Capturing the Eppengers’ Deep Connection to Home and Community

by | Sep 2023

IT WAS in Rhonda Eppenger’s charming hometown that she and her husband, Wilbert, began their shared adventure. Wilbert, a proud native of Nashville, found his forever home by her side in Dickson, and their love for each other, their children, and their community creates ripples of inspiration that spread far and wide. From the moment they exchanged their vows, they knew their destiny was to make a difference in the world around them. 

Wilbert met and married Rhonda, a Southern belle from Dickson, and together, they decided to build their life in her charming hometown from 1977 to 1984. Rhonda’s heart blossomed with the cherished values of family, church, and a genuine concern for others, growing up in a close-knit community. 

Rhonda’s childhood was a tapestry of kindness, woven with sunshine, fresh produce, and shared meals. The stories of welcoming elderly residents and the bonds between neighbors shaped her essence of home. 

“It was the way my mom raised me. You took care of your family, and if somebody got sick or anything like that, you took care of them. You just took care of people,” Rhonda remarked. Home and community hold a special place in Rhonda’s heart, a sanctuary that transcends physical boundaries and has become a haven she graciously shares with all who cross her path. Her upbringing shaped her worldview, and together with her husband, they raised their children to be caring, community-driven individuals. 

After living in Dickson for a while, Wilbert’s career as a pipefitter led him to a new construction project at Arnold Air Force Base. Impressed by his work, an engineer approached Wilbert and offered him an opportunity to join the maintenance team. After discussing it with Rhonda, he accepted the offer, and they moved to Manchester. Wilbert worked at Arnold for 30 years before retiring. 

Initially hesitant to leave her family and close-knit community behind, Rhonda soon discovered that the community embraced her and her family with open arms. 

Rhonda explained, “My mom’s house was at the top of the hill. So when you entered the neighborhood, there were siblings and cousins. I had to leave my home church. I had to leave the job I loved and my family.” 

Rhonda’s commitment to serving others led her to work in the school system, where she dedicated 25 years to caring for special needs students and substituting in classrooms, as requested by the principal at Coffee County High School. 

She became a beloved figure to her students and their families, offering a warm embrace and a loving smile to each child she encountered. 

Her children witnessed her amazing example. 

She explained, “I want them to treat everybody right. In high school, I worked with the special ed kids; we had a lot of wheelchairs. Sometimes I had to change diapers, and sometimes I fed them and all of that. And (my kids) saw that, so they kind of took that on; to care for the least of these. It’s Biblical.” 

Wilbert has served on the board of commissioners for the Manchester Housing Authority since 2000 and has been chairman for the past 15 years. 

Over the years, the Eppengers became increasingly involved in various initiatives to support their neighbors, such as Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Tullahoma. The couple’s culinary skills delighted many with their chocolate chip and pecan pies, cornbread and homemade biscuits, and pecan and chocolate chip pies at the Community Table at Canvas Community Church. Together, they deliver these meals to those in need. 

Rhonda’s dedication to the underprivileged led her to engage with individuals struggling with drug addiction and single mothers. 

As church greeters at Canvas Community Church in Manchester, their church community has also played a significant role in their service endeavors. One particular event called “One Day of Hope” brought churches together to serve the community, offering various services, including food, haircuts, eye exams, and prayer. Rhonda witnessed the power of unity as churches of different denominations came together to provide their support. These experiences only deepened Rhonda’s love for her community, making Manchester feel like home. 

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