughout the semester, Hilliard said she recalled Stoner assigning quizzes that covered current news stories, which required students to stay in tune with the headlines. She gave him credit for her habit of checking the news as often as she does now.

Hilliard also recognized the efforts Stoner put into making individual connections with students. Stoner made a point of acknowledging her efforts and progress, even though she was often quiet in class, according to her.

“I would be passing the communications department and he always said, ‘Good job today,’” Hilliard said. “I’m sad and heartbroken that he is gone, but the work that he accomplished will live on forever.”