Fred Rapp, known for his enduring devotion to his family, his community and his Christian faith, died of cancer Wednesday, March 1, 2017, at his Elma home.
A gentleman, and a gentle man, Rapp, 85, viewed life through a filter of humor, ever ready to share a smile or witty story with whomever crossed his path. And since he relished being out and about, countless folks from all over Grays Harbor County, and beyond, are feeling keenly the loss of a beloved friend.
Rapp was “very outgoing,” said Al Mayberry of Elma. “He (had) his finger in everything.”
“Everything” included numerous service clubs, chambers of commerce, churches, Gideons International and more, such as helping attract the Ventron chemical plant to Elma and initiating Salvation Army bell ringers collecting donations at the local grocery store at Christmastime.
“I remember seeing him out there in front of Everybody’s, ringing the bell,” said Gloria Stevens of Elma, adding Rapp “always remembered everybody’s name, always knew you, always spoke to you by name.”
Service groups he belonged to included East Grays Harbor Rotary Centennial, which raises funds for special causes, and the now defunct Elma-McCleary Lions.
“We called him the Energizer Bunny,” said his fellow Rotarian, Larry Scrivner of Montesano, noting that Rapp, as a Rotary member, presented the idea to the Salvation Army of having bell ringers in Elma.
“If you wanted something done, Fred was the one you could always count on to take a lead in doing so,” Scrivner said. “We’re a small club, and it is important for everyone to participate in order to be successful. He will be very hard to replace.”
The Rotarians worked almost a decade raising some $200,000 for the Children’s Advocacy Center in Montesano, chiefly from their annual Pair of Hearts Ball.
In 1993, Rapp founded Elma’s Wild Blackberry Festival, which each September for five years featured booths, square dancing, shows by the Gold Wing Road Riders motorcycle group, blackberry jam and more for sale and a “huge blackberry cobbler,” his wife recalled.
It was an enormous undertaking, though, which Rapp had hoped the city would take on, she said. But when that didn’t happen, the festival folded.
For nearly 50 years, Rapp belonged to Gideon’s International, Christian business and professional men and their wives who help lead others to Christ. They also provide Bibles and New Testaments in nearly 100 languages to police, firefighters, medical and military personnel, students and prisoners, also placing them in hotel and motel rooms, hospitals, convalescent centers and other locations.
Rapp often spoke at churches around the county, telling fellow Christians about the Gideon mission and inviting them to help.
He “also had a very dear heart for what we call our Faith Fund,” said Al Mayberry, chaplain of the local “camp.” Gideons give out of their own pockets to that fund, 100 percent of which goes “to buy Scriptures for (people in) countries that can’t afford to buy them,” he said.
Mayberry also noted that Rapp and his wife, Shirley, “did a lot of different things in the community that don’t necessarily have to do with the Gideons, just out of the goodness of their hearts, and for young children.”
WHERE IT BEGAN
Sidney Fred Rapp was born July 15, 1931, in Nampa, Idaho, to Leonard and Mary (Pentecost) Rapp,
the youngest of seven children. As a high school senior, he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior, setting a course he would travel the rest of his life. He later said God changed him from “a young man without purpose to a Christian Eternal Optimist.”
After graduating from Nampa High School in 1949, he earned a business administration degree in 1953 from Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in Nampa.
Drafted then into the Army, Rapp served until 1955, primarily on an Air Force base near Spokane. He joked his “overseas duty was in Spokane.” As a soldier, he also taught boys’ Sunday School classes.
With three area hospitals training nurses, there were many student nurses there, as well, said his wife, who was one of them. “And he dated lots of student nurses,” she said.
But it was a strawberry blonde from Medford, Ore., who ultimately captured his heart. Fred Rapp and Shirley Sullivan were married Oct. 7, 1955, in Medford.
In 1957, Rapp was hired by Safeco Insurance, working in Seattle until 1962, when the Rapp family moved to Aberdeen and he was Safeco’s resident adjuster for the county.
In 1966, the family, including four children, moved to Elma, when Rapp was hired by Lawrence Lucke to manage Lucke Insurance there. Eventually purchasing the business, Rapp renamed it Custom Insurance, later adding offices in Montesano, Raymond and Centralia.
He had also served as president of the Professional Insurance Agents of Washington and Alaska and earned numerous accolades, including being named Agent of the Year in 1982.
His son, Bill, noted that Rapp at one time insured more municipalities in the state than any other independent insurance agent in Washington. He also lobbied for insurance agent interests in both Olympia and Washington, D.C.
Rapp sold his business in the 1990s, but he seemed never to retire. In fact, he quipped that he’d “flunked retirement three times.” Until his recent illness, he wrote about the Elma area for a year or so for the Grays Harbor Herald, a small weekly based in Pacific County with a zoned edition in Grays Harbor, and also worked promoting a security company.
He didn’t succeed at everything he tried, such as several runs for public office, including a bid for a county commission seat in 1996. But he said that just “proves I’m not a politician” and moved on to other things.
Rapp joined a number of mostly men who’ve met for eons over coffee each weekday morning and afternoon at Elma Lanes. “It had very, very high priority in his life,” his wife said. “They were really bonded.” Discussing whatever was happening — close to home or otherwise, she said, “they settled all of the ills of the world.”
“It’s good to be able to do that for everybody,” said Brian O’Neil, tongue firmly in cheek. And “everybody there gives everybody else a bad time about anything that comes up, so there’s a lot of laughing that goes on.”
Only he and Rapp went to both klatches each day, said O’Neil. In the morning, a coin flip determines “who pays the tips, and in the afternoon, we roll dice to see who pays for everybody’s coffee,” he said, laughing about the potentially higher cost of attending the latter group.
Being so involved in his community, Rapp “kept us informed of a lot of the happenings” in the area, said Bob Lambert, part of the “morning crew — a little fat-chewing program.”
Rapp is survived by his wife at their home; three sons, John of Seattle, Bill of Nampa and Bob in Portugal; a daughter, Katy Gilberts of Seattle; a sister, Carole Stone of Mesa, Ariz., and four grandsons.
A celebration of his life is set for 11 a.m. Saturday, April 1, at the Elma High School gym. Doors will open at 10:30. A sandwich luncheon will follow in the school’s commons.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the local Gideons camp, P.O. Box 351, Aberdeen, WA, 98520, or Harbors Home Health & Hospice, 201 7th St., Hoquiam, WA 98550.