COON RAPIDS (WCCO) — Students come and go from all Minnesota high schools, but there are few who have left a greater impression than Bill Harper did on Coon Rapids High School.
“He had such a big heart that you just couldn’t turn him away,” said Assistant Principal, Shannon Madison.
That is why words can’t soothe the sadness sweeping the school’s halls and classrooms. Harper graduated from CRHS in 2010, where he was a gifted athlete, honor student and a boy with a huge smile.
Faculty and former classmates remember Harper as a kid you couldn’t help but love.
“I just keep asking myself, why? Why him? He has had so much heartache and has overcome all the odds,” said Madison. “Why take someone like that?”
Tragedy first struck for Harper during the fall of 2009 while he was at football practice. He arrived home that day to discover an ambulance in the driveway. He soon learned that his mother had suffered an aneurism. When she died, it left him orphaned, but hardly alone.
Families and friends took the high school senior into their homes and made sure he’d graduate and go on to college.
He was initially resistant to suggestions that he go to his senior prom and later have a graduation party. His friends made both memorable moments become realities.
Between his junior and senior year of high school, Harper was diagnosed with diabetes. Friends said that it appeared he was managing it well. That was until last weekend when Harper was dealing with the flu and became badly dehydrated.
His University of Minnesota-Duluth roommates were caring for him, but would discover that Harper had died in his sleep after lapsing into a diabetic coma.
Harper’s former assistant football coach, Tom Bruggers, said Harper was both charismatic and caring.
“He was the kind of person you’d want to follow and do what he was doing,” said Bruggers.
However, through all his hardship as a teenager, Harper would never complain and rarely asked for help.
“He just didn’t ask for anything,” said Cullen Bartz, his former social studies teacher and coach. “I think all he did was give, friendship and help — anything — that’s what he did.”
High School trophy cases celebrate the successes and accomplishments of both academics and athletics. At Coon Rapids High School there will be none greater than the memory of a beloved student.
Harper taught students and faculty how to overcome adversity while not allowing hardship to strip the smile from life.
“There’s a special spot for Billy Harper, let me to you. To know Billy, was to truly be blessed. I don’t know any other way to say it,” said Bartz.
A fund has been set up to defray the cost of Billy’s funeral and to establish a scholarship in his memory.
Donations can be sent care of:
Billy Harper Memorial Fund
3445 Bunker Lake Boulevard
Andover, Minn. 55304-7211
Harper’s funeral will be held at Epiphany Church in Coon Rapids. Visitation begins at 10 a.m. with funeral services at noon.