Donald Neil Harper, age 89, passed away peacefully on June 14, 2021. Don was born on December 13, 1931, in Breckenridge, Mo., to Roger and Gertrude Vadnais Harper. He had an older brother, Dean, and a younger brother, Dale. He spent his childhood days playing “Cowboys and Indians,” eating homemade pie and ice cream on Sunday afternoons with the Harper clan and making mischief with his cousins. Don loved to tell his grandchildren all about his ornery doings in the countryside. One of his favorite tales was when he and his cousins tricked their pesky younger cousin into climbing into a fat rendering kettle, rigged it up from a tree with ropes, and left him hanging from a branch. Gertrude was not very happy with Don that day!
Don’s parents moved their family to Kansas City where Don graduated from Northeast High School. Don soon went to work for TWA where he met the love of his life, JoAnn. Don’s eyes always sparkled when he told about taking JoAnn on dates in his convertible. While some details didn’t always match up in their stories, JoAnn’s eyes never stopped sparkling too. They married on November 10, 1951 in Mission, Kans., and spent nearly 70 years holding the hand of their beloved.
Don joined the Air Force during the Korean War and attained the rank of Staff Sergeant. He was stationed in Wichita, Kans., during this time. It is there that Don and JoAnn’s daughter, Sharon Harper Arnoldi, was born. Upon discharge from the Air Force, Don resumed his long career at TWA in Kansas City. Their son, Bradford Neil Harper, soon followed. Don adored his children and raised them with loving patience and humor, even when his son showed up wearing bell bottom pants and when he caught his daughter skipping school for lunch with her friends.
Don’s work in the airline industry took him all over the world. He loved telling about his adventures in other countries, especially to his grandchildren. They were always astonished at the things their Grandpa ate for the sake of politeness. Of course they always looked forward to the special gifts he would bring back for them. Don often marveled at how a country boy who idolized Roy Rogers ended up traveling the world. He loved the pomp and circumstance of traveling but being away from his family was a challenge in those days before cell phones. His favorite trips were the ones where he was accompanied by JoAnn, Sharon and Brad. He fondly told of the time that he had the privilege of taking his father to Saudi Arabia.
Perhaps the highlight of Don’s life was being “Grandpa.” His four grandchildren, Eric, Hannah, Catherine and Emily, would certainly say so. Don’s devotion to his grandchildren was obvious to all. He attended many Boy Scouts events, cello concerts, swim meets, horse shows and Tae Kwon Do matches. He always supported and encouraged, and did so in whatever way fit the situation at hand. Picking up seedpods in the backyard called for frozen yogurt, even knowing he would be asked to read the many menu choices over and over again. Of course, there weren’t many occasions that didn’t call for a good dessert. Don always found a reason to sit at the kid’s table and to join the petition to open up presents first. He was the first to offer a helping hand and to appreciate an ornery joke, even when it was him who had a firecracker go awry through the window. That day, it was JoAnn who wasn’t very happy with him!
In his retirement years, Don enjoyed many evenings square dancing with JoAnn. He proudly served on the Clay County Senior Services Board. And much to his grandchildren’s delight, Don acquired a boat along with fishing and tubing equipment. He spent many hours trying to dump his grandchildren from the tube, hooking minnows and releasing fish. Somehow he never came out ahead in the tally of fish caught when fishing with his grandchildren.
Don has eagerly welcomed eight great-grandchildren into his family, Ryan, Madison, Alice, Anjulie, Victoria, Fiona, Elliot and Benjamin. True to the Harper lineage, his love of homemade ice cream lives on in all of them.
Arrangements in care of Bross & Spidle Funeral Home, Excelsior Springs.