08/02/04 — Raper: He certainly kept the weeds down

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Raper: He certainly kept the weeds down

Dr. Burkette Raper has announced his plans to retire in November. He has devoted 50 of his 77 years to Mount Olive College, most that time as its president. For the last nine years he has served as director of planned giving.

Virtually everyone agrees that had it not been for Burkette Raper’s vision, leadership and unstinting efforts, Mount Olive College as we know it today would not exist.

In 1954, the Free Will Baptists borrowed $25,000 and bought a school building long-abandoned by the Wayne County Board of Education. The building was rundown, and the surrounding “campus” was grown up in weeds.

In that setting and with less than $5 in its “education fund,” the denomination’s leaders announced that this would become its college. Cynics speculated that they would see, at best, a run-of-the-mill Bible school. “At least they’ll keep the weeds down,” suggested one skeptic.

But the naysayers did not know Burkette Raper.

“If we can provide a quality education program, the buildings will come,” he told a visiting newspaperman as they toured the old structure with its sagging ceilings and cracked plaster walls and warped floors.

In that same building, the visitor also found top quality laboratory equipment and enthusiastic professors making financial sacrifices to be a part of the great vision that would become the institution we see today.

In the minimum time possible, Mount Olive College became fully accredited.

And, as Burkette Raper envisioned, the bricks and more came. The old school buildings subsequently was again abandoned as the college moved to the campus that now graces the U.S. 117 Bypass.

While Christian education and values have always been important parts of the institution, Mount Olive is a liberal arts four-year school that has attracted students from around the world.

Many speculated that if ever the college lost Burkette Raper, it would wither on the vine. But the foundation laid by Raper, the Free Will Baptists and supporters throughout the community and across the country is rock solid. When Raper stepped down as president almost 10 years ago, Dr. William Byrd stepped in, and the pace of Mount Olive College never skipped a beat.

Raper, in his “farewell message” to the college, was quick to remind us that he is “not retiring from life or my calling.” He plans to spend more time with his family and do some writing.

In the institution that is Mount Olive College, Burkette Raper already has written one of the truly great stories in our state and nation. Nowhere else has an institution come so far from such humble beginnings.

Published in Editorials on August 2, 2004 11:35 AM