2017-10-11 / Features

Epps wears a lot of hats at PHS

By Anna Fletcher
Courier-Times Staff Writer

Epps’ hats, 128 in number. Epps’ hats, 128 in number. Person High School is known for the Rock, the drill team, volleyball and Ronnie Epps. Officially the school’s parking attendant, unofficially the school’s greeter, caretaker and biggest fan, Epps is a PHS alumnus who came to work at his alma mater in 2010. He’s known in the community as “Lil’ Brother” and has become somewhat of an institution in Person County.

A visit to the high school usually begins at Epps’ office, a small, amply-windowed cottage beside the parking lot. With a smile and a wave, the tall, friendly attendant will come out for introductions, often followed by an animated story or a few words of encouragement. Hand gestures will accompany, as well as abundant laughs.

It’s with this seemingly endless supply of enthusiasm that Epps goes about his work which, he says, never actually feels like work.

Ronnie Epps sits in his cottage office, surrounded by his hats. Ronnie Epps sits in his cottage office, surrounded by his hats. “I’ve never missed a day,” Epps said. “I love my job, I love my school, I love the kids. I love everybody. I am very blessed. This is something I always wanted to do.”

Though his laugh and his stories, even his personalized golf cart sporting a “Lil’ Brother” front license plate, are enough to catch many people’s interest, the real attention-grabber is Epps’ collection of hats, which hangs in neat rows across the walls and ceiling of his cottage. He’s got 128. They come from all over Person County, and they chronicle his life.

“All these hats have a little story about something that has touched me in my life,” Epps said. “I’ve been very blessed, to say the least. Look around these walls, and I could tell you my story.”

The History of the Hats

Epps’ cottage office, with his personalized golf cart. Epps’ cottage office, with his personalized golf cart. Epps’ story begins in South Boston, Virginia, where he was born before his family moved to his grandfather’s farm in Person County three years later. He graduated from PHS in 1977, as represented by a blue and white Rockets hat that hangs above a framed newspaper clipping about PHS football.

The first hat he received is a green First Union Bank hat, which he said reminds him of his parents.

“When I was 12 years old, my mom and dad took me to First Union Bank and opened me up a checking account,” he said. “My dad put in 20 dollars, I put in 20 and my mom was going to put in 20. My mom put the 20 in, but then all of a sudden she pulled the 20 back and put 10 in there. My dad said, ‘Wait a minute, we’re teaching Ronnie how to save.’ And she said, ‘Yes, I want Ronnie to learn to save his money, but I want Ronnie to learn how to enjoy it too.’ You know, some people, they save too much and they don’t enjoy it. So she taught me that you can have the best of both worlds.”

Other hats include one from Loxcreen, where he worked his first job; BB&T, where he took out his first home loan; and a New York Yankees hat, where he fulfilled a lifelong dream.

“I always wanted to go to New York,” he said. “And a buddy of mine was a Philly fan. I saw him at his mom’s funeral, and he said, ‘Ronnie, did you ever live your dream of going to Yankee Stadium?’ I said no, and he said, ‘Let’s go. You get the plane ticket, and I’ll meet you up here.’ So long story short, in 2002, I got to go to Yankee Stadium. I was so excited. When they opened the gates, me and 10,000 kids went running toward the field. That was something I always wanted to do.”

Epps has hats from all of the places he bought a car or had one repaired, all of the companies he has worked for and all of the schools he attended. Hats numbering 128 – all donated and personal to him in some way, and every one distinct. There are no duplicates, he said.

“It’s all about Person County – if they want to donate a hat,” he said. “I started off with 10 hats, and it just took off. One of the first hats I got, I went to the police chief and said, ‘Look, I want the kids to learn respect and about the law. Could I get a hat from you?’ He gave me a hat. Highway Patrolman Lacy Morris hung that hat personally.

That meant a lot to me. It lets the kids know that these are the people who take care of Person County.”

What’s even more impressive than Epps’ collection is the time it took for the hats to reach their current number. He began asking for donated hats in late August and went from 10 to well over 100 in just over a month.

The True Story

However, the important thing, he said, is not how many hats he can collect, but the reason behind them.

“I think God has a purpose to everything, and I think this is my purpose,” he said. “Because when I come to work every day, I come here because I feel like some kid might have a bad night. But I guarantee when they walk into that school, they’ll have a smile on their face, and they’re going to be ready to help the teachers. I tell them, ‘To get respect, you have to give respect.’ And that’s what they’ve done. Our kids are awesome. Our school is a good school with good students. I want everyone to know that.”

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