Stanley, NC--On Saturday, April 21, 2012, the flexographic printing, packaging and converting community joined family, friends and local dignitaries in celebrating the life of Ronald Lee Harper. Harper, a life-long champion of education, who was well known for his philanthropic pursuits, passed away April 14. He was 79 years old. Along with Katherine, his wife and partner in all endeavors, Ron Harper created a guiding philosophy for his business and personal life: "Focus only on making a profit and we will struggle. Focus on doing the right things consistently every day for our customers, our employees and our community, and success will follow." He wrote in his book, "The Harder I Work, The Luckier I Get," that the important questions in his life were "Have I made a difference in this world? And have I had a substantial positive influence on someone's life in the course of my lifetime? I pray I have." Thousands of friends acclaim that Ron Harper made the world so much better in so many ways that will never be forgotten.
Ron Harper was known as an innovator. He was born in Oldtown, MD on Dec. 3, 1932. After high school, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 17. In 1952 at age 19, he married Katherine Hodges from Charlotte, NC. The couple raised a family of five and spent nearly 40 years of their married life working together in the printing industry. They founded their own company, Harper Corporation of America, in 1971. They made the firm the global leader in the printing roller industry and revolutionized printing quality with advanced technology. Today, it operates factories in Charlotte, NC, Wisconsin, Germany and Thailand. They helped establish flexographic printing programs in 21 high schools and 32 colleges in the U.S., Canada, Argentina and Costa Rica with similar technical training programs. Mr. Harper was passionately involved with the Flexographic Technical Association, its Foundation, and its highly successful Technical Education Services Team (TEST).
There are flexo departments named for the Harpers at many colleges in the Carolinas, as well as in Chicago, California and Wisconsin. Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC) has the Harper Campus, The Harper National Flexographic Center and manages a Ron and Katherine Harper Scholarship Fund. Appalachian State University dedicated the Katherine Harper Hall in 2007. In 2009, the Harpers generously donated funds to the Clemson University graphics department. Mr. and Mrs. Harper co-chaired a drive in 1999 to raise $1 million for flexo education in high schools and donated the first $100,000.
"Katherine and I believe that the key to any successful endeavor—and a happy life—is education,” Ron illustrated in the FTA’s 50th Anniversary Journal. “That is why we choose to support education in an industry that has been so good to us and to an association that has been one of the primary resources of our education for the past 45 years."
In 1998, Ron was inducted into the FTA Hall of Fame. "It was the highlight of my career in flexography,” he said of the accolade. “We all like to be recognized for our efforts. Induction into FTA's Hall of Fame is the ultimate recognition in our industry. I am very, very proud to have attained that honor."
“Ron was a great friend to the FTA and a consummate business professional throughout his career,” remembers Mark Cisternino, president, FTA. “His positive attitude, keen marketing sense, zest for life & drive to help young people through educational endeavors at all levels made him one in a billion. Ron, and his lovely wife, Katherine, have certainly had a tremendous positive impact on many, many people throughout the years. We are all better off for his lifetime of giving and commitment to the greater good. I will miss his friendship but will always remember his amazing influence on my life.”
Personal passions were as important to Ron Harper as his professional life. In the 1980s, he served as Chairman of the Democratic Party of Mecklenburg County, and in 1995, Gov. Jim Hunt appointed Ron Harper to the North Carolina Education Fund board of directors. In 1997 Ron won the Governor's Excellence in Workforce Development Award. The Harpers' support for Carolinas Red Cross moved the organization to name a facility that improves response time to citizens in crisis the "Katherine Harper Disaster Staging Area."
In 2008, Ron and Katherine Harper moved to Stanley, NC. The couple donated matching funds to help get an interactive Smart Board in each of 2,000 classrooms in Gaston County as well as numerous philanthropic endeavors. The Gaston Gazette chose the Harpers for the 2010 Spirit of Freedom award and they received the Order of the Long Leaf Pine State recognition from Governor Perdue in 2010.
Survivors include: Katherine Harper, his loving devoted wife of 60 years, sons Danny (Lynn), Jim (Heather), Christopher; daughters Margie (Hal) Kluttz, Georgia (Derek) Patterson. Fourteen grandchildren; Ten great-grandchildren. Brothers Dick (Norma) Harper, Gary (Mona) Harper, Steve (Linda) Harper. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to: Gaston Hospice, P.O. Box 3984, Gastonia, NC 28054; or Harper Park, P.O. Box 279, Stanley, NC 28164; or Christ's Evangelical Lutheran Church, Backpack Ministry, 203 S. Main Street, Stanley, NC 28164.