There’s likely lots of ways a child could earn pocket money, maybe babysitting, spring cleaning or cutting the grass for the folks.
But as a girl, Leianne Neff Heppner had a different gig, slightly out of the ordinary, but one that made sense at the time.
“He gave me a quarter to dust each coffin,” said Heppner of her father, a former mortician who used a converted three-story flourmill to house his mortuary business.
Heppner smiled at the memory and adds her dusting days were short-lived after “I told my fifth-grade teacher, and then no more. Dad was embarrassed I shared that with anybody.”
Who knows, perhaps it was that brief interlude among the caskets that instilled a strong work ethic within Heppner. She is one of the 2012 recipients of the 30 for the Future Award, sponsored by the Greater Akron Chamber, which annually acknowledges young professionals who have made an impact both professionally and within their community.
Heppner arrived in Akron 15 years ago, having spent her formative years in Guernsey, Muskingum and Noble counties. The Zanesville native has worked for the Summit County Historical Society (SCHS) for almost 14 years and has been its executive director for the past three.
“I was humbled and felt very honored to be recognized,” said Heppner of her 30 for the Future Award. “And I see this as such a positive thing for the historical society.”
She said she views her award as a sort of “play on age,” that many may think of an historical society as an entity that’s typically staffed by or holds an interest for folks older then Heppner.
Her recognition was a reaffirmation that ” I wasn’t the old lady with tennis shoes, but I think I was the only one with gray hair, but that’s OK,” said Heppner of her leadership class, from where Future candidates are chosen.
Since graduating college with a degree in museum studies, working for the SCHS is something Heppner relishes. She credited her love of history to her grandparents, whose stories she learned along the way and “who I loved to spend time with,” along with teachers from her middle and high schools who made “history exciting.”
Her workdays are full, and Heppner learned firsthand about adopting a hard work ethic through her parents. Earlier on, Heppner’s father ran an ambulance service and was also a carpenter. He then went to mortuary school.
Her mother was head cook at Muskingum College and helped her husband run their funeral home. After Mr. Neff sold his share of the business, he continued with his carpentry.
“It was typical of my dad, he got up at 5:30 every morning for work, and he usually had a night job to bring in extra money,” Heppner recalled. “So I had two great people to emulate.”
When not steeped in Akron history, Heppner spends a good deal of time volunteering, some of which she does with her 12-year-old daughter, Anastasia, named after Anastasia Romanov, the Russian duchess.
“I just like to help other people, and a positive about working at the society is that our agency can help so many because everything that happens in Summit County is history!” Heppner said. “So we have that great and rare opportunity to be involved with a lot of different things.”
Heppner’s community involvement includes serving as a board member with Friends of the Library, Akron Public Schools, Weathervane Playhouse and women’s shelters. She encourages other young professionals, particularly those in college or recent grads to pursue community involvement.
“We tell them to volunteer because it looks good on their resume, and we do believe it will help them get a job,” Heppner said. “It even doesn’t have to be a big thing, they can shovel snow or rake leaves for a neighbor. Making a difference in one person’s life is actually going to benefit you in a major way.”
She shared some Akron history and how the city, since its early days, always fueled a “great sense of camaraderie and fellowship.”
“Whether a nonprofit or an organization, everybody is competitive and wants to be successful,” Heppner said. “But with Akron, they’re always open to talking with their competitors, and that’s been common here since its founding. We have a lot of service organizations here because leaders of large companies recognized they had more to give back to the community, and they did. And that’s unique compared to other cities.”
When people learn of Heppner’s occupation, she said some expect her to know “every single, date and time of something about Akron.” She laughed and gently urged inquiring minds to contact the main library, where the SCHS archives are kept.
“The fascinating part about history is people have amazing stories,” she said. “History is fun, how you can connect to your own and recognize you are part of something.”