The Legacy of Ira and Sue Rapson

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A supply sergeant returned from World War II and studied economics at the University of Michigan. The son of a Detroit businessman, he felt called to teach. While still in school, he met his wife, who graduated from Wheaton College with a commitment to Christian work. She directed Christian education at Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit after working as a journalist. Ira and Sue Rapson met in Detroit and married in 1950, beginning a partnership in life and in ministry.

After earning baccalaureate and master’s degrees, Ira taught at Wheaton. “He always wanted to be a teacher,” Sue recalled in a 2008 interview with Professor Emeritus John Sider. “He had all of his education in big universities, so he wanted to have a ministry and teach in small Christian colleges. He did think about the pastorate, but teaching was a bigger calling, and I think it was more appropriate for his personality. We were house parents of a dormitory at Wheaton. It was a wild, wild time.”

The couple left Wheaton so Ira could complete a doctorate in economics at the University of Wisconsin, and he joined the faculty at Augustana College for six years. “Then he came to Westmont, and he never wanted to go anywhere else,” Sue said.

“He was much more intellectual than I am,” she recalled. “But we enjoyed a lot of the same things. We had a lot of the same goals and commitments right from the beginning of our courtship. He was always a big student, and he worked very hard. He kept on learning. After he finished his doctorate, we went to many post-graduate programs in the summertime. He was always learning and always wanting to learn. He wanted his students to have the best of everything and to go into the world highly trained but with a solid Christian foundation.”

Ira had contacted President Roger Voskuyl about a position at Westmont, and Voskuyl hired him to build the economics and business department.“I didn’t want to come at all,” Sue said. “We left our family and our friends behind—we were kind of established—but Ira felt this was where God was leading him.”

Sue joined the wives group. “We used to have Thanksgiving dinners together because we were just a small group and so many of us were so far away from family. Trudy Voskuyl would come and help us get everything set up, work with us, run home and get all dressed up to come as the president’s wife. We were small enough that we bonded together for things. The leaders and staff were committed to Christian higher education, and that’s one of the reasons that Ira came and stayed. He felt God living here. I think most people who came felt that same way. They just dug in here and worked.”

When Ira was 47, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and he went on total disability seven years later when he lost his voice completely. He died in 1993 at the age of 68.

“Ira was behind Westmont from the day he came until the day he died,” Sue said. “He came here to do a job, and he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. He loved this school, he loved his students. Ira gave every bit of his strength and energy. He was there for his students when they needed him. He tutored them. He worked with those who had trouble, and they could call him at any time.” To honor Ira, his former students contributed to the Ira Rapson Student Loan Fund, which assists economics and business students with financial need.

Sue cared for their four children (John ’76, Debra, David ’78, James ’79), taught school and did program administration. She was a member of Calvary Baptist Church for nearly 50 years and supported mission work and higher education. She died Nov. 3, 2013, at 90. A charter member of the Wallace Emerson Society, she avidly supported Westmont despite her initial reluctance to come. “We felt such support from the college,” she said. “It was important to us to support things of the college.”

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