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Rose M. Raper Named UMO First Lady Emerita

Rose-First Lady 1

MOUNT OLIVE—It was an evening for celebrating Mrs. Rose M. Raper, First Lady of Mount Olive College (MOC), now the University of Mount Olive (UMO) from 1954–1995. With 41 years of stalwart service by the side of her late husband, Dr. W. Burkette Raper, Mrs. Raper still holds the title of longest-serving University of Mount Olive First Lady.

Mrs. Raper’s faithfulness was recognized on Tuesday evening, May 21, as more than 200 family and guests gathered to celebrate her. The timing of the banquet coincided with the annual Original Free Will Baptist (OFWB) Convention. The highlight of the evening occurred when UMO President Dr. H. Edward Croom announced that the UMO Board of Trustees had voted to bestow her with the designation of First Lady Emerita, the first honor of its kind to any UMO presidential spouse.

Croom said, “Mrs. Rose’s everlasting mark is evidenced all over campus. From the oak trees, many of which she planted, to the buildings, which are here partially because she helped work to raise funds or supported her husband while he was out building a financial plan for the University, Mrs. Rose’s legacy will exist on this campus forever. It is an honor to bestow the title of First Lady Emerita to her.”

Dr. Alan Lamm, a 1997 MOC alumnus and current UMO History Professor, provided an overview of Mrs. Raper’s life. He spoke of her being an intelligent and educated woman in her own right, having graduated as valedictorian from Trenton High School in June 1947 and from East Carolina Teacher’s College, now called East Carolina University, with a bachelor’s degree in business education in May of 1951.

Lamm told of Mrs. Raper’s early days as First Lady of Mount Olive College, often sweeping floors, cleaning bathrooms, or whatever else might have been needed at the time. “She helped young married couples find apartments and houses to rent when they came to Mount Olive to study,” Lamm shared. “She also helped students in need by locating food, clothes, or employment. She often invited students and others to her home for a meal, and when those rare wintery flakes fell, Mrs. Rose made homemade snow cream and took it to the students studying in the Henderson building.”

Lamm shared Mrs. Raper’s response to all of those acts of service, “When you are the President’s wife, you do many things the President can’t get to.” Lamm recalled Dr. Raper’s long 10–14 hour workdays, which meant Mrs. Raper handled most of the responsibilities of raising a family and keeping up their home. “People often joked that Rose had a family, and Burkette had a college,” Lamm shared. “But Mrs. Raper is always quick to note that Dr. Raper was a loving husband and father.” Lamm pointed out that Mrs. Raper was an outstanding helpmate to President Raper, often serving as his driver so that he could work or rest on his way to or from various engagements or meetings. “Dr. Raper loved to stay and talk with people for a long time,” Lamm said.

“Sometimes Mrs. Raper would finally have to privately say to him, ‘That’s enough, Burkette. It’s time to go home. The babysitter is waiting.’” The crowd erupted in laughter.

In the early years of the college, Mrs. Raper put her degree to work, serving as her husband’s secretary and other campus duties. “Once, she even had to fill in as a cafeteria cook when the staff failed to show,” Lamm shared. “Mrs. Rose was a strong supporter of her husband and the college.”

Dr. Nido Quebin, President of High Point University and a 1968 graduate of Mount Olive College, delivered a video message to Mrs. Raper. He spoke of fond memories traveling with the Rapers to various OFWB churches and visiting with them in their home. He said, “Mrs. Rose, you gave this place your life, your talent, your resources, your energy, and your time. I salute you on this day, as I thank you for the example that you set for us. May God bless you always, for you have blessed so many for so long.”

The Reverend Gary Bailey, Director of Convention Services for the Convention of OFWB, and Mrs. Raper’s son-in-law, spoke of her role not only at the University but also as the matriarch of the family. Bailey shared the story of how the couple met. He noted that the Rapers were married on August 19, 1951, and went on to have six children, Olivia, Kristie, Burke, Elizabeth, Stephen, and Laura, all of whom graduated from Mount Olive College.

“It is impossible to make a list of all the things Mrs. Rose did to support Dr. Raper as he guided the growth of the College,” Bailey said. “She was his confidant, his counselor, his secretary, his driver, his cook, his laundry attendant, and his First Lady. And on every occasion when a First Lady was needed, she was always there looking like she had spent the entire day preparing herself.”

Bailey recalled the year Bette Midler released the song, Wind Beneath My Wings. “Whenever Kristie and I heard it, I told her that it reminded me of her mother.” Bailey went on to recall some of the more poignant words of the song, those of being in the shadows, the one walking a step behind, yet the one who was the strength and the hero. “To this day, I get teary-eyed when I hear that song because I always think of Mrs. Rose,” he said. “Whether behind a typewriter hidden away in a small office typing Dr. Raper’s letters or in the halls and meeting rooms of places like the nation’s Capital standing by his side looking like a million dollars, or driving him home after those meetings while he slept, Mrs. Rose always did her best.”

Bailey shared that Mrs. Raper was once asked how she knew how to do everything so well. He said that she answered. “I just loved everybody. When we went to a church, I loved everybody in the church. And when we came to Mount Olive, I tried to love everybody who was a part of the College community.”

“I cannot think of anything better for which to be remembered,” Bailey concluded. “She just loves everybody.”

In response, the 94-year-old Mrs. Raper thanked everyone for coming. She said, “I just can’t believe this is all for me. I thank the Lord for the strength I have. I thank Him for all of you. Thank you for tonight. It is a wonderful memory for me!”

Rhonda Jessup, Director of Public Relations

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Glenda Phillips
Glenda Phillips
6 days ago

That is as it should be

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