JACKSONVILLE — A 79-year-old affectionately known as the “bike man” will be remembered as an outgoing person and devoted angler.
Oscar Harper, who gave back to his community by repairing bicycles for children, died Thursday in Jacksonville.
Born in Rusk County, Harper was a member of the Assembly of God Church, served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War and was a retired production supervisor at Armco Steel, according to his obituary. He also grew vegetables in his garden to bring in money for gift cards, which he gave to children around town, and enjoyed bass fishing.
“He tried to do everything he could (for the community),” said neighbor Bobby Whiteley, who has a bike Harper repaired for his niece. “If he could help someone, he always did. He was friendly and neighborly no matter what.”
In December, Harper’s backyard was filled with about 40 bikes of all shapes and sizes. Two of the bikes were turned upside down, indicating that they were a work in progress.
Harper learned how to make repairs as a teenager. When he retired and moved back to Jacksonville in 1985, he still was repairing bikes, but he has said he didn’t have the money to do it like he wanted to.
That all changed in the past 10 years. In 2011, he gave away 54 bikes thanks to contributions from others. In 2010, he put out about 50.
“Me keeping this going is what keeps me going,” Harper said in December. “I like to be busy. My wife (now deceased) called me hyper because I never laid down in the house.”
When the weather’s nice in the spring, he worked on bikes all day long in his backyard. He had said he started in mid-March, and by mid-April, 10 to 15 bikes are usually ready to be distributed. Children then dropped by in late April and early May as the school year came to a close.
“I’ll give to any kid who comes up here and rides it. If they make time trying to find what they want, I think they’re sincere,” Harper said. “About two days ago (in December), a boy down the street wanted to know if his bike was ready. He was anxious to get it.”
Most of Harper’s bikes were used for parts, wheels and bearings. He also had adult bikes, which he sold to pick up more tubes and tires. He spent about $150 a year out of his pocket on his charity.
But he has said it was all worth it because he enjoyed the work.
“It just keeps me active,” he said in December. “I want to be active and help people.”