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  • Writer's picturesaraamandapeterson

Those Who Inspire Me

Updated: Jun 9, 2022

If you think about it for a moment, you would probably be able to come up with a list of inspiring women in your life that you look up to. My list is long, and it includes my grandmothers, my amazing mom, sisters, friends, and women I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting such as Condoleezza Rice.

In particular, I would like to shine a light on two women today. Connie Heppner and Vicki Randall, it’s your time to shine!


Connie is my courageous sister, the rock of our family, and a mental health advocate. She plans, coordinates, attends, and keeps our very large family connected through birthdays, anniversaries, family trips, holidays, and so much more. She is amazingly skilled in creating events, planning weddings and setting up venues, and organizing our holiday get-togethers, which include well over 50 people in most cases. I have always admired how she managed to accomplish all this for our family and still be the mom of the year, juggling four kids’ school and after-school schedules. I only had two kids in school at the same time and could not imagine having four!

She is also the queen of demo/remodeling houses and interior design. She has, on occasion, surprised her husband with changes or demos when he was out. One time, she was even able to demo a shed when he was out for a run. Granted, it was a 16-mile run. Nonetheless, she is a very determined young lady. She is my little sister; however, I look up to her in more ways than one. You see, she is much taller than me, so there is that 😊, and second, I greatly admire and respect her strength and resilience.

She, too, is in her 40s and has started a new chapter in her life. She went back to school now that she is an empty nester with her youngest finishing up college. Connie is currently studying business administration and management and will be completing her degree this fall, around August 2022.

Connie and her husband moved away from our hometown almost three years ago and started yet another house remodel. I believe this will be their 5th house. They are spending time walking and running with their new fur baby, Gia, whom they lovingly call the Sassy Redhead.

They are also involved in mental health awareness and breaking the stigma, and they wear running shirts that say, “You are good enough. You are strong enough. You are worthy”. They are working on setting up a foundation called Project 23 and are establishing the Cody Heppner Mental Health Scholarship, starting this spring, for Warroad High School (Warroad, MN) graduates going into the mental health field. We had the honor of running with Connie and Jeff to raise awareness this past summer. I will come back to this shortly, but first I would like to introduce Vicki to you.


Vicki is a woman I am honored to call a friend, director—she tries to say she retired, but many of us will not let her truly retire—and advocate for our military/veteran’s mental health. Vicki amazed me with her focus and dedication from the day I met her. You see, when we first met, she and her husband Bill were the state directors of the Minnesota United States Pageant where my daughter Mandy was competing. It was during this time that I witnessed first-hand the love and passion that Vicki had not only for the production and pageant system but also for the contestants whom she would call “her girls” and would fiercely protect and defend. Ultimately, she was one of the major reasons I got involved as a contestant in the United States pageant system.

Outside of the director role, she, like Connie, is juggling family, work, and yes, even her house remodeling, which was kind of a forced project, but we will leave that for another story. Vicki raised two amazing kids into adulthood and has three grandkids, and she also has two fur babies that travel with her and Bill. Both Vicki and Bill spend time at the Eagles Healing Nest volunteering, helping remodel rooms, and just relaxing. They travel up with their camper and park it on the campgrounds where they spend summer weekends enjoying the beautiful scenery and the serenity it provides.

Vicki has also been going through changes and embarking on new journeys in this chapter of her life. Not only did they get a camper and start to travel and enjoy the weekends but they have also started the Panda Project to raise awareness for mental health and break the stigma, specifically in the military and for our veterans. We have had the opportunity to walk in the Brainard parade and walk and support the first annual Panda walk at the Eagles Healing Nest.

These two women are uniquely different in many ways and so similar in other ways. However, there is one commonality that I wish they didn’t have to have. You see, both had two amazing young men they call sons, and both were named Cody. Sadly, both sons lost their battle with their demons and committed suicide in 2020. Both sons had struggled with anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideations on and off throughout their teenage years and into adulthood. Although they had traveled in two different directions, careers, and adventures, neither were able to find their way.

Now, these two amazing women have taken their grief and turned it into hope and healing not only for themselves but also for others. By raising awareness and talking with others who have lost a child to suicide or parents and loved ones who are seeing the signs in their own children and loved ones and need resources, help, and guidance, they are using their experiences to help others navigate this difficult journey.

I applaud both of you for the work that you are doing around raising awareness, having those amazingly raw conversations and bravely sharing your stories. You are two women in my life whom I love and respect, and I am so very proud of you both!

If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out to the following for help:

National Suicide Prevention Hotline

1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 74141

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

Call 240-485-1001

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)

Call 866-615-6464

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