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Celebrating the life of . . . . Elder Kelly Harper

November 19, 1939 - August 7, 2022

Family Gathering: 406 Kern Street, Thomasville, NC 27360

Public Visitation: Thursday, August 18, 2022 11:00 am

St. John A M E Zion Church

307 Church Street, Thomasville, NC 27360

Funeral Service: Thursday, August 18, 2022 12:00 pm

St. John A M E Zion Church

307 Church Street, Thomasville, NC 27360


The life and legacy of Kelly Lee Harper began on November 19, 1939, in Thomasville, North Carolina, where he was born the seventh of sixteen children, to the late Willie Edward Harper and Dorothy Lee Harper. Kelly loved growing up in Thomasville with the Harper clan, and his adventures with his brother Ralph and childhood friend Bob Banks. Kelly was raised in St. John AME Zion Church in Thomasville, and attended the “famous” Church Street School, where he was known as a star football player and athlete. In 1957, Kelly, and his childhood

friend, Dickie Skeen, decided to take the U.S. Air Force exam, with Kelly scoring in the top ten percentile. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1957, where he served as a military police officer until he was honorably discharged in 1959.

As typical of the “Great Northern Migration,” Kelly later joined his beloved sisters, Mildred, and Erma Jean in Connecticut, as he embarked on a new life, away from the Jim Crow South. Kelly befriended James (Yak) Brown, while working in Stamford, Connecticut, who was married to Dorothy “Dot” Brown. Yak would later introduce Kelly to Dot’s younger sister, Nellie Marie Johnson from Williamston, NC, while on her summer break from Elizabeth City State University. Kelly eventually moved to New York, and attended New York Technical

College, in Brooklyn where he received his Associates Degree in 1965. Nellie became his best friend, and “Love of His Life,” and they were united in marriage on June 11, 1967. Their union was blessed with four children, Mildred, Kevin, Kimberly, and Kelvin. Kelly subsequently became an entrepreneur and opened his own store, selling fresh fish, in Clinton Hills, Brooklyn.

Kelly’s life was forever changed in 1976 when he accepted Jesus Christ, as his Lord and Savior; and he testified to anyone who would listen that following Christ was the best decision he ever made. Brother Harper joined Goodwill Church of God in Christ and grew in his knowledge and faith under the leadership of his early mentor and friend, Pastor John Butler. Brother Harper enjoyed teaching others and later served as Sunday School teacher, Sunday School Superintendent and District Sunday School Supervisor within the Church of God in

Christ. He was active in evangelism and outreach while attending Goodwill C.O.G.I.C. and spent many weekends assisting with the street ministry throughout the boroughs. In May of 1982, God led Brother Harper to assist his longtime best friend Bishop David Butler, as Bishop Butler established and founded St. Mary C.O.G.I.C. at 1771 Fulton Street in Brooklyn, NY. In 1983, Elder Harper accepted his call to ministry and was officially ordained as an Elder in the Church of God In Christ. Elder Harper served beside Bishop David Butler and First Lady Mother Sylvia Butler for over 40 years, where he dedicated himself to all aspects of the ministry. He was always on time and was faithful to Bible Study and prayer. Elder Harper loved the Word, and unwaveringly stood for doctrinal truth. Elder Harper briefly hosted a radio bible study program on WTHE radio with his friend, Mother Ida Turner. As Sunday School Superintendent, Elder Harper made it his personal goal, every year, to dye Easter eggs and deliver Christmas candy bags to each-and-every church member, with his team of elves, Mildred, Kim, Kelvin, and Beatrice. Elder Harper’s annual Sunday School picnics will always be


Elder Harper was employed by the U.S. Department of Defense as a Quality Assurance Inspector and retired with accolades in 2000, but went on to work as a consultant in the field for another fifteen years. Elder Harper was a jokester who loved making up songs for his grandchildren, watching football, listening to Sam Cooke gospel music, and reminiscing with his brothers and sisters. When not at church or with his family, he could often be found fishing on Canarsie Pier, where he rarely caught a fish. He also enjoyed a special relationship with his older brother Joe and sister Erma (Jean), who were in the same sibling generation. While in retirement,

Kelly and Nellie left their longtime home in Brooklyn, to move to their “country home” in the Poconos, where they both enjoyed long talks on their patio, overlooking the golf course.

After 82 years, the Lord saw fit to call Elder Harper home, to his eternal rest. Elder Harper loved God, loved the Church of God In Christ, and loved God’s people. No matter what may have been happening, his favorite saying was, “If God never does anything else for me, He’s already done enough.” Elder Harper’s legacy as a man of God, loving husband, devoted father, adoring brother, and faithful friend will never be forgotten.

Elder Harper was preceded in death by his father, Willie Edward Harper, mother, Dorothy Lee Harper, sisters Mildred and Jacqueline Harper, brothers, Clarence and Thomas Harper, and son, Kevin Lee Harper.

Elder Harper leaves to cherish his legacy his loving wife of 55 years, Nellie Marie Harper; his children Mildred (Andrew) Harper-Wilson, Kimberly (Andre’) Grinston, Kelvin (Tamar) Harper, and “God” daughter Beatrice (Ronald); Ten grandchildren- Davon, Sierra, Genesis, Kelvin Jr., Jayla, Kaylin, Allen, Mercy, Blake and bonus granddaughter Ashley (Brian); His beloved brothers and sister Erma Jean Childers, Joe (Woodie) Harper, William Harper, Ralph (Fanny) Harper, Avis Renwick, Benny (Mary) Harper, Kitty Stephens, Edith (Larry)

Kirby, Ann Leak, Leonard (Janice) Harper, and John Harper; and a host of loving nieces and nephews.

Elder Harper also leaves his loving extended family and in-laws Minnie Johnson, Aly Khan (Winona) Johnson, Larry (Christina) Johnson, Phyllis Waters, Linda Whitley, the incomparable Dorothy Brown (whose cooking he never turned down), and his spiritual daughters Amy Shufford, Felicia Brown, Monica Hall and many more.

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