I Spy Someone making a difference.
I Spy: Poppy Hepp has passion for peopleby Russell Alston
Poppy Hepp wants you to know she loves people.
As the administrative coordinator to the vice president for student affairs, she receives a deluge of phone calls from parents, students and even faculty/staff with problems or questions.
“People will call and say ‘Poppy, I was told to call you ‘cause you would have the answer,’” she says. “I don’t always have the answer, but I’ll find it or assist you in any way, and I love it because I love people.”
Her passion for helping people was sparked in the small, tight-knit community of Middlefield, Conn., about 20 miles outside of Hartford.
“It was a small town,” she says. “When I was growing up, the two main buildings were a post office and a general store.”
She has been married for 37 years to her high school sweetheart, Donald Hepp. The couple had been considering retiring to Myrtle Beach since their children, Jason and Donald Jr., were grown and building their own lives.
“We vacationed here and loved the area,” says Hepp. “I asked the kids if they were coming back to live with us, and they both said no.”
Finding a job became Hepp’s next task, and she already had an idea of who to ask in case she needed a reference. “One of the first people I ever talked to on campus was Debbie Conner,” she says. In 1998, with youngest son Donald on his way to Coastal Carolina University for orientation and Hepp unable to attend, she had questions that Conner was able to answer. Their conversation had a lasting impact.
“I just thought she was so nice, so I told Donald Jr. that when he arrived on campus to go and find Debbie Conner and introduce himself,” she says. It wasn’t until Family Weekend when she met Conner at an event at Brookgreen Gardens.
“With every visit here, I would make it a point to visit her,” says Hepp.
“It’s great to work with someone you know and trust,” says Debbie Conner, vice president for student affairs at CCU.
Conner remembers Hepp coming off as “fun and genuine.” She can attest to Hepp’s love and dedication to students, whether Hepp is commiserating or celebrating with them.
“I’ve seen Poppy shed tears with students, and I’ve seen her laugh with students,” says Conner. “I’ve known her to keep bread, peanut butter and jelly at her desk to feed kids who may come in hungry. She truly cares for the students. You can tell she has good intentions, a good spirit and that she really enjoys the university. Obviously we want people like that here.”
With a job at CCU secured, the couple bought some land and moved to Myrtle Beach in March 2001.
“I have always been in customer service,” she says, referring to her years as an administrative assistant to the vice president of sales for Quest Diagnostics, a clinical laboratory services company. This made her perfect for an opening in the Office of the Registrar assisting at its front desk. Registering and interacting with students were highlights of that position, but after a couple of years, she moved to Records, losing that face-to-face time with students. In October 2004, she saw an opening in student affairs. By that time, she was ready to get back to office administration.
Beyond the daily routine of filing, scheduling and answering, Hepp says her key duty is service; whether it's for a student or parent, faculty or staff member. “Our office serves seven departments at CCU, from the student government to student health services,” she says.
She also has a hand in some of CCU’s major events, such as the Ronald D. Lackey Service Award, presented every spring to an outstanding senior who has exceled at community service.
“I arrange for the top six students to have dinner with Mrs. Lackey and her family,” she says.
Hepp’s reward for her dedication is when a student comes back to just say hi. “That’s my favorite, watching a student start as a freshman, fully mature and have them come back. That’s the absolute best.”
“She loves the students; she’s good for her position,” says friend and co-worker Sharon Sluys.
The two have been friends for more than four years, taking daily 1.5-mile walks around campus, where their conversations are peppered with a dash of everything — from family to each other’s personalities.
“One day she said she thought she was an introvert,” says Sluys. “I told her she is definitely an extrovert. We’ll run into basketball players near Kimbel Arena and she’ll have to give them a hug, or stop to speak with people she’s worked with at some point.”
This past spring the two sought out one of CCU’s student personal trainers at Williams-Brice Gymnasium who “kicked our butts,” which was a good thing to Hepp.
“We push each other,” says Sluys. “When you want to be healthy, it’s good to have that buddy system going. A lot of times I won’t feel like it, but she’ll email me saying ‘We gotta get out there.’”
Hepp also organizes an annual clergy event hosted by the Office of Student Affairs.
“Clergy from Conway and Myrtle Beach attend this event, and we share information about Coastal’s student organizations and how their ministries can become involved on campus,” she says.
Hepp is also a member of St. James Catholic Church in Conway, where she serves as a Eucharistic minister at Mass. The local Sons of Italy chapter, billed as “the oldest and largest Sons of Italy Lodge in South Carolina,” also benefits from Hepp’s love of customer service. She volunteers at the organization's bi-annual festivals where she hand-stuffs cannoli.
Hepp’s roots go back to Italy, where her lineage can be traced to the island of Sicily.
“My actual name is Pasqua, which means Easter in Italian,” she says. “Growing up, my sister couldn’t say it, so that’s how I got Poppy.”
Hepp does find time for herself. She recently went on a Mediterranean cruise of Italy where she visited some of its oldest cities, such as Venice, Rome, Florence and Naples. “I’m looking forward to going back to Sicily very soon,” she says.
When she isn’t Skyping with her granddaughter Giuliana, attending CCU’s basketball games or going to student events on campus, Hepp hits the links. She is an avid golfer, with her handicap being “the highest number it could be.” Her favorite course is World Tour Golf Links at River Oaks, where her husband Donald works.
With all the adulation Hepp receives on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine her switching offices again. It’s not just the praise and unconditional love for Hepp that will keep her with student affairs, however.
“I love it here,” she says. “This is home.”