11/19/06 — Mount Olive College christens building for Rapers

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Mount Olive College christens building for Rapers

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 19, 2006 2:01 AM

MOUNT OLIVE -- When the Board of Trustees of Mount Olive College decided to dedicate the largest building on campus to its first president, it signified more than a name on a building.

Christening the new structure W. Burkette and Rose M. Raper Hall represents the devotion, love and leadership of the couple, said Jean Ackiss, director of church support.

The Rapers were honored Saturday afternoon during ceremonies in the Southern Bank Auditorium of the building named in their honor. Former North Carolina Gov.James B. Hunt, Jr., gave the dedicatory address and other officials lauded the Rapers for more than 50 years of service to the college and Free Will Baptist denomination.

The nearly 500-seat auditorium was almost at capacity for the festivities, which fell in the midst of the weekend's homecoming events.

Raper Hall is one of three new buildings recently constructed on the college campus. It houses the Lois G. Britt Agribusiness Center, the Robert L. Tillman School of Business, and the Department of Science and Mathematics. In addition to the auditorium, the two-story building also features the Mount Olive Pickle Conference Center for hosting forums, training meetings and workshops.

The 46,000-square-foot space contains 11 modern classrooms, including two equipped for teaching computer classes and seven laboratories for physics, biology, environmental science and chemistry. Also included are 29 faculty offices, a student lounge and patio area.

Dr. Raper served as president of MOC for 41 years, at the time the longest tenure of any college president in the nation. He retired from the role in January 1995 and for the next decade served as president of planned giving. He is currently president of the North Carolina Foundation for Christian Ministries, affiliated with the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists.

Mrs. Ackiss, who worked with Raper for 41 years, said the couple have given unselfishly to help thousands of people.

"Both went beyond the call of duty to help those who otherwise would never have been able to get a college education," she said. "For more than 50 years, they were the transforming element in the construction of Mount Olive College."

From being housed in an abandoned elementary school to the 138-acre campus it rests on today, Mount Olive College has much to be proud of, Gov. Hunt said.

"This is a place of learning -- honest, committed learning. That's a part of how they have built Mount Olive College," he said. "Another part is the spirit here. There's something that's precious and it's the spirit, it's the caring of the students."

The Rapers believed in "real education," Hunt said, and together they built more than a college. They built people.

"Burkette and Rose Raper have shaped our future. We are a better people for what we did with Burkette and Rose, and our future is more assured because of it," Hunt said.

DeWayne Eakes, Class of 1976 and current secretary to the college's board of trustees, said the new hall is an essential element in continuing the college's mission. It also doubles the classroom space on campus, he said.

The Rev. Charles Renfrow, Class of 1977 and president of the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, said he felt the naming of the building was most appropriate because of the many years of sacrifices made by the Rapers.

"Mount Olive College is a special place in the hearts of a lot of people," he said.

William Bryan, president of Mount Olive Pickle Co., said the college has also become special to the surrounding area.

"Raper Hall is a highly visible symbol to our community ... and will serve as a foundation for the next 50-plus years of our relationship," he said. "The light that Mount Olive College and the Rapers have held aloft for all these many years has also brightened the path of our community, and our community is better for it."

Speaking for the Raper family, which boasts six children, five of whom are still living, nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, was eldest son the Rev. W. Burkette Raper Jr., Class of 1976 and organist for New Hope Baptist Church in Raleigh.

"It's with grateful hearts and a deep sense of appreciation that we humbly acknowledge this," he said, calling his mother and father honorable and deserving of the recognition.

"However, we recognize that they have not done it alone. Faculty, staff, students, Free Will Baptists and the Mount Olive community have all played a part in its history."

The honorees were not scheduled to speak during the ceremonies, but Dr. Burkette Raper has spent more than a half-century talking about Mount Olive College and rose to the occasion again Saturday afternoon.

Making light of his spontaneous leap to the stage, Raper said, "I'm not known for my brevity, but I will surprise you.

"I just can't tell you how much I appreciate and love you for all that's happened today. I'm a very fortunate person. I'm a child of the Great Depression of the 1930s, and I am indebted to the Free Will Baptist Church which founded this institution because they founded a home when we had no home."