By Cathy Spaulding
Phoenix Staff Writer
Charles Raper recalls being almost too afraid to take on the real estate business.
“I was so scared of not being able to support my family, I went to Phoenix Federal to take out a loan for six months,” he said. “But it paid off. I sold a house even before my first day.”
That was more than 43 years ago, before Raper built a thriving business selling Muskogee properties.
Since then, he also has built a house on historic property near the Arkansas River, built a collection of sports cars, and built a love of travel.
Raper, 72, spent his childhood on a farm between Kinta and Whitefield. The family moved to Muskogee when Raper was in the sixth grade.
“My dad sold shoes at Durnil’s for 17 years, then got into the real estate business,” Raper said. “That’s how I got into the real estate business.”
Raper said he already had a good job as a sales engineer, but his father just kept after him.
“He didn’t put pressure on me,” he said. “He kept telling me there’d be good opportunities.”
Raper got into the business during a changing time.
“I did a lot of work for builders, like in Grandview,” he said. “I actually sold five houses in one day. I worked a lot of hours. My poor son said he’d never be in real estate because I was always gone.”
The son, Shawn Raper, now sells real estate.
Meet Charles Raper
CAREER: Real estate.
EDUCATION: Central High School, 1958; Attended Oklahoma State University and Northeastern State University.
FAMILY: Wife, Sandy; son, Shawn; stepchildren, Billy Fillman and Tobi Thompson; five grandchildren.
RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION: Baptist.
HOBBIES: “Cars, airplanes. I love to fly. I don’t do as much scuba diving as I would like.”
Charles Raper said he could see all the way to Fort Gibson Lake from his house south of the Arkansas River.
It had been a great vantage point for generations.
“Fort Davis, a Confederate fort, was built here,” Raper said in his living room. “When it was built in 1862 or 1863, the Confederates moved here because there were pre-Columbian Indian mounds. They could stand on the mounds and see Fort Gibson, the Union fort. We had never studied anything about the Confederacy in school.”
Part of the Rapers’ 32-acre spread once belonged to early Muskogee settler Redbird “Bird” Harris, Raper said.
“The acres I bought belonged to Bob Pitchford,” he said. “He had inherited it from his father, who bought it from Bird Harris. He (Harris) has a descendant living 100 yards from here, the artist, Joan Hill.”
After buying the property, Raper enlarged a pond.
“It wasn’t much. I dug it to make my hill better,” he said.
He built his home atop the hill 19 years ago.
“I wanted the property to build a house on, not to develop a subdivision,” he said. “Then I decided I wanted to build my father and mother a house. I figured the best way to build them a house was to develop a subdivision.”
Raper said he developed much of the subdivision around his home but kept the riverside natural.
“We have animals you wouldn’t believe — deer, fox,” he said. “My wife even met a badger. He jumped up on the brush hog.”
Raper says he’s had a “sickness” ever since he was 14 — and he’s not ready to get over it.
That sickness involves cars.
“When I was 14, I wanted a motor scooter real bad, but my folks would not let me have one,” he said. “I had $35 saved up. My father said I could not have a scooter, but he did not tell me I could not have a car.”
So, young Raper bought a 1933 Plymouth.
“It didn’t run,” he said. “We had to take a chain to pull it home. We took the body off the frame and put it on a 1932 Ford frame and put an Oldsmobile V8 engine in it.”
Raper kept going.
“When I turned 15, I bought a 1948 Ford, and later I bought a 1951 Ford convertible,” he said. “When I was 16, I had three cars; two of them ran.”
He said he drove the 1951 convertible most of all.
“When I got out of high school, I had to sell the car to pay tuition for college,” he said.
Raper has never since been without a number of cars, he said. His collection includes cars from 1917 to 2010. His favorites are his Corvettes.
His favorite ’Vette is a slick blue model from 1963.
“That was the first year for the Stingray,” he said. “It has a fastback slanted back. It is the only one with split back windows.”
Raper said he didn’t know exactly why he collects so many cars.
“The ones I have, they’re fast and they’re pretty,” he said. “They’re mostly sports cars.”
the air to the sea
Raper’s other love has taken him around the world and under the waves.
He and his wife, Sandy, recently returned from Alaska. Last year, they went to Costa Rica. They’ve also been to Europe and China.
“We like seeing so many different people and places,” he said. “Europe, as a whole, is so much older than this country. In China, we saw the terra cotta soldiers.”
The soldiers are an “army” of human and horse statues dating to 246 B.C.
“There are a lot of things you hear about but don’t get to see,” he said. “And we don’t take the planned tours.”
Venturing abroad without tour groups can pose challenges, such as the time they drove a Peugeot in the Alps.
“We got almost to the very top when I realized we were almost out of gas,” Raper said. “We just turned the car off and coasted down.”
While in Alaska, they flew over mountains in a 1930s model de Havilland Beaver airplane.
“A 1930s engine is round and real loud,” Raper said. “A lot of the noise is actually the propeller breaking the sound barrier.”
About 15 years ago, Raper added scuba diving to his travels. He said a friend had a sailboat in the British Virgin Islands, which has beautiful underwater scenes.
“There are many little islands there,” he said. “You can go swimming and see a shipwreck. You can dive and see an airplane in the water.”
He said the loveliest scuba diving is the reefs around Cozumel.
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE?
“My father moved here about 1949 or 1950. I didn’t have any choice. I was in the sixth grade. After school, I assumed I had to leave Muskogee to get a good job, but a friend stopped me on the highway and said they were hiring at OG&E, and I got hired that day.”
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT MUSKOGEE?
“Location, proximity to hills and water. Pretty country, almost pristine countryside. You can fly around and just see water everywhere.”
WHAT WOULD MAKE MUSKOGEE A BETTER PLACE TO LIVE?
“One big problem is the perception of the school system being a problem. The big part of it is a perception.”
WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING IN MUSKOGEE?
Sell real estate.
WHAT DO YOU DO IN YOUR SPARE TIME?
“Work on old cars. Go flying. Take trips.”
WHAT OKIE FROM MUSKOGEE DO YOU ADMIRE?
“When you look at ‘Who do you admire,’ you think of an older person, not a younger person. I admire my son, Shawn. He came to work with me and helped me out a lot. I never put a job in front of him he couldn’t do.”
WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU IN MUSKOGEE?
“Getting married eight years ago, then the grandkids.”
HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP MUSKOGEE IN 25 WORDS OR LESS?
“Perfectly located because of the hillsides, lakes and so forth. Good size, yet we can be in Tulsa in 45 minutes.”