08/07/11 — Rose Raper: Taking her place, always right by his side

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Rose Raper: Taking her place, always right by his side

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 7, 2011 12:24 AM

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Rose Raper sits in front of a portrait of her husband, Dr. W. Burkette Raper.

MOUNT OLIVE -- "I feel like half of me is gone," Rose Raper said softy Saturday morning as she reflected on the passing this week of her husband of almost 60 years, Dr. Burkette Raper.

"But let's talk about him."

Raper, 83, who died of cancer early Monday morning, was an icon in the community, having served more than 50 years with Mount Olive College, including 40 as president. Close to 2,000 people paid tribute to Raper during services at the college this past week.

"He would say (of the crowd), 'I did not do this by myself, you give the credit to the people who have helped support this school,'" Mrs. Raper said. "Our church people have been undivided in making this college a success. Even though he was the leader, he had tremendous backing.'

Those people were a part of his family's life, said their son, Burke Raper.

"We began work here in 1954 with very little to go on, but he knew it could be a success if we worked," Mrs. Raper said. "That first year we continued to live in the Arbor community near Snow Hill. We had two little girls, Olivia and Kristie. There was a lady here in Mount Olive, who was Blanche Hargrove, who was secretary for him. When the work became really more than she could do in a day's time, the people would help me with the children and I would come and work in the office. I dealt with the bookkeeping and typing that first year and ever since.

"What my place was in this was to assist him in any way that I could. Sometimes it was to fill in when there were vacancies at the office until he could get someone. Most of the time it was to be with our children, take of the family, because he was at the college."

The children often said that, "Daddy has a college. Mama has family," she said.

But Raper was still very much involved with and committed to his family, Mrs. Raper said.

One daughter, Elizabeth, once wrote that "Daddy's idea of a Sunday afternoon drive was to leave home, drive to the cornfield that is now the college, ride up and down and say, 'Now this is going to be... .'"

The college was her husband's dream, Mrs. Raper agreed.

"He was very committed to the (Original Free Will Baptist) denomination, and his desire was for every person to be able to attend college or high school or whatever they needed to better themselves in order to be better citizens of our country," she said.

In the process of creating the college, Raper touched many lives -- a fact Mrs. Raper realized clearly when so many people offered their condolences to her and the Raper family.

"I have been most grateful for the outpouring of peoples' compassion and wanting to help us," Mrs. Raper said. "It has really been more than anyone could expect and I am deeply grateful. I just had no idea that so many people would take the time to come and visit with us, send their greeting and the love that has been expressed for him."

One of the people who has been by the family's side through Raper's illness was Jo Morgan, who stepped up and was there to help care for the former Mount Olive College president.

It is just something that the family will never forget, Mrs. Raper said -- that and the support at Wayne Memorial Hospital and from Mount Olive College.

"He made that difference in so many people's lives," Burke Raper said. "They were not just students, they were really his, I guess you could say, friends. He spoke to everyone. He knew everybody on campus at one time. He had a real interest in everybody."

Raper, who liked to walk, often spoke to high school students he saw on their way to class.

"He'd come back and say, 'I met this boy this morning who was dragging himself to school so I turned around and walked with him a short distance and tried to encourage him of what might be ahead if he could be excited about it,'" Mrs. Raper said.

Caring about others was a key component to Raper's faith, and his work through Mount Olive College a special part of that mission, his wife said.

"He believed in a commitment to Jesus Christ. He thought everybody deserved the opportunity to burgeon forth. He wanted success for everyone that he knew. (Work at the college) was very difficult at times because it required 24/7 of him, but he was very considerate of family even so," she said. "We just became a part of it. We didn't look at it as a difficulty. We just became a part of that commitment to make it work."

Burke Raper said his father had help over the years, but that his specialty was greeting people one-on-one.

He never owned a computer, a smart phone or any other technological aid.

"The man never owned a computer, he never knew how to e-mail, he never had a smart phone -- he had a legal pad," he said. "I look at that campus and think without a computer, without a smart phone, he did it on a person-to-person basis."

Mrs. Raper remembers the early days when the family car was Raper's office.

David W. Hansley, who was chairman of the college's board of trustees, would visit and he and Raper would drive out to the cornfield where the college would be built.

"When we first came down to work we had no facilities," she said. "Burkette and Mr. Hansley would sit in the car under one of those oak trees to make plans for the college. That was his office. That was all we had. Burkette interviewed the original faculty members in his car."

Even during his sickness Raper still tried to work.

"The college and foundation, he was concerned about those up until his last day," his son said. "He talked about them, helped us make plans. When he could no longer write well, one of us had to have the legal pad. He was still thinking, still putting things together."

"He talked about his work up until the end. In fact I put this recliner in here because he liked to visit with people, but he needed his feet up. So I moved some chairs and put a recliner in here so that we could make him comfortable, but yet (allow him to) visit with the people who came to see him and talk about his aspirations for the future."

Burke Raper said his mother, just as she always had, remained by his father's side during the past several months.

"During his illness, he depended on me and I am glad I could be helpful," she said.

It was a love story up until the very end, Burke Raper added.

"If she wasn't there and it was one of us (children) he would say, 'Where is Mama?' and he was fine as long as he knew that she was here," he said.