Christopher Marsh dug his roots deep into the Hilltop, making his way from the seat of a student to the front of the classroom as an instructor of advertising in the Department of Communication.
Although his third-floor office now sits alongside the offices of his former professors, Marsh’s story starts long before his Bradley career.
“I grew up in East Peoria,” Marsh said. “Growing up in Peoria: it is what it is. It’s nice; it’s kind of a small community, so you can’t get in too much trouble.”
As a student at East Peoria Community High School, Marsh said he got hooked on Bradley early on when he attended a Bradley speech camp the summer before his senior year.
Competing on his schools’ speech teams played a large part in his high school and college years, helping him form friendships.
“My wife went to Richwoods [High School],” Marsh said, adding that two of his three kids are now students there. “When I was at East Peoria and on the speech team, we were actually introduced to each other at a speech tournament up in Park Ridge that both our schools were at. I needed a date for prom junior year, so I called her up, we went to prom, and we started dating.”
As Marsh’s now-wife Beth pursued her undergraduate degree at Syracuse University and the couple dated off and on throughout college, Marsh joined the Bradley student body as a speech communication major.
“Since I was always travelling with the speech team, I was able to talk my mom and dad into letting me live on campus,” Marsh said. “It was really nice because when my friends from Chicago or St. Louis would say, ‘I’m really excited to go home for the weekend,’ I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go home for lunch and [to] do my laundry.’”
Marsh said he still keeps in touch with friends he met on the speech team, as they became his “extra family.” He shared a story about spending time with team members.
“One time, I don’t know where I was walking to, but I ran into my buddy from the speech team the night before my very first tournament,” Marsh said. “We just started talking and walking down Main Street, and all of a sudden, we were walking down the hill. We took a right, and before you know it, we’re crossing the river on the old Cedar Street bridge and went to Steak ‘N’ Shake for coffee and burgers… By the time we walked back home, the sun was starting to come up.”
After graduating in 1993, Marsh headed to Omaha to attain a Master’s degree in communication studies from the University of Nebraska.
“Moving from Peoria to Omaha was awesome because Omaha is really just a bigger Peoria but slightly better organized,” Marsh said. “The streets are all north/south or east/west, and they’re either numbered or lettered. Whereas I still couldn’t find Sterling Avenue here in Peoria, if someone in Omaha said ‘100 8th and Q,’ I’m all over it.”
During graduate school, he fell in love with the media side of advertising and laid the foundation for his career. After marrying Beth, Marsh moved to Chicago where he found work with advertising agencies DDB Needham and Hal Riney and Partners.
“There was such a glut of work because it was the first dot com boom,” Marsh said. “It was a great time to be in advertising because [agencies] were dying for talent, and they would do everything they could to attract and keep you. But the work was crazy. It was wonderful for the time.”
While working in Chicago, Marsh did some commercial acting on the side. After being cast in a commercial for the Kansas State Lottery, he flew out to Kansas City, where he met an older actor that had also grown up in Peoria and attended Bradley.
After five years in the Windy City, Marsh made his way back to Peoria.
“I was really happy to come back home because at the time, [my oldest child] Janie was a little baby girl, but probably two or three nights a week, I was working until 9 or 10 at night at a minimum,” he said. “It was such a wild time that if you stayed past 7 p.m., they bought you dinner – a really good catered dinner. If you stayed past 9 p.m., you got a limo service to take you home instead of taking the train.”
Back in Peoria, Marsh was a stay at home dad, helping to take care of three kids for 11 years, while his wife worked as a pathologist.
“It was a lot of fun; what I really liked was being involved in the kids’ school,” Marsh said. “I liked going and reading stories to the kids, reading things like Dr. Seuss to the kindergarteners and first graders. I really enjoyed volunteering, grocery shopping with two or three kids and just coordinating all of that.”
Although he doesn’t think students have changed all that much since he was a student, Marsh said he does believe the external environment has changed, making it much more competitive. For this, he offers advice that he learned as a student at Bradley.
“My band teacher, Russ Vroman, who was the dad of [Director of Bands] David Vroman, used to say, ‘Practice makes permanent,’” Marsh said. “You’re time here at Bradley is your practice for the outside world. The most successful students will be the most successful outside because they’ve developed those habits of working hard and diligently, showing up early and never missing a class; those are the habits you won’t even need to think about when you’re out in the world.”