Uma Breve Biografia Impressionista do Casal Harper, Visto pelos seus Filhos [ENG]

“Quem é aquela gente que vive cantando?


Our first memories are those where sung melodies paced and filled our small world at home at JMC.  Soon it became clear to us that others outside the house, down the road in the Casa das Moças, across the ponte above the Jordão, into the dormitórios and classrooms  of the college, knew and practised those solfégios and hymns with  diligence..  Even our white dog, Fluffy, sat back on the front porch, wolf-like, and howled in concert when the first stanzas of “Ao Deus de Abrão Louvai” poured across the valley.  We are not surprised, therefore, to discover,  fifty years later,  from among  the hundreds of recently acquired letters written by our parents to their families and friends, one significant quote.  With the advantage of hindsight, it seems to us that the paragraph catches neatly a strong dimension of our parents’ character and  faith.

 “The music has almost gotten out of hand”, writes Evelyn, “I am happy to say, even though it creates a big problem of how best to take advantage of all the enthusiasm. A short time ago one of our neighbors in Jandira told me that a newcomer in the neighborhood stopped at his house one day to ask, pointing in the direction of JMC,  “Quem é aquela gente que vive cantando?” (Evelyn, in a letter written in 1945 to her church).


Evelyn´s and Roy were first assigned, as missionaries under the Central Brazil Mission of the Presbyterian Church, USA, to work in direct evangelism in one of the most remote areas of Mato Grosso, with headquarters in Cuiabà. “They travelled widely by mule back, or over primitive roads in a model-T Ford”, states their official career profile, “as they learned to understand and speak Portuguese, and came to know and love the Brazilian people”.  To read the personal letters written in those years (1925-27) to their parents, and more intimately to their brothers and sisters, handwritten or typed on the old Corona with sticking ribbons in the steam heat,  reveals a riveting glimpse:  that of  a youthful,  naïve, enthusiastic North American couple, very much in love, displaying boundless energy and curiosity, funny, confident in their Christian faith, always producing music (e.g. Roy’s trumpet, Evelyn’s harmonium) .

They became indignant over social injustices, such as over the obscurantism, superstition and filth surrounding parto practices and the family ravages of alcoholism.  They became the unwitting witnesses to Luis Carlos Prestes’ sweeps through the state on his way to Bolivia, and were thus rapidly introduced to political and military realities usually absent from missionary “orientation”.  They were overjoyed with the nieghborhood children, and with their families, who came to visit them in their modest quarters. Their letters speak of a place so devoid of comforts that they developed innovative energy-saving schemes and vegetable- production experiments  which were to prove extremely valuable in later  at JMC: reference is made here to the self-help work programme involving all students in their intellectual and manual labor, with a view to building a healthy appreciation of the dignity of work as a prerequesite of church leadership.


 Such superb training in such unusual circumstances,  deep in Mato Grosso, prepared the Harper couple to participate, as of 1928 in a self-help educational experiment unique for its time: that of José Manuel da Conceição Insitute (JMC). It was unusual in that it gave an opportunity and a healthy framework to evangelical Protestant adolescent young men and women from the interior of Brazil from modest, if not poor, families, to prepare themselves for leadership in their churches: Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist and several other denominations.

After their initial years Mato Gross, Roy and Evelyn Harper arrived at Jandira, where the early preparations for opening JMC were being made in 1927. They  received the first students for its initial courses on 8th February, 1928. (For the record, this turma, graduating in 1929, included Adolfo Machado Correia, Eduardo Pereira de Magalhães, Fernando Nanni, Martinho Rickli and Paulo Braga Mury) :  They first taught under the able leadership of Dr. W.A.Waddell –  Roy as teacher of Greek, Hebrew and the sciences, Evelyn taught English and Music. It was here that both contributed most effectively over the years to the life of JMC, and perhaps for which they are best remembered: thorough training in the biblical languages and in the physical and social sciences; the creation of the “Caravana Evangélica Musical” (CEM),  by which people in hundreds of churches, and praças públicas across Brazil were witnessed to, through A Cappella choirs made up of JMC students; a vast programme of music to prepare future lay and ordained church leaders as choral directors and organists in the churches, and the acquisition of skills in management and administration in church institutions and congregations.

In 1936, Roy was appointed the director of the school and remained in this position until 1952, when he took up new duties, in the city of São  Paulo,  as the treasurer of MacKenzie Institute, which had been founded by Presbyterian missionaries in 1870.  After nine years there, during which time Evelyn trained radio choirs for broadcasting and recording and participated fully in the liturgical and musical life of local churches, they returned to the USA, after 35 years of service in Brazil. Roy was particularly satisfied  then (1962) that,  for the first time since MacKenzie Institute’s founding, he was succeeded as treasurer by a Brazilian national.   Upon returning to the USA, for several years they assumed various responsibilities, out of San Fransisco, California, for interpretation of the Mission of the Church, in Brazil,  to churches in the western United States. Roy also received, in the Bay Area, young  Asian scholarship students.  In 1965 they retired to a home in Westminster Gardens, were they maintained close contact and rich correspondence with Brazilian colleagues, students, and friends. They continued serving the retired missionary community with administrative tasks and …music, always cantando..   


Charles Roy Harper was born on March 15, 1895 in Edgerton, a farming community in the central  state of Kansas in the USA. His father, Charles Sumner Harper, gave Roy three gifts: his height (well over 1m90); a love for agriculture and  wide horizons ;   and a deep respect for medicine and the human person. All three gifts served Roy in abundance later, at JMC –  his

enthusiasm and skill on the basketball court, a keen appreciation of the educational and practical benefits of horticulture and self-help schemes as a part of the student programmes, and his close cooperation with the Instituto Butantã, along with those students experienced in mata fauna, in the capture of numerous and often rare poisonous snakes for purposes of producing serum antidotes for bites.  From his mother, Carrie Erskine Harper, he gained a deep love of the rich biblical texts, read to him and to his older brother Meryl from early age on in the resonance of the King James’ version. She also taught him to care for others. He developed an unusual sense of humor and a keen eye for companions. He struck up friendships easily, with men and women. This became  evident  already as a sailor in the US Navy, stationed in San Francisco and later as a pharmacist and medical aid on troop ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean

during  World War One. Immediately following the war Roy enrolled in a four year pre-ministerial program at Monmouth College, a United Presbyterian institution, in Illinois, In 1921 he received his BA degree there, studied for the ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary (BD, 1924) while earning, the same year, an MA in literature from Princeton University.  In 1961 he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Monmouth.

Des Moines

Evelyn was born in Des Moines, Iowa, USA, on March 15th, 1899.  She was part of a large family of Presbyterian teachers, preachers and farmers. Her father, Alonzo C. Douglass, was the pastor of the local congregation, a preacher of considerable skill – not to mention imposing authority – and was himself the descendant of other ministers, farmers who emmigrated from Scotland and Ireland in the 18th century.  (It seems from recent research that another branch of the same extended Scottish-Irish clans, specializing in the production of distilled whiskey, made its way south to Kentucky, but that part of the family history was not easily made available to descendants of this branch…).

Alonzo later taught Pastoral Theology at Zenia Theological Seminary, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.  Evelyn was closest to her mother, Mary Margaret Findley Douglass, daughter of a Monmouth, Illinois couple of wide intellectual curiosity.  She imbued Evelyn with a passion for music – through the local choir, with the loyal Victrola record player (Lily Pons´ rendition of Delibe´s Lakmé was a favorite), and attending at every opportunity the rare coloratura soprano concert in some distant mid-west town hall!.  Mary was a soft-spoken woman, gentle and firm. She listened well.  These traits,  she clearly transmitted to  Evelyn. Quite frail as a young girl, she learned quickly a sense of self-defence, flexibility and tenacity by living with a vigorous set of four brothers and a sister. This characteristic: toughness under material circumstances as a young missionary in Cuiabà in the 1920s,  or travelling with the CEM choir in an open truck, in spite of her bouts with asthma in the 1940s,  served her well. Sensitivity, tenacity and vision prepared her to carry out her perceived calling to train young people to glorify God through music.

Evelyn also attended Monmouth College with this large group of siblings, and graduated from there and the Monmouth Conservatory of Music in 1923, with a BA degree.  In 1946 she pursued further studies under Dr. Williamson, director of the Westminister Choir College, in Princeton, New Jersey, and the with Dr. John Kelly at the School of Sacred Music at San Francisco Theological Seminary, in San Anselmo, California.

She married Roy in 1924. They were appointed for service in Brazil by the Board of Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church, USA., until their retirement in 1964.


Roy and Evelyn had two children: Annabel Louise was born in 1929, in Long Beach, California.  Charles Roy (Royzinho),  in 1933, in São Paulo.  Each later enrolled at JMC for two years.   Annabel studied at Maryville College, related to the Presbyterian Church US, and then, at the University of New Mexico, training in education. In 1952 she married William Swenson,  who became basketball coach and the vice principle of the high school in Tracy, California, near San Francisco.  Members of the local Presbyterian Church, Ann and Bill have lived in Tracy for over forty years, and raised four children:  Robert, a graduate of the University of California and former professional football (US) player nine years with the Denver Broncos (daughters Lauren and Kristin) ; Linda, a primary school teacher now living and working in Santiago, Chile, with her husband Christian (Hans, Susie and Mark);  Bill, a professional housebuilder in Tracy, and his wife Frances (Willie);  and Susan, a computer programmer in Denver, who with her husband Michael, are recent parents of Hannah,

Charles (Roy) graduated from Wooster College, in Ohio (1954). He studied for the ordained ministry in San Francisco Theological Seminary (MDiv, 1958), did  graduate work in Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles (MA, 1967). He married Babette Dammholz, of Berlin, in 1962 in Marseilles, France. They served in Algeria for three years in a reconstruction programme with the Christian Committee of Service in Algeria, and from 1967 on, in Geneva Switzerland – she with the Institut d’Action Culturelle (IDAC, founded with Paulo Freire),  and Charles as director of an international student house, the Foyer John Knox and since 1973 with the international affairs and human rights program of the  World Council of Churches. They had two children:  Caroline Anne,  a graphic artist in London, England,  married to Neil;  and  Steven Martin who lives in Rio de Janeiro and works as a professional tap-dancer, teacher and choreographer. With his wife Beth  (from Campo Grande, Mato Grosso) they have a daughter, Nina.

O coqueiro

We received many letters and personal messages written by former colleagues and students, friends and family, when they died (Roy, at Westminster Gardens, in 1979; Evelyn, also in Duarte, California,  ten years later). They are all eloquent,  evocative, and touching. They help us begin to appreciate more fully this vibrant couple, whom we now see more clearly or that we were able, as their children, to perceive.  As we read on in their remarkable correspondence, at different transition points, we can begin to understand the dilemmas,  joys tensions and triumphs in their lives among their beloved students, faculty colleagues and Jandira neighbors.

We quote here, from an esteemed  friend and former colleague, because it reflects  Evelyn and Roy quite as they might have liked to be remembered. It came from Gerson Meyer, as Manuelino as they come:

Querido Chuck,

Tu não te lembras da casinha pequenina
onde o nosso amor nasceu?
Tinha um coqueiro do lado que coitado de
saudade já morreu?

Você não crê que Deus gostaria de ouvir esse dueto cantado pelo Altão (“Moço, moço!”) e D. Evelina de vez em quando? Eu creio. Lembro-me sempre do alto e da baixinha (uso a palavra com amor) cantando em nossas reuniões nas noites de Sábado no Jota. Bem-aventurados aqueles que dormem no Senhor, pois as suas obras o seguem. Somos frutos dessa obra.

Cante comigo a Casinha Pequenina, e estaremos homenageando D. Evelina e o velho mestre Roy.

As we close this brief biographical sketch, we invite you, as we did in the letter which we wrote to our parents’ friends in 1989,  to trust that next to the casinha pequenina a coqueiro will flourish again and again, providing abundant fruit and refreshing shade for many.

Quem é aquela gente que vive no céu cantando …? 

Transcrito aqui em 6 de Novembro de 2015.


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