Every time I talked with my great-aunt, Joyce Rapp, she wanted to know what I was working on. I wanted to know the same about her.
Like me, she was a writer. She had two published books to my zero, and an official title as Lima Town Historian. She died last month at age 96.
The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel did a lovely write-up about her shortly after she died, focusing in particular on the 55 years she lived in Lima in a pre-Civil War house on College Street. “She embodied everything that is good about the town,” Supervisor Mike Falk said.
Like most people who live that long, Aunt Joyce had an incredibly rich life. She and my grandmother grew up together off Dewey Avenue in Rochester, then were in and out of foster care together during the Great Depression after their parents divorced. She got married July 27, 1944 and lived with her husband for 10 days before he went to fight in World War II and disappeared over the Adriatic Sea, presumed dead. Her brother, too, came back from the war haunted by what he’d experienced and ultimately died by suicide.
Also in 1944 she enrolled at the University of Rochester but then took some time off — 33 years, to be exact. She re-enrolled and finally got her bachelor’s degree in 1983 at age 59. She did so while also raising her five children, including one she’d had in those 10 days with her first husband. Aunt Joyce was married to her second husband, Dick Rapp, for 70 years.
Aunt Joyce often told me that she had written freelance articles for the Democrat and Chronicle and the now-defunct Upstate magazine when she was younger. A little while after she died, I looked some of them up. Her articles were just like her: wryly funny, closely observant, self-deprecating. Here’s what she wrote in 1971 about her habit of smoking a pipe:
I am a female, and yes, I do smoke a pipe. My pipe is not an elegant, jeweled slim accessory. It’s either a scratch corn cob, or a stubby briar that tires my teeth. …
If you’ve been laboring under the delusion that a pipe smoker is a relaxed individual who lolls in an easy chair, you’ve been influenced by an advertising executive. When a pipe smoker lolls, it’s because he’s exhausted from striking matches. It takes 10 matches for three puffs, and there are about 20 puffs per pipe. Even my antique math figures that to be 60 and two thirds matches per pipe load. Although there are a few who can do it with less, they have the draft of a smelting furnace.Upstate May 16, 1971
Her two books are fun reads as well: Yesterday in Lima, from 2006, and Lima in America, from 2008. There are plenty of copies of both in the local libraries that I’d encourage you to read. As the writer of the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel piece wrote: “Joyce Rapp loved history and enjoyed passing that love on to future generations in Lima so that they knew the stories of those who lived in this town, the famous and the not-so-famous. It is that love that is her legacy.”
I interviewed her about her life in 2018 and asked her what she thought her legacy would be. She didn’t hesitate to answer: her family. “Even with my childhood, which was a bitch, I’ve been so lucky,” she said. “Because I was finally married to someone and it lasted a long time. … We just had more fun than 10 people being parents.”
When I talked to her last, a week before she died, she told me about her latest book idea — the story of the mothers of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other women’s advocates in the 19th century. She wanted to know what I was working on as well.