08/01/11 — Dr. Burkette Raper dies of cancer at 83

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Dr. Burkette Raper dies of cancer at 83

By Staff Reports
Published in News on August 1, 2011 1:46 PM

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Dr. Burkette Raper, retired president of Mount Olive College, pictured here in 2009, died this morning after a bout with cancer. He was 83.

MOUNT OLIVE -- Dr. W. Burkette Raper, who was instrumental in the early development and later growth of Mount Olive College, died early today at home.

He was 83.

Raper served the college for more than 50 years, more than 40 as president, from 1954 until 1995. Following his retirement, he was director of planned giving for the school, which is sponsored by the Original Free Will Baptist Church.

Raper was born in the Black Creek area, the oldest of four children of Mr. and Mrs. William Cecil Raper. His father died when he was 8, and the three oldest children were sent to live at the Free Will Baptist Orphanage, now known as the Children's Home, in Middlesex.

Raper later attended Duke University on a scholarship and earned his divinity degree. He had been pastoring a local church for several years when he was asked to take over as president of the fledgling college.

In 1954 when he came to Mount Olive College, Raper was 26, the youngest college president in the United States. When he retired in 1995, he was the longest-tenured president in the country.

At the time, the school had 22 students.

Under his guidance, the two-year college located in an abandoned grammar school building grew to a four-year college on a new 100-acre campus, with more than 2,500 student.

A new 56,000-square-foot academic building on the campus constructed several years ago was named after Raper and his wife, Rose.

Dr. Philip Kerstetter, current president of the college, expressed his sentiments over the loss.

"We're saddened by his passing," he said. "He has been such a figure at Mount Olive College and his vision and his dedication to achieving the vision -- I always find it amazing to walk around campus and see all that's here. He spent his life working on it."

Kerstetter said the void felt will be far-reaching.

"We're certainly miss him," he said. "He was still very much active at the college and with the church and with the community.

"The church, college and community have lost a great leader."

Raper was remembered this morning by former Gov. Jim Hunt as a "caring and visionary leader" who worked to make a college education more accessible to people in eastern North Carolina.

The resolution to establish Mount Olive College was passed in my home church when I was a little boy and my family has been involved in working with Dr. Raper for over 50 years in the leadership of that college," Hunt said. "My daddy was chairman of the board for 15 years.

"Dr. Burkette Raper is one of the finest men that I have ever known. He was a great North Carolina leader. Seldom has one man been responsible for the growth of a fine college over so many decades in our state's history and seldom has a college had a leader who was more committee to excellence."

The growth of Mount Olive College is a tribute to Raper's leadership, Hunt said.