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Published: Sunday, 9/23/2007

Napoleon civil engineer known for bridge work

NAPOLEON - Donald A. Harper, 93, a civil engineer whose expertise in bridge building was prized, died Wednesday in Bishop's Glen Health Care Center, Holly Hill, Fla.

The cause of death was not known, but he was in poor health for several months, his son William said.

The last 20 years in retirement, Mr. Harper and his wife, Renata, lived in Holly Hill.

He was former president and owner of Harper Supply Co., which once sold building materials, including ready-mix concrete and lumber, and built bridges. The materials side of the business was sold, and Harper concentrated on bridges.

"To put it bluntly, when Don Harper said something, I think the whole state of Ohio listened," said Henry Wachtman, who was hired by Mr. Harper and became the office manager in Napoleon. "The engineering department in the Ohio Department of Transportation had ultimate respect for him."

From the state, the firm got sets of plans on which it could base its bids for jobs. If Mr. Harper found any errors in the plans, he called them to the state's attention.

"They knew right away he was correct," Mr. Wachtman said. "He was so meticulous in everything he did. I just admired him from beginning to end. I'm really privileged to have worked with and for him for all that time."

In the 1960s, Harper Supply was bought by Miller Bros. Construction Inc. of Archbold, with which Harper often teamed when bidding on road and bridge projects. Mr. Harper did much the same work and remained in Napoleon until his retirement in the 1980s.

The name Harper Structures Inc. still exists, though it is part of MBC Holdings, as is Miller Bros. Construction.

Mr. Harper was a 1931 graduate of Napoleon High School and received a degree in engineering in 1935 from Purdue University. His father, Joseph, was the Henry County engineer and owned a contracting business.

Mr. Harper was an Army veteran of World War II, achieving the rank of first lieutenant.

He followed his father in business and community service. He was a former member of the Napoleon Board of Public Affairs. He was on the Napoleon Board of Education as the first of the baby boomers were entering school and a need arose for new buildings.

"It was his doing that got some elementary schools built when they needed to be," his son said. "He had the foresight to see [that] what we [had] as far as facilities, being an engineer, were woefully inadequate."

Mr. Harper was president in 1955 of the Napoleon Chamber of Commerce. He was a former member of St. Paul United Methodist Church, Napoleon.

Surviving are his wife, Renata Harper, whom he married in February, 1939; sons, William and James Harper; brother, D. Ray Harper; four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

There will be no visitation. Services will be private in Florida. Arrangements are by Walker Mortuary, Napoleon.

The family suggests tributes to Christ Presbyterian Church, Ormond Beach, Fla., where Mr. Harper was a member.



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