January 23, 2018 10:22 PM
Eden Prairie is mourning the loss of a popular and longtime educator, one whom his colleagues said always put kids first.
Joe Epping was found alone Monday night in his vehicle in the parking lot of Cedar Ridge Elementary School, where he was principal. Police went to check on him after a relative couldn't reach him during Monday's blizzard-like conditions.
Eden Prairie police say no foul play is suspected.
Epping, 67, started his nearly 30-year career with the Eden Prairie district as a special education teacher. He went on to work as a student dean, an assistant principal and, eventually, principal at Central Middle School. He mentored many colleagues along the way, including Felicia Thames, who is now a principal too.
"He has this gift," Thames said. "No matter what walk of life you came from, he had the ability to connect and meet you where you were."
Epping retired in 2014. But that didn't last long.
He followed his passion for education, as well as a call from the district, to return to campus, this time as head of Cedar Ridge.
Angela Oltman recalls meeting Epping at her son's open house.
"He was the person at the door, and said, 'Welcome, I'm Joe Epping, who is this?' and he shook my son's hand," Oltman recalled. "He made a positive impression."
Epping was only supposed to be the interim principal, but when asked, agreed to sign on for another year.
"He had a strong moral compass and led with integrity," Thames said. "He had a genuine, calm spirit."
Other colleagues said Epping always put kids first, and used humor and wit to cultivate meaningful relationships. He led a project to equip all seventh- and eighth-graders at Central Middle School with iPad learning devices.
Those who worked alongside Epping said he wanted to leave a legacy of learning and working with others. To that end, he volunteered with the Prop Food Shelf in Eden Prairie and with the Homeless Shelter for Youth in Chanhassen.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner will release his exact cause of death. Memorial services are being planned. Epping was a father of two adult children: Haley and Tyler.
Updated: January 23, 2018 10:22 PM
Created: January 23, 2018 08:28 PM
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