News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 27, 2013

Musician urges students to ‘start writing stuff’

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — A “hideous green” guitar discovered in a closet gave Justin Hoeppner a venue to express himself.

He practiced five hours a day for the next decade on the instrument. It brought release from his anger, sparked when his childhood was turned upside down at age 8 after his parents divorced.

“I realized that I had something to say, not just something to play,” Hoeppner told students at Honey Creek Middle School in an all-school assembly Tuesday morning. “I felt that I needed to start expressing with my words what was going on inside of my heart,” said Hoeppner, the feature speaker at the school’s annual Writer’s Fair, targeted to develop creative writing skills.

Hoeppner, who moved 31⁄2 years ago to Indiana from California, is a musician, singer, song writer and worship leader at Maryland Community Church in Vigo County.

His version of “On the Banks of The Wabash (Far Away)” is featured on track one of “Wabash,” a CD sponsored by Art Spaces-Wabash Valley Outdoor Sculpture Collection Inc. during the 2013 Year of the River.

“Music released some crazy things in me and helped me connect with who I was and then helped me to connect to other people,” Hoeppner said.

He encouraged students to “buy a journal and just start writing stuff. It is not a weakness, it is a strength to write things down that are going on inside of your hearts and inside of your lives.”

As an example, he sang a song to the student assembly he wrote about his now 5-year-old son, Mattix, who was born with a heart condition. Justin and his wife, Summer, have three sons.   

Though “troubled waters rise around, we’ll keep our hearts on yours. We tremble and shake, as the earth gives way. We’ll hold until you prove, we’ll hold on till you move,” Hoeppner sang. “Let healing waters rise around, wash away the stains. Rise up over the mountain tops, with light to show the way.”

Meanwhile, tables filled Honey Creek Middle School hallways with creative writings from students.

Parina Ashok Patel, 13, moved with her family from the town of Vadodara, also known as Baroda, in Gujarat, India, to Indiana in 2011. She wrote about that experience for the writer’s fair.

“I wrote about the adventures of when we went to the airport and we came here. Also, when we went to Bombay in India. I wrote about the starting of school and the summer vacation” going to New York and New Jersey, Patel said prior to the school assembly.

“There are a lot of people in India and not a lot here” in Terre Haute, she said. “It is a little peaceful. People are a lot nicer, especially the teachers. The environment is also really good here. I really like it here,” she said.

In her writing, Patel said it is difficult to choose between India and America. “I do miss my friends and a lot of things in India, but I don’t want to leave America either,” she wrote.

“I am happy that I came here,” she wrote. “I figured out that if I would not have come here, then I would not have been able to see a whole new world of people I did not know much about. I am really happy that I came here and made really nice friends and got to know the people who live here. This is my story and nothing could make it better,” she wrote.

Eighth-grader Laya Walker, 13, wrote the “Dragon Handbook.”

“I made up facts about dragons and made up [dragon] species,” Walker said. “I have always been fascinated by things that really aren’t real. I guess dragons are a symbol of strength and wisdom and a kind of happiness in their own little world. I see more of a good figure of dragons than is what is traditional, I guess,” Walker said after the school assembly.

Among her creations is a Rosethorn Dragon, which “are among the more cheerful of species. They enjoy roses, true to their name and appearance. They frolic about their lush, forest homes” among towering trees and thick undergrowth, she wrote.

The Doldrum Dragon is Walker’s favorite. “Their color has to do with the oceans, since they live near them,” she said.

The dragons live in an area “near the equator also entitled as the ‘doldrums,’” she wrote. The dragons are “quite sluggish, lazy and fairly tranquil. An ocean-dweller at heart, these dragons roam the warm waters of the sea and bask in the sun of beaches where they are known to nap,” she wrote.

Eighth-grader Lily Starkey, 13, wrote about the “true story of Cinderella,” a reversal of the original story. This was written through the eyes of the step-mother, with Cinderella revealed as the true “evil” character, she said.

“I am the step-mother you call evil. I guess I would believe the story too if it was told for years and years and years,” she wrote.

“Basically, it was not the step-mother forcing Cinderella to do all the house work, and how Cinderella lies and tries to get away with stuff to go to the ball,” Starkey said.

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or