Help us celebrate Dorothy! Please share your stories and photos, and invite others who remember Dorothy.
Dorothy Watson Harper almost made it to 100. Born in Birmingham, Alabama on September 12,1922, she stepped out of this life on November 27, 2021, in Helena after almost a century of joy and service. Dorothy went to the University of Montevallo in Alabama. She twice won a national speech contest. The first time she got a big party when she returned to campus. The second year she won after speaking on the need for better educational opportunities for black people. The college president sent her a letter saying she would be expelled if she ever gave that speech in public again! However, she remained a staunch advocate for civil rights, and was often asked to speak on Martin Luther King Jr. day for colleges and civic groups.
Dorothy and George Harper got married after she finished her Master’s Degree at the University of Iowa in Child Psychology and Speech. While George attended the Garrett School of Theology in Chicago, Dorothy supported him by teaching at Northwestern University. She also used her Master’s Degree to get her own radio show called “Tell Dorothy,” where she answered questions from parents about child raising. Years later she said, “I wouldn’t have tried that after having five kids of my own!”
When George became the youth leader for the national Methodist denomination, based in Nashville, Dorothy birthed four children, with a fifth born in Montana. She wrote scripts for national radio programs including “Guiding Light” and “Days of our Lives.”
In 1954 Dorothy and George moved to Great Falls, Montana, where George was youth leader for the Montana Methodist Conference. George became the pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena in 1961.
Dorothy started a coffee house for youth, taught at Helena High, and then was hired as a professor at Carroll College. She taught there for three decades in drama and communications. She directed, wrote, and designed plays to meet the needs of her students. There are many couples who claim they met doing theater with Dorothy. Carroll named the costume department after her, and gives the Dorothy Harper Scholarship to an outstanding theater student each year.
Dorothy was a lifelong learner. She kept taking classes in Spanish at Carroll into her 80s and recorded books for the visually impaired at the state library into her 90s.
Dorothy and George were parents not only to Rusty, Hal, Steve, Nancy, and Jannie, but surrogate parents to many others. Our beloved cousins Dianne and Larry Watson lived for several years with mom and dad, as did both our grandmothers and even others not part of the biological family.
Our parents loved us all, and they were wild about the people crazy enough to marry us Harper kids and cousin Dianne– Pat Callbeck Harper, Janet Matteucci Harper, Pam Campbell, Mokey McNeilly, Randy Fuhrmann, and Ron Armstrong. After Jannie’s death, our family gained another sister when Randy married Renee Driessen.
Dorothy and George were incredibly proud of their five granddaughters and spouses and five great grandchildren -- Robin Harper Cowie (Zac Cowie, children Caleb and Greyson); Molly Harper (David Whittlesey); Emily McNeilly (Robert Maher, child Macson); Hannah Harper (Justin Hanseth, children Juniper and Jasper); and Becca Harper (Michael Ramler)
As with anyone who lives a long time, our mother had some great losses –her daughter Jannie, nieces Bonnie and Pam Blair, nephew Larry Watson, brother Jim Watson, and husband, George Harper.
Randy and daughter Jannie wrote many plays for St. Paul’s worship services. Often Dorothy was cast as “the Voice of God.” Many young people grew up knowing that God’s voice was very similar to that of Dorothy Harper.
The family is grateful to the staff of Touchmark, especially in Memory Care, the staff of St. Peter’s Hospice, and Marie Lavinder for the wonderful care of our mother.
Her memorial service is on Saturday December 18 at 2:00 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena. Please wear a mask and be vaccinated. It will be livestreamed at youtube.com/c/StPaulsUnitedMethodistChurchHelena
Memorials can be made to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, the St. Paul’s Flathead Lake Camp scholarship fund in her name, or any good cause that helps people, especially children.
We never had trouble understanding what Jesus meant when he advised loving God with your whole self and your neighbor as yourself. We just watched our parents, especially our mother.
We rarely heard our mother complain. Even at the end, when another broken hip caused her tremendous pain, a conversation with a nurse or doctor went like this: “How are you feeling, Dorothy?” “I’m just fine.”
She wasn’t “just fine.” She was spectacular. We miss you mama.