Fred Rapp, known for his enduring devotion to his family, his community and his Christian faith, died of cancer Wednesday, March 1, 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.
He 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.
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.
“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.
He was a committed Republican and could be counted on to work for Republican candidates. He was active in the local party and often wrote letters to the editor. He ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner in 1996. That just “proves I’m not a politician,” he said.
In 1993, Rapp founded Elma’s Wild Blackberry Festival, held each September for five years, his wife Shirley 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, an organization for Christian business and professional men and their wives. 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.
He “also had a very dear heart for what we call our Faith Fund,” said Al Mayberry, chaplain of the local “camp.”
Mayberry also noted that Fred and Shirley Rapp, “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.”
Rapp was born in Nampa, Idaho, in 1931. He earned a business administration degree in 1953 from Northwest Nazarene College (now University) in Nampa.
Drafted then into the Army, he served until 1955, primarily on an Air Force base near Spokane, meeting his future wife there, who was a student nurse.
He worked for Safeco Insurance in Seattle until 1962, when the 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.
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.”
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.
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.