Joyce Harper

Obituary of Joyce Harper

Chapel Hill, NC- Mrs. Joyce Marie Harper, 73, died Tuesday December 5, 2017 at the SECU Jim & Betsey Bryan Hospice Home in Pittsboro, NC.  Joyce was born to the late Walden Howard Swenson and Pauline Fenton Swenson on July 16, 1944 in Concordia Kansas.  She was raised in rural Kansas where the heartland values of honor, honesty, and integrity were deeply ingrained.  Joyce attended Kansas State University and Northern Illinois University, where she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Therapy.  She later earned her Master’s Degree in Deaf Education from the University of North Florida.

Joyce was a passionate educator; her unique teaching style, patience, and persistence could bring out the absolute best in children with severe challenges and send them on the path to success.  She truly left no student out or behind, and became the teacher other teachers sought out when they had exhausted their ability to help a child in their classroom.  She was known as a fierce advocate for the preschool children with special needs who otherwise had no voice; she believed that every child deserved the opportunity to start kindergarten in their neighborhood school, and fought tirelessly to teach her students the skills to get there.  In our family she was most loved for ‘Grandmommy School’, where she cherished the chance to teach her grandsons, Benjamin and William, how to read, do math, and follow directions.  Joyce ended her working career as a financial officer in the family business.

Joyce was a fantastic cook, and enjoyed entertaining friends and family.  She hosted company Christmas parties complete with her famous beef tenderloin and chicken pasta salad, neighborhood dinner parties, and endless family get-togethers.  Joyce was an extremely proud PEO Sister who fully embraced the organization’s efforts and served as president for several years.  

Joyce loved to travel, and over the last fifteen years of her life saw the world.  She enjoyed over 20 ocean and river cruises, trips to Europe, Russia, Africa, India, China, Vietnam, New Zealand, and Australia.  She was the travel planner for the family; her extraordinary organizational skills ensured that she and her family got the most out of their trips.

Above everything else, Joyce was deeply devoted to and loved her family.  After meeting her husband Steve at Northern Illinois University, they married in 1970 after 6 years of dating. Together they shared an adventurous life filled with raising two daughters, 10 moves during their marriage, and countless trips where they were able to visit most parts of the world.  Joyce loved spending time with her two sisters and her parents, week long summer beach trips with her extended family, hosting family holiday and birthday parties, and taking her 90-something year old mother on Caribbean cruises during the winter.  Her dedication to and love for her daughters and grandchildren was remarkable, and her legacy will live on through them.

Joyce is survived by her husband Stephen Kent Harper; daughters, Jill Harper Barham and Stephanie Harper Carmody; sons-in-law, Brandon Barham and Dennis Carmody; grandsons, Benjamin Michael Barham and William Stephen Barham; granddaughter to be Anna Stephanie Barham; sister Diane Vaught; brothers-in-law, Dennis Harper and Galen Kersten; sisters-in-law, Sue Kersten and Susie Harper; nephews, Creighton Vaught, Dean Harper, Scott Kersten, Jeff Kersten and families; and nieces, Sherri Gibson, Lori Duncan, Brenda Jacobs, Michelle Rockwood, Lana States and families.

A Memorial Service will be held at University United Methodist Church on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday December 16, 2017 at 3pm with a reception immediately after the service.  Interment will be in Arlington National Cemetery. 

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development or the Hereditary Neuropathy Foundation’s CMT2C Research Fund .  Arrangements were provided by Walker Funeral Services of Chapel Hill, NC.