Jean Elizabeth Willick Raper, 94, died Monday, July 8, 2019, in Richmond.
Jeanie, as she was affectionately called, was the rock of her family, which included five children, seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She was the devoted wife of the Rev. James C. Raper Sr. (J.C.), a Southern Baptist minister who pastored churches in Patrick County, Danville and South Boston as well as Youngsville, North Carolina. J.C. preceded her in death by two months.
They were married 72 years.
Jeanie was born in Owendale, Michigan, one of five children whose mother died when she was in grade school. She attended Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where she met her husband.
Transplanted from the north, she cherished summer vacation trips to visit her sisters and brother in Michigan, and later, to extended family reunions in various locations.
She took seriously her duties as a pastor’s wife, keeping the door open to anyone who needed help or an encouraging word. During her 30 years in Danville, she assisted J.C. at Calvary, Hillcrest and Stokesland churches.
She served as president of the Pittsylvania County Association of the Women’s Missionary Union, founded a popular church kindergarten and served on many church committees.
Accomplished in the kitchen, she learned to make from scratch buttermilk biscuits to rival the best southern cooks. She delighted her family with her famous banana-nut bread, gift boxes of her Christmas cookies as well as cakes in flavors of orange cream, German chocolate and carrot.
In spite of a hip problem discovered when she was a teen, she sometimes took a break from household chores to join her children on the backyard baseball field. She would say, “Let me show you how to do it,” and whack the ball with surprising vigor, her apron flying.
Always thrifty and an accomplished seamstress, she made her children clothes, costumes and beautiful quilts. She encouraged them to pick wild blackberries and taught them how to tend a garden.
And when a parishioner gave the family a pig that they named Cindy and considered a pet, she taught them the real-life meaning of farm-to-table. Cindy matured and was transformed into roasts, sausage and bacon.
When J.C. and Jeanie retired to a mountain house near Patrick Springs, Jeanie created a beautiful garden full of flowers, her pride and joy.
Later, when they moved to houses in South Boston and then Richmond, she enjoyed landscaping those yards, too. At age 91, she could still bend from the waist to pull weeds, pushing her walker or cane to the side against everyone’s advice. Even as she became more physically fragile, she managed to keep a clean and neat home, making her bed daily and restacking pots and pans that her caregivers had put up haphazardly.
Jeanie is survived by sons Jim (Deborah), Mark (Martha) and Brent; and daughters Melanie Sterling (Arden) and Elizabeth. Grandchildren are Dan (Mary) and Ben Raper, Aliza and Jesse Sterling (Marshall Senterfitt), Carter Raper (Andrew Gottlieb), Stuart Nuckols (Joey) and Lucy Raper. Great-grandchildren are Jake and Zoë Raper, Eisa and Oliver Senterfitt, Jack and Tommy Gottlieb and Lena Nuckols. All live in Virginia except Ben (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) and the Sterling-Senterfitts (Boston, Massachusetts). She also is survived by two sisters, Phyllis Thomas (Oak Ridge, Tennessee) and Kathleen Helm (Indianapolis, Indiana); a sister-in-law, Dorothy Willick (Rochester Hills, Michigan); and many nieces and nephews.
Her older siblings, Virginia Farrand and Vernon Willick, both of Michigan, preceded her in death.
The family would like to thank members of the staff at Westport Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Richmond, who gave Jeanie loving care.
A graveside service to honor her life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at Bethlehem Baptist Church Cemetery, 9600 Midlothian Turnpike, North Chesterfield.
Flowers or donations may be sent to the church.