08/07/11 — His dream was a wish his heart, faith made

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His dream was a wish his heart, faith made

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on August 7, 2011 12:24 AM

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Then-Mount Olive College President Burkette Raper talks with students on the college campus.

Dr. Burkette Raper's legacy lies with the students whose lives he changed, Mount Olive College alumni and others said last week as they mourned his loss.

Raper died Monday and his funeral was Thursday.

While paying their respects, many former students and co-workers said that without his encouragement and help, they would never have succeeded.

Sonya O'Brien, assistant professor of business at the college, was a student at Mount Olive College in the late 1970s, when it was still a two-year school.

"It's a common theme. I think people who have known him and worked with him just had the utmost respect for him as a person and as a leader," she said.

Gail Herring, now director of elementary education for the Wayne County Public Schools, graduated from Mount Olive in 1976.

"He embraced each and every one of us as students. He knew each and every one of us and was very involved in everything that was going on at the campus. ... This was our family, our home away from home," she said.

Cecil Cahoon is another graduate who said Raper changed his life.

"I probably would not have been able to attend college if not for him," Cahoon said prior to the start of Thursday's service. "We just couldn't afford it. But because we were Free Will Baptists, there was various financial aid available that would not have been available if I had gone to another institution."

Amy Sutton Pierce, Class of 1986, and Barbara Shelton, who attended the New Bern campus of the college graduating in 1996, are co-workers at Wayne Memorial Hospital.

"He was just so faithful, had such vision," Mrs. Pierce said. "He touched so many lives. He made an impact on people,  whether they were a student or not. ... They don't make them like that any more."

Jean Ackiss, director of church support for the college, worked closely with Raper for many years.

"With the passing of Dr. Raper, I feel a great sense of personal loss, yet at the same time I am most grateful for the opportunity of working with such a man for more than 40 years," she said.

Mrs. Ackiss said her life is richer because of Raper's guiding hand.

"As a green country girl from Craven County, I was privileged to work directly under Dr. Raper for 30 years," she said. "I can truthfully say that he literally helped to change my life.

"I began as his personal secretary in 1965 and as I developed and grew with the work and became more involved in the work of the president's office, Dr. Raper invited me to become director of church support, to work with the Free Will Baptist churches that established Mount Olive College and gave support to this work."

When a person needed advice, he could help them examine the situation and find the right answer. Raper was a man of vision and "Godly wisdom," she said.

"He looked for potential in people and worked diligently to help them become all they were capable of being," Mrs. Ackiss said. "He was a man of patience and determination when he wanted to be. He could wait years for someone to come to the point that they were prepared or willing to come to Mount Olive College. Yet he was determined enough to move quickly and decisively if he felt the decision warranted it. He was a hardworking and very determined man."

Mrs. Ackiss said that although Raper had high expectations of those who worked for him, he never asked more from anyone than he was willing to do himself.

"I have never known anyone who could articulate his vision any better than Dr. Raper," she said. "Almost always, when he was talking with a person about a contribution he would talk in terms of their finding fulfillment in helping others who needed an opportunity. He used the phrase many times, 'good people doing good things.' He wasn't just using words, he actually believed this in the core of his being.

"He never asked anyone to give to MOC. He invited them to give. He said it would give meaning and purpose to their lives."

MOC Board of Trustees Chairman Darrell Horne said attending Mount Olive helped him to get a good education and to become successful.

"I meet Dr. Raper in 1965 after I graduated from Charles B. Aycock High School. The first time I ever met him, I was thinking about going to college and he encouraged me to come to Mount Olive. I was the first one in my family to go to college. Based on his encouragement, I came to Mount Olive College in 1965 for two years.

"The rest is history. He is one of the nicest, kindest individuals that I have ever met. He had a passion and vision for this school. When I came here we were over in the old elementary building and while I was here we built the Henderson Building and that was the only thing on this campus. The rest of it over here was a mudhole."

Raper helped many students get a start, Horne said. At that time many of those who attended MOC came from farm backgrounds and going to college was "kind of unheard of" and not something a young person would normally aspire to.

"He felt like it was the best thing for our denomination that the young people get a college education," Horne said. "I have been a member of Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church for more than 55 years and can think of a hundred who came to Mount Olive who probably would not have gone to college without Dr. Raper's encouragement."

The Rev. Gary Bailey, pastor at Stoney Creek FWB Church, is married to Raper's daughter, Kristie. Bailey also is a former Mount Olive student, graduating in 1972. He said that few people probably realize just how much pride his father-in-law took in his last role, raising money and establishing endowments for the denomination through the Mount Olive College Foundation.

"It was probably the thing he was most proud of that he did in his career," Bailey said. "It was his last contribution to the denomination and to the Christian community and he really, up until he was 83 years old and constricted with cancer, and even on his death bed, up until the week before he died, he was working on this and gave directions and orders and ideas to make it better than it was."

Don Lassiter from Selma, former chairman of the foundation board, will take over the reins as president.

"He (Raper) was an epitome of a visionary, especially when it came to his Christian work," Lassiter said. "He was the most dedicated man I have ever seen. He worked 40 hours a week even though he was 83 years old."

Raper's early years in an orphanage helped shape his life and his goals, Lassiter said.

"His goal in life was to pay back this debt" he felt he owed, Lassiter said.

Dianne Riley, who recently retired from the college after working there 38 years, can trace back memories of Raper to her childhood.

"It's very hard for me," she said of his passing. "When I was a very young child, (he came) to my church and talked about the college. It was awesome."

She became a student there years later, knowing him as both a professor and administrator. He later approached her about a job. In 1973, she became director of admissions and spent the last 14 years as director of alumni relations.

"When he asked me to come back here to work, I never felt so special," she said. "He saw in me things that I didn't see. That's a gift that he had, that he could see in people what they could do."