Wallace R. Harper, Jr. ’55

Wallace R. Harper, Jr. ’55 died on May 1, 2022, in New York, New York.

(The following was provided by Triblive Online on May 15, 2022)

Wallace R. Harper, Jr. ’55

Wallace (Wally) Russell Harper Jr., 89, passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 1, 2022, in his sleep at Riverside Rehabilitation Center on Riverside Drive in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. He had been in declining health in recent years. Mr. Harper was born on Feb. 14, 1933, in St. Louis, Mo., the eldest child of Wallace Russell Harper and Marybeth Lowenberg, both of whom originally hailed from Ottumwa, Iowa, where they were high school sweethearts. Wallace R. Harper Sr.’s family owned and operated Harper & McIntyre (Har-Mac), one of the largest wholesale hardware businesses, serving Iowa and parts of northern Missouri for more than one hundred years, with locations in Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids. The company was established just prior to the Civil War in 1856 by Captain Samuel Houston Harper, who served as an Iowa State Senator and as Mayor of Ottumwa at the time of his death in 1911. The Cedar Rapids warehouse still stands and is on the National Register of Historic Places. His mother Marybeth’s grandfather came to the U.S. from Mannheim, Germany, and founded the famous Lowenberg Bakery in Ottumwa in 1875, which for more than one hundred years produced bread and other baked goods for distribution across southeastern Iowa until 1984. Mr. Harper spent much of his early youth in Hingham, Mass., from which his father managed the Boston office of Pittsburgh Plate Glass (now PPG Industries) until 1947. The family then moved to Pittsburgh, where Wallace Sr. served as national manager (1947 to 1952) and then vice president of plate glass sales (1952 to 1955) at Pittsburgh Plate Glass headquarters. Mr. Harper attended Derby Academy, Hingham, through eighth grade and later graduated from Shady Side Academy, Pittsburgh, Class of 1951. During these years, he was enriched by attending a summer boys’ camp, Wabun, on Lake Temagami in northern Ontario, Canada, where he learned many outdoor skills such as camping, fishing and canoeing. He went on to earn a degree in English from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, graduating in 1955. While at Bowdoin, he was editor of The Bowdoin Orient, the weekly student-run newspaper, president of his fraternity, Psi Upsilon, and was highly active in music and the arts, forming a Dixieland band, and contributing works to the first traveling art exhibit of the collegiate arts exchange league. The show included paintings and drawings by students, alumni, and faculty members of Bowdoin, Dartmouth, and Middlebury Colleges and the University of New Hampshire. He also participated in Bowdoin’s on-campus reserve officer training corps (ROTC), which commissioned graduates as 2nd Lieutenants in the Army’s Transportation Corps, and for more than seven years afterward, he served in the inactive reserve. Mr. Harper began playing the trumpet at the age of 14, as a member of the Shady Side orchestra, and soon moved on to his beloved cornet and a life-long passion for Dixieland music. Together with fellow Bowdoin musicians, he formed a popular group called “The Polar Bear Five,” and with the help of the college radio station, recorded an album by the same title. Mr. Harper and his band toured cities throughout the U.S., Europe, and Northern Africa, and in the summers, played gigs in and around Cape Cod, establishing a residence in Falmouth, Mass. His musical heroes included Louis Armstrong, Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke, “Wild Bill” Davison, Benny Goodman, Bunk Johnson, and many others. He continued to play and sit-in with a variety of groups throughout his life. In recent years, he followed the career of Tuba Skinny, a favorite emerging jazz group from New Orleans with a fabulous lead artist. Along with family members, he was able to see them perform live in Sept. 2019 at The Cutting Room, New York City. It was his last live concert outing, and he was overjoyed to personally meet the band members after the show. Mr. Harper married Deborah Stoddard, a graduate of Smith College, Class of 1954, in 1955. They met in 1954 on a tour of a group called “The Kids from Home,” which included his “Polar Bear Five” and her all-female singing octet from Smith College. They were flown in a cargo plane to entertain troops at a naval base in the Azores off Portugal, and then on to a quick stop in Bermuda to perform at a base there. The Harpers first lived in Scarsdale, New York, before moving to nearby Chappaqua and then to a house they built in Bedford, New York. They had two children, Gordon and Emily, before divorcing in 1981. In 1982, he married Enid Holt, formerly of London, and the couple lived on West End Avenue in New York City with her two children from an earlier marriage, Sean and Tamara. For more than twenty-five years, Mr. Harper worked in payroll and sales for the Mutual of New York (MONY), a large life insurance company. He eventually rose to the position of vice president. While at MONY, he studied and completed a course to earn his designation as a chartered life underwriter (CLU), a financial professional with extensive knowledge of life insurance. In his off-time, Mr. Harper played in various Dixieland bands, performing at numerous venues, including the celebrated Michael’s Pub, Manhattan. He was also an auto enthusiast and a football fan, had an interest in painting, architecture and design, and enjoyed boating, operating a power boat on Long Island Sound. The Harpers had a house built on an island in Ahmic Lake, Ontario, Canada, that he designed and they furnished and outfitted. This house was co-owned with his sister, Ann, and they spent treasured time there with their families each summer. Mr. Harper is survived by his former wife, Deborah, of Pound Ridge, New York; his sister, Ann Walker, of Sewickley; and his younger brothers, John C. Harper, of London, England, and Thomas H. Harper of Port Angeles, Washington, and their wives, Audrey and Catherine, respectively. In addition, he leaves behind his daughter, Emily and son-in-law, Jon Erickson; three nephews, Hepburn Walker, Russell Walker and his godson, John C. Harper Jr.; and two nieces, Brenda Vandamme and Olivia Cordes. Also surviving him is his second wife, Enid, of New York City; and two stepchildren, Sean and Tamara Holt. Mr. Harper was predeceased by both his parents; his son, Gordon Harper; and his brother-in-law, Hartley P. Walker.

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