By Bob Bohlken
In the more than 10 years that I have been interviewing folks, mostly military, as the subjects of this column, this is the first time that my subject has died between the interviewing process and the writing of the article. I learned so much about Bob Ceperley by attending his visitation and funeral and from reading his son’s written piece on his life.
Bob Ceperley was born in 1925 in Davenport, IA. His father was the editor of the Davenport Democrat newspaper. His mother was a stay-at-home spouse and raised four children. Ceperley had two older brothers and a twin sister. He was much closer to his twin sister than he was to his older brothers. Both of his brothers served in WWII where they experienced combat; one served in the European theater and one in the Pacific. Ceperley and his twin sister, Betty, were socially inseparable until they entered high school where they had different friends and classes.
In 1943, in the midst of WWII, Ceperley graduated from high school at the age of 18. He attempted to join the Army Air Force to be a pilot, but he was told that he was too tall to fly airplanes. Three months later he was drafted into the military. In those days the draftees were assigned different branches of the service according quotas. The Navy and the Air Force quotas filled rapidly and Ceperley was placed in the army infantry for eight weeks of basic training at Camp Blanding, FL.
Because of Ceperley’s tall and assertive physique and disciplined attitude, he became a squad leader. He showed leadership skill. A member of the basic training cadre asked Private Ceperley if he would be interested in staying at Camp Blanding to train the new recruits. He considered the offer over the possible army combat assignments in either the Pacific or the Atlantic theaters. It was then that he said he would be interested in being a basic training cadre.
Upon completion of basic infantry training, trainees were assigned military destinies; most went overseas to combat zones. Private Ceperley was assigned to the Camp Blanding basic training cadre. Because the recruit perception of a trainer’s authority was important for maintaining discipline, Private Ceperley was promoted from private to corporal andthen to sergeant during his year and a half tenure as a non-commissioned drill officer. At first, I had difficulty accepting that he was raised in rank so rapidly. I joined the Army at the age of 18, served overseas as a medic, but after three years, I only held the rank of corporal. My drill sergeant in basic training was mature looking with a combat bayonet slash across the bridge of his nose.
I am sure that Ceperley’s youthful face reflected on his credibility as a training instructor, but his stripes spoke louder than his youthful appearance. Now, I’m not criticizing Bob Ceperley; I would have done what he did. But, I didn’t have the opportunity. There wasn’t a lot of demand for basic training cadre who weighed 125 pounds and stood five feet, seven inches.
During WWII, the length of an individual’s military commitment was based on a points system and although Sergeant Ceperley had served two years, he had not received the number of points needed to be separated from the military. In 1945, for all practical purposes, the combat had ended. In order to get his points, Sergeant Ceperley’s enlistment was extended and he was ordered to serve over seas. He was never proud of his basic training cadre and his rapid promotions in rank, especially when both of his brothers experienced over seas duty. Sergeant Ceperley said that the change in assignments was also good because the recruits’ discipline was no longer enforceable since they no longer had the fear of being sent directly into combat.
Sergeant Ceperley was assigned to the officer quartermaster section in Paris, France. During the war,Paris was designated as a free city and was not bombed by either combatant. Sergeant Ceperley was the highest ranked non-commissioned officer in the section, so he delegated the responsibilities and had plenty of time to sight see while he was fulfilling his point quota. Ceperley, at the age of 21 and holding the highest non-commissioned rank, considered pursuing a military a career.Although the military offered him financial security, he would have little or no control of his assignments. Besides, he had a higher calling.
In 1947, having fulfilled his points requirement, he chose to separate from the military. Ceperley, at the age of 22, used his earned GI Bill to finance his education at Augustana College from which he graduated with a BA degree in 1950. After graduating from Augustana, Ceperley entered the theological seminary at the University of Dubuque in 1951. During the summers, he would return to Davenport where he served as program director of a YMCA and renewed his relationship with his future spouse, Elta Hudgens.
On June 9, 1954, Ceperley graduated with a bachelor’s of divinity degree and was ordained. He married Elta on Thanksgiving Day of that year. Also that year, Reverend Ceperley became associate minister at Storm Lake, IA. Here, Reverend Ceperley served as the associate minister for four years.
In 1958, he was selected to serve as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Maryville. He accepted the offer and the Ceperleys moved to Maryville to begin his tenure of 32 years of dedicated service. He retired from the First Presbyterian Church in Maryville in 1991, but he continued to serve area churches on a temporary basis until 2011. At the age of 85, he began his second and serious retirement.
Reverend Ceperley had found security and stability in which to raise the Ceperley family composed of five males, David, Mike, Mark, Tim and Jeff and onefemale, Jennifer. Reverend Ceperley, I am sure, would have earned more money if he had stayed in the military, but he would nothave the satisfaction of helping others with their spiritual needs.
He would not have had the opportunity to excel in community softball, volleyball and especially bowling along with his sons. He served as secretary/treasurer of the Maryville Bowling Association for 11 years and was inducted into the MBA Hall of Fame in 1990. For 15 years he wrote and published a bowling column in the Maryville Daily Forum.
Reverend Ceperley based his sermons on the principles of the importance of hope and faith to believers, the healing power of forgiveness, the renewal of hope through worship and the saving grace of a sense of humor. The importance of a sense of humor certainly came out in the remarks by his sons and current pastor, Reverend Jonathan Mitchell, at his visitation and funeral. Ceperley, during one of my interview sessions with him at his care facility, told me that the Maryville First Presbyterian Church women’s organization might have copies of his book on sermons. There is one copy on file in the Nodaway County Historical Society’s reading room, first floor of the museum. If you are interested in reading more about Reverend Ceperley, contact Cathy Palmer or Margaret Kelley, research assistants.
Elta Hudgens Ceperley, Reverend Ceperley’s devoted spouse, died in 1996. They had been married for 42 years. Reverend Robert H. Ceperley died on August 1, 2017 at the age of 91. I respect Reverent Ceperley for his military service, his extraordinary ministry and even his bowling skills.
Thanks to Mike Ceperley, Margaret Kelley and Mary Bohlken.