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Members of Debra Mendenhall’s family show off her plaque at Homestead Elementary. Family members are Denise Martin, Amanda Mendenhall, Lucas Edmonds, Ethan Winningham, Emily Jenkins, Ellen Mendenhall, Donna Mendenhall, Maggie Bacon and Chris Bacon.

Homestead Elementary honored the memory of Debra Mendenhall and her family by dedicating the art room to her and hosting a ceremony for this celebration. She passed away in October 2018. It was a bittersweet dedication, but the plaque that will hang on the wall inside of the art room will forever remind students and faculty of the legacy she left behind. 

Debra Mendenhall taught art at Homestead Elementary School for only three years, but in that time, she started an art club, founded PAART (the Performing Arts Alliance of Rural Tennessee) and brought art into many students lives. The mission of PAART was to “make readily available and affordable to the citizens of our community in rural Tennessee, and extensive array of performing artists in order to enrich, educate and entertain while providing performance opportunities and support to talented performing artists.” This mission reflects Mendenhall’s personal dream to bring the arts to as many people as possible in the community. 

Her family was present at the dedication and all members were introduced. Faculty members and friends of Mendenhall spoke about their memories of her and her accomplishments. Gretchen Thurman stood with Patsy Thompson-Horst and shared her memories of Mendenhall’s kindness and character. Horst read quotes from students of Homestead about Mendenhall. The children’s quotes reflected how caring and kind she was, and how much their lives were impacted by her. Here are just a few quotes from her students at Homestead. 

“Ms. Mendenhall was always happy. She was there to make your day bright. She made sure that you like what you did in her class. She loved her classes and every single person. She always had a smile on her face and always made the day better when someone was sad. She would always cheer them up.”

“She was amazing. I will always love art because of her.”

“I loved when Ms. Mendenhall would always have a big smile on her face when she walked into her room. She could make you laugh about the smallest things. She had the biggest heart. Homestead was lucky to have her.” 

Terry Ashburn spoke after the family was introduced and told the story of how she decided to go back to school so she could become an art teacher. He also recalled when she started PAART and how much it benefited the community. Ashburn admired her drive to help others and her love for the arts. 

After he spoke, Thurman asked students who had been in Mendenhall’s art club to stand with her on the gym floor, while Director of Schools Janet Graham gave the plaque to the family and formally dedicated the art room to Mendenhall. 

A teacher from Homestead said, “Once a Bulldog, Always a Bulldog! Debra was a special gift that God put in our lives. We will forever cherish the time we had with her. She was an artwork within herself, a beautiful masterpiece.”

Remembering Debra Mendenhall brought back happy memories of her life as her family and colleagues celebrated her achievements.