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MHS athletics equipment manager John Hepper embraces opportunities to serve

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN John Hepper attends a soccer game between Minot High School and Bismarck Century at Duane Carlson Stadium.

A sign taped to Door No. 37 at Minot High School’s Magic City Campus reads: “Call John Hepper” and lists a phone number. The sheet of paper is nondescript — in fact; it is reasonable to suggest that dozens of Minot High students open the door each day without noticing it.

If those students walk straight through the hallway, they will miss John Hepper putting his nose to the grindstone. Amidst the daily hustle and bustle at the Magic City Campus, Hepper manages the Minot High athletics equipment.

Washing uniforms is his main job, but that particular duty merely scratches the surface. During his 19 years at Minot High, Hepper has scrubbed locker rooms, waxed office floors and learned the art of sewing.

“Every day is different,” he said. “That’s one reason why I like it. You just never know what’s going to happen.”

Throughout the years, Hepper has served Minot High student-athletes and coaches through his work. Because he refers to himself as “the last line of defense,” he is equipped to assist the MHS community when school is not in session.

Jimmy Lafakis/MDN Minot High School athletics equipment manager John Hepper stands beside a rack of football uniforms at the Magic City Campus.

On Labor Day, a football player needed his jersey for senior pictures. Hepper answered the bell.

“I just think he does so many things that aren’t in his job description to benefit our coaches and athletes,” Magic City Campus activities coordinator Brian Hornecker said. “Most people don’t know about them. I think he does it because he knows things just have to get done.”

Humble beginnings have fostered Hepper’s foundation of gratitude. His wife, Carol, encouraged him to apply for his current position when it opened.

He recalls the application process as if it happened last week. According to Hepper, seven of the 37 applicants got callbacks.

“I thought, ‘I’m never going to get this,'” he said. “I didn’t graduate from Minot High. I went in there and had an interview. I thought it went well. They called me back and said, ‘The job is yours, if you want it.'”

Although Hepper did not intend to become the envy of other high schools around North Dakota, his dedication to his craft has caused his colleagues to yearn for his expertise.

“Bismarck High comes up here and they say, ‘Man, I wish we had somebody like you,'” he said. “They have to do everything. They have to wash their clothes and do so much other stuff, rather than just coaching the teams.”

The job requires him to stay on his toes. Last year, Hepper added his trusty sewing machine to his ever-growing repertoire.

“I thought, ‘You know what, I’m not good at it,'” he said. “‘But, I can stitch up a seam.”

His position evolves on a regular basis, but Hepper prefers to stay out of the spotlight. He is content to wash, mend and sew behind the scenes.

“I have never been one to pat myself on the back,” Hepper said. “Ever since I was in grade school and high school, I’ve been the timid guy. I’ve never been the life of the party. I’ve never been in the limelight, and that’s OK.”

Each year, he aims to make life a bit easier for the Magicians and Majettes.

A canister of candy rests outside of his office. When students stop by and inquire about the various assortments of sweets, Hepper happily obliges.

“They come over and ask, ‘Can I have a piece?'” he said. “I say, ‘Absolutely. That’s what it’s there for.”

Still, Hepper struggles to resist his sweet tooth.

“If it’s got sugar in it, I’ll eat anything,” he said with a chuckle.

An avid Minnesota sports fan, Hepper remains faithful to the Vikings, Twins and Timberwolves. He admires Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns and enjoys taking trips to U.S. Bank Stadium and Target Field with his family.

He donned purple and gold while he watched the renowned “Purple People Eaters” dominate Vikings games throughout the 1960s and 1970s. His closet is still stocked with gold-trimmed apparel, but not all of it represents the Vikings.

A particular shade of gold has a new companion — maroon.

“Loyalty is something that I really cherish,” he said. “Whether you’re a kid playing football or just in life in general, you’ve got to be loyal for who you’re working for. Maroon and gold is it now. We like purple and gold because of the Vikings and we like blue because of the Twins, but maroon and gold is it.”

While he works, Hepper keeps one goal in mind. He aims to make coaches’ lives easier.

That attitude left an indelible impact on former MHS football head coach Barry Holmen.

“He’s a humble guy,” Holmen said. “I think humility is a tremendous trait in people. That goes to his servant heart, I think. John is certainly not getting enough thanks for what he does behind the scenes.”

Hepper’s two sons, Jaydin and Jace, remind their father to enjoy his time away from his job. During cross-country vacations centered around baseball, the family often engages in sports-related discussions.

Although his sons believe LeBron James is the greatest basketball player of all time, Hepper rejects that notion.

“I don’t care who you are,” he said. “There will never be anybody as good as Michael Jordan.”

Hepper shows an appreciation for the past while he cherishes the world’s posterity. As he attends MHS activities, he is reminded of the younger generations’ capacity for excellence.

“I just think we have to take care of the kids who are here in high school now,” he said. “They are our future. I always think that if I make somebody’s life a little bit easier, they will take that in whatever they do in life. Some kids will graduate and go to college. Some kids will graduate and go to law school, medical school, whatever. Some kids won’t go to college at all. If I can make their lives a little bit easier down the road, that’s what it’s all about.”

If those students need assistance in the future, they will know what to do.

Call John Hepper.

Jimmy Lafakis covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JJLII30.

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