In loving memory
By From staff reports
Published in News on August 4, 2011 1:46 PM
News-Argus/MICHAEL K. DAKOTA
Burke Raper and Birtie Sanders share a hug during calling hours for Dr. Burkette Raper at Rodgers Chapel on the campus of Mount Olive College Wednesday.
Rhonda Bryant fills out a memorial card for the Raper family during visitation for Dr. Raper at Mount Olive College. Ms. Bryant worked with him at the college.
MOUNT OLIVE -- Hundreds of people visited Rodgers Chapel at Mount Olive College Wednesday to pay their last respects to Dr. Burkette Raper, the school's president emeritus, who died Monday at age 83.
Former students, teachers and members of Free Will Baptist churches from across the region passed through the chapel to say goodbye to the man who was the face of the college for decades.
Raper's body lay in state from noon until 4 p.m. Wednesday, with the family receiving visitors from 4 until 7 p.m.
His funeral was to be held today at 11 a.m. in Kornegay Arena on campus, with nearly 3,000 people expected to attend. The burial was to be in Friendship Original Free Will Baptist Church Cemetery near Trenton.
With hundreds of people taking time Wednesday to pay their respects, Raper was remembered as a caring leader and a man of absolute integrity.
Dr. Hervy Kornegay, a former member of the college's board of directors, said he got to know Raper well over the years and had a great deal of respect for him.
"I just know that he was a tower of a man," Kornegay said. "His service to the college and to this community was just outstanding. He was a great man, and he will be missed."
Even after he stepped down as president of Mount Olive College after an unprecedented 50-year tenure, his presence was still strongly felt.
"On the day I was inaugurated we had a luncheon, and I said to the group there, 'Can anyone in this room remember the (basketball) coach who succeeded John Wooden at UCLA? I feel that way today,'" said Dr. Bill Byrd, who followed Raper as college president. "I can, along with everyone else, see the legacy he left for us."
And not only in the college, Byrd added, but also in the denomination that Raper had dedicated his life to.
"He was working on that almost right up until his last day," he said.
Doris Ellis of Mount Olive recalled Raper's frequent visits to her church, Northeast Free Will Baptist, and his closeness with her brother-in-law Ted Garner.
"They conferred on everything," she said. "Mr. Raper would go out to their house and sit and visit."
Mrs. Ellis' older sister, Margaret Wall of Goldsboro, also had ties to the college, she said.
"She'll be 90 her next birthday -- she was one of the first that came down here and enrolled," she said. "There weren't but five or six students at the time."
Dustin Keipper, graphic designer at the college since 2005 and before that a student, most recently had worked across the hall from the former administrator.
"He wasn't my boss while he was here but there were things that he asked me to do on occasion for his foundation, small things," he said. "I really enjoyed working with him, having him across the hall, seeing him come down the hall every day. He was a good man."
In addition to his leadership at the college and in the Free Will Baptist denomination, Keipper also recalled Raper's quick wit.
"Just his laugh, because you always remember his laugh," he said. "He liked to tell you jokes. As soon as he finished telling it, he always laughed. It was so funny."
Raper's son Burke agreed.
"He loved a good joke, but he was always serious," he said. "Whenever he had a joke, he was intent on it."
The former college administrator had another special gift, Keipper said.
"When Dr. Raper spoke to you, he spoke to you like you were the only person on Earth," he said. "He acted like nothing else mattered but you at that moment."
"And he was like that with his children," Burke replied, adding, "He was a good dad. He loved his children, and we loved him.
"It's a real loss to us all."