The Legacy of Heidi Renee Plemmons ’97 lives on through the H.O.P.E. Scholarship

November 1, 2022

The H.O.P.E. Scholarship is part of the “22 Courageous Gifts in 2022” giving campaign – a campus-wide fundraising initiative at William Peace University (WPU). Donors, like Heidi Renee Plemmons’ family, friends and classmates support this initiative by making a courageous commitment that provides our students with the resources they need to learn through immersive experiences, build upon their courage and develop the confidence needed to turn their passion into purpose. These gifts will shape both the future of our university and our students. To learn more or to donate visit 22 in 2022.

Heidi Renee Plemmons ’97 was the epitome of a “momma bear” — she always protected and rallied for those around her.

From encouraging her best friend to pursue her dream of a master’s degree to inviting students to eat lunch in her classroom, she believed in others. 

“She was just full of love for anybody,” said Melissa McCurry ’97, a close friend of Heidi. “She was a born educator who helped to teach and enable people around her to reach their potential.”

When Heidi passed away unexpectedly at age 44, her love for others didn’t diminish. In her will, her last wishes were that students at her alma mater, William Peace University (WPU), would continue to be lifted up through a scholarship in her memory. Heidi’s kindhearted values first began to blossom when she went to what was then known as Peace College.

Now, Heidi’s legacy lives on as the Helping Extra-Ordinary People Everyday (H.O.P.E.) Scholarship, established thanks to Heidi’s family, friends and classmates.

The Scholarship’s name comes from Heidi’s belief that with kindness and compassion, Extra-Ordinary people can become Extraordinary. The H.O.P.E. Scholarship seeks to offer a hand-up to bright young students like this at WPU.

The H.O.P.E. Scholarship will be awarded to a first-generation student in their second year at WPU who shows potential to grow and who also seeks to give back to the University community through leadership, academics and service.

“Heidi always wanted to focus on the kids that were getting overlooked — she wanted to invest in them and give them a helping hand,” Melissa said. “Heidi was all about finding the one that nobody saw anything in and pouring into them”

Finding Her Wings

Heidi’s kindhearted values first began to blossom when she went to what was then known as Peace College.

When Heidi first started at Peace, she didn’t have a lot of confidence. On top of struggling with her mental health, she was a first-generation college student.

 She sometimes felt like because of her boisterous personality and, as Melissa described it “big blonde mountain girl hair,” she could be overlooked as a leader.

But, despite this, she quickly “found her wings and learned to fly” at Peace, her dad, Richard Plemmons, said. 

Professors like Dr. Lisa Bonner poured into Heidi and helped her reach her potential. She became one of the top students in her class and was involved in many extracurriculars, including student government and residence life. She earned numerous scholarships which made it possible for her to attend college.

“Peace became a family to both her and me,” said Melissa, who became friends with Heidi her sophomore year. “She never met a stranger and would talk to you for hours, even the Peace housekeeping staff all knew her.”

Loving Those Around Her

After Peace, Heidi then continued to love those around her as a teacher. Heidi primarily worked as a science and math teacher with middle school students and students with special needs. 

“Heidi had an amazing middle school teacher and she wanted to be just like that teacher,” said her sister Holly Shriner. “She always wanted to help the kids that needed extra help and advocate for everybody that she could.” 

For example, when teachers would talk about what students would be in their classes, often they would try and pass off the “problem kids,” Melissa explained. But for every kid that got passed off, Heidi asked to put them in her class. When Heidi passed away, hundreds of her former students attended her funeral.

Heidi’s dedication to being a teacher influenced her goddaughter, Melissa’s daughter, to follow the same path. Ainsley grew up seeing Heidi’s love as a teacher for her students. 

“I remember one day helping her set up her classroom. I saw how Heidi took pride in even the posters that went up. She wanted the class to be perfect for kids she hadn’t even met yet,” Ainsley said. “She is the teacher everyone wants to have.”

In the fall, Ainsley will attend the University of Tennessee to study Special Education. 

“She was always a presence in my life and she still is,” Ainsley said. “She cared about everyone else before herself and that’s what I try to do and who I try to be. She is the reason why I hug people, take pride in my appearance, am studying to be a teacher and a million other things.”

While Heidi is now gone, her legacy remains. Her friends and family remember the woman Heidi was: Someone who would do anything to make you laugh. Someone who saw the best in those who were often overlooked. Someone who made a point to listen intentionally to everyone she talked to.

The H.O.P.E. Scholarship is about telling students they are not invisible, that somebody sees them and that somebody cares for them. 

“She was not a person who came and went in her life, she was a person who took you with her,” her father Richard Plemmons said. “The H.O.P.E. Scholarship is her legacy.”

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“You see, Heidi believed not in recognizing someone solely for their achievements but rather by their potential, a higher standard in her eyes. She believed that everyone had the potential to be better, do better, lead better, serve better, and most importantly love better. She wanted a student to be chosen who had been counted out, doubted, or overlooked because they struggled with mental illness, lack of resources, and/or past traumas. She wanted to give another young person the chance to spread their wings as she had in her time at Peace. 

She knew that she would have fit these criteria when entering her college career and knew the struggles this brought for her. What she also knew was that she’d been blessed to find a new home and a second family the day she first stepped onto the brick covered walkways and gazed at the fountain she’d later stand in front of to deliver the commencement address to the first class of four-year graduates.” — Melissa McCurry ’97