FORT SMITH – It would not have surprised anyone to learn that Rosemary and Gene Rapley passed away within six weeks of each other; after 65 years of marriage, even when their infirmities separated them, the two were one.
More surprising to many might be the extent of the quiet charitable giving to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith that the Rapleys undertook during their lives. They made steady gifts over four decades, with a recent bequest of $50,000 to the Gene and Rosemary Rapley Scholarship Endowment. Income from the endowment funds provides scholarships for full-time students.
Even their daughter Nancy Fagan was surprised when she learned they’d given $175,000 to the university over the years. She was surprised, but not shocked.
“I wasn’t aware of the total they gave, but I think it’s great,” she said. “Dad was just so proud of the university.”
Gene Rapley grew up in Fort Smith. He met his bride-to-be when both were attending the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, according to their son Gil Rapley in his eulogy of his parents.
Rosemary Meriwether was from Paragould, Ark., but her father, Capt. Bill Meriwether, was stationed at Fort Chaffee. So when Gene offered rides to Fort Smith for the Thanksgiving holiday, Rosemary went along for the ride. The rest was history.
Both Gil Rapley and Fagan say their parents complemented each other. Rosemary was a reflection of her family and was more spontaneous and fun-loving. Gene, Gil said, was a true gentleman who never raised his voice, never complained, and was devoted to his church and community. Gil calls his dad’s sense of humor quirky.
Gene Rapley became involved in Westark Community College when he served on the board of trustees for 14 years; he was president of the board in 1977.
When asked to explain her parents’ gifts, Nancy Fagan said gratitude was a tenet of her dad’s life.
“My dad was adopted,” she explained. “He was so grateful to his parents, Ruth and Juba Rapley, who adopted him. He felt he was just so fortunate. You never know how your life is going to turn out, but his life could have been completely different. He was always aware of that.”
People who couldn’t afford a college education held a special place in his heart, she said. “He wanted other young people to have the advantages he’d been lucky enough to have.”
“My dad was proud of all things Fort Smith,” Fagan said. “He was especially proud of Westark and UAFS. When we would come home for visits, he would always take us out to show us the new things in town. We used to call them ‘captive car rides.’ He’d take us out ostensibly to see one thing, and we would finally get back to the house three hours later. He was just so proud of Fort Smith!”