- Cullman, Alabama

April 10, 2013

Teacher begins second career as small business owner

By Tiffany Green-Oldace
The Cullman Times

— Recently Donna Heptinstall began a second career, one that she knew she always wanted, starting her own small business.

Donna moved from the big city of Birmingham to the small town of Hanceville as a young child. She is the daughter of D.L. and Margre Blackwood. Her dad, the owner of Blackwood Construction, and her mom, a homemaker, were loving parents who were always involved in their children’s lives. Growing up, Donna’s mom would make most of her and her three siblings clothing, so naturally she learned to sew and became rather good at it. She always knew her love for sewing would turn into something more.

 Donna graduated from J.B. Pennington High School and continued her education by moving on to St. Bernard College. After one year there, she attended a year at the University of Alabama and eventually ended up at Jacksonville State, where she graduated with a math degree. Her parents had recently moved there with her dad’s construction business, and wanted to be home to finish college.

While in college she met Eddie Heptinstall, who was just in town visiting a friend. The two began dating and eventually married, soon after Donna’s college graduation in 1977.

The couple soon moved to Panama City, Fla., where Donna quickly found work teaching. After teaching for three-and-a-half years, Donna and Eddie welcomed their first child, David.

“I went back to work for six months, but knew I wanted to stay home with David.”

The Heptinstalls had no family in Florida, so they began praying for wisdom on their next move.

“We put our house up for sale and it sold in just two weeks. We knew we should move back home.”

The family made their way back to Cullman, where both sets of parents were now living. Eddie began working for Donna’s dad’s construction business and Donna continued to be a stay-at-home-mom, as well as bookkeeper for Blackwood Construction.

The Heptinstalls welcomed daughter, Lacy, in 1986. Donna was a very involved mom; she was in the school’s PTO, always at the kids’ events and started coaching cheerleading when Lacy was just three years old.

In 1989, the Bearcats cheerleading squad was looking for a leader and they found that leader in Donna. She would continue to coach Lacy all the way through high school.

In 1998, when David was a senior at Cullman High School, Donna got a job there as a math teacher.

“I was also asked to be the cheer sponsor. I started in 1998 and loved it.”

The girls at CHS had much success under Donna’s leadership. They won four state championships in a row and went to the national competition where they landed in the top 10 twice.

She was able to coach her daughter as well, which proved to be difficult at times.

“I think it was always hard for Lacy because I would always hold her to a higher standard.”

But she never regretted once the job as cheer coach.

“It was just really special. I struggled with it trying not to show favoritism.”

In May 2010, Donna stepped down as cheer sponsor, but remains at the school as a math teacher.

“I had family demands and it was just time to quit.”

Her family was requiring more of her time. Her husband was having health issues as well as her parents and Eddie’s parents.

“I don’t think God is finished with me. I enjoy teaching. The kids keep me young. They keep me up on what’s cool.”

The Heptinstall family was also growing. In October 2011, David and his wife welcomed their adopted sons Aiden and Asher, who are from Russia. They are now almost three and keep the new grandma busy.

The newest adventure Donna had gone right into has been the family’s new store, From The Heart Monogramming and Gifts. They opened in June 2011, right as the town was recovering from a devastating tornado. Since learning to sew all those years ago, Donna had always thought about owning her own business. Her dreams were turning into reality.

“Years ago, me and Lacy would talk about it and when we would drive around town we would talk about where our store would be.”

A few years ago, Donna bought a new monogramming machine and began making gifts for family and friends.

“All my friends would tell me to open a store.”

The need was there and the Heptinstalls were willing to fill that need. The next step was finding the right location. They found a building to rent, but before they signed the contract, the old Shell Station on Highway 31, right in the middle of town, came up for sale.

“I had bought gas here before and even gotten a muffler for my car here. I never dreamed I would have a store here,” Donna recalled. “We just asked the Lord to shut the door on us if we weren’t meant to open it. It seems like we were just pushed through it so we knew we were supposed to open.”

Lacy serves as the store manager. She recently gave birth to the first granddaughter, Brooklyn. Donna is so happy that Lacy is able to keep Brooklyn at the store.

“Brooklyn is our youngest employee.”

They turned the office area into a baby room/playroom for all the grandchildren.

“I got to have my kids with me when they were growing up so I’m so glad Lacy can do the same.”

Donna has learned so much about running a business. She is continuously adding to the merchandise. With her husband’s help, they are now running a successful small business.

“Since Eddie’s not able to work full time anymore, he has learned a lot and helps a lot with the business.”

From The Heart offers monogramming on clothing items as well as on an assortment of gift items. They have a few brands that are not found anywhere else in Cullman. They offer gifts from Happy Everything, Lily Pulitzer, Baggallini, Amy Butler, Mirage Jewelry Collection, Initial Reaction and many others. The newest ventures are custom napkin imprinting, invitations and promotional items. They carry gifts for everyone, from a baby shower gifts to a child’s birthday gift to a one and only monogrammed item.

“People will ask if we have something and if we don’t we will try our best to carry it.”

Opening at a financially unstable time for the economy definitely worried Donna.

“At first you just don’t know if you are doing good. But business keeps getting better and better.”

Social media is the newest tool Donna and Lacy are using to promote the gift shop. With giveaways and promotions, Facebook has been a great way From The Heart is making its presence known in Cullman.

Although she stays busy and often stressed, Donna said she wouldn’t change a thing.

“Sometimes we struggle with balancing time, but we enjoy it, so it’s OK.”

Cullman has really embraced the store.

“I feel so blessed to be able to teach and to do something else that I love. Each career is so different. I have that need to teach and then I have that crafty side.”

The Heptinstalls hope to have the store for many years to come.

“This is something we can do into retirement. We are so thankful Cullman has welcomed us. If it wasn’t for the customers’ support, we wouldn’t be here.”