Lumpkin County lost one of its most popular personages last week. Dr. John Raber, the man with the ever-present smile, died Thursday, Feb. 20 at the age of 81.
Dahlonega City councilman, twice mayor, county commissioner and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Raber was also an author; motivational speaker; wresting coach and college referee; radio personality. He held a Doctorate in physiology and kinesiology from the University of Georgia; and was Chair of the Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at what is now the University of North Georgia.
“Everybody knew Dr. John. Doc was bigger than life,” said Ricky Woody, who knew Raber from the time he was in middle school and learned much from him about the sport of wrestling. “He was a mentor and an inspiration to me and so many.”
Raber’s love of wrestling started in Altoona, Penn., when he was a high school wrestler. That love continued to grow as he wrestled at Lock Haven University and later coached at Bucknell and Millersville State, as well as director of “Top of the Mountain” wrestling camps. He would later hold wrestling camps in North Georgia when he moved here.
Woody didn’t take up wrestling until his junior year in high school, but he was friends with Raber’s three boys, Mike, Brian and Greg before then. He would often go to the Raber home after school and “hang out,” he said.
When he started wrestling, he said, Raber “would take us all to tournaments in the off season so that we could get experience.”
Former Lumpkin County High School wrestling coach Brian Matthews experienced Raber’s dedication to the sport during his high school wrestling career.
“When I think of Lumpkin County wrestling the voice I hear is Dr. John’s. He was a referee in many of the matches I wrestled in,” he said, “but his coaching side came through as he guided me with techniques to pin my opponent. Wherever I’ve gone in the wrestling community everyone talks about how great his wrestling camps were. He was truly an ambassador of the sport.”
Raber was the head wrestling official for the Georgia High School Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences. His love of the sport and participation over the years earned him many honors. He was named NCAA (National College Athletic Association) Division 1 Coach of the Year, he was also inducted into both the Wrestling World Hall of Fame and National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
Woody continued to have a relationship with Raber long after his high school years.
“Our relationship turned from sports to a God thing,” he said. Woody is a part of the ministry team at Chestatee Worship Center and also ministers to inmates at the Lumpkin County Jail.
“Dr. John was a blessing to so many people. He was just real—just himself,” Woody said.
A PEOPLE PERSON
Raber was a faithful member of the Cooper-Green Men’s Prayer Group. The group has met each Tuesday morning for years to pray for those in the community who are ill, grieving or in need.
“John had a real passion for that group, and he did some good things,” said fellow member Ralph Prescott. “He was the one who started sending letters letting people know the group was praying for them. That was so effective.”
Raber paid the expense of sending the letters himself, and insisted each one be signed by the members.
“Every once in a while we’d talk about just making copies,” Prescott said, “but John always said they needed to be signed.”
His compassion extended out into the community through his support of many local charities. He had a special place in his heart for Rainbow Children’s Home, Jeremiah’s Place, NOA and Community Helping Place, all of which benefitted from a “bread and sweets” route he and Bob Allen ran for years.
“He got up early and went to Publix to pick up bread and sweets to deliver to non-profits twice a week,” said Juanita Tipton.
Tipton and Raber were in a committed relationship for 10 years.
“He was my best friend, and we enjoyed hanging out together. We were committed to each other,” Tipton said. “He had a zest for life. You were always happy when you were around John because he was always happy. He had a genuine love for people. He’d walk up to strangers and ask them where they were from, what brought them to Dahlonega. Or if he knew they were locals, he’d ask what was going in their lives. I know he’s in heaven asking everybody how they are doing. He was a people person.”
A LOVING DAD
His sons, Mike, Greg and Brian, agree.
“He never met a stranger. He loved his family, UNG, the wrestling community and the people of Dahlonega and Lumpkin County,” Greg said. “He left a smile on the faces of a lot of people.”
“Dad always told me to greet people with a smile because you never know what kind of a day they were having,” Brian said.
And Raber had a deep love for his family that was fully reciprocated.
“He was loved dearly by his children, and he loved his children dearly,” Mike said.
“‘Your Dad loves you!’ That was his quote to me all my life—on his messages, in person and on his little notes to me,” daughter Daina said.
At his request there will be no funeral or memorial service for Dr. John Raber.
“He didn’t like to go to funerals and he didn’t want one for himself,” Tipton said. “He will be cremated and his ashes scattered here. He’s left a void in our lives, and in the life of the community, but he’ll never leave.”
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the Raber family would be honored if donations and contributions were made to the “Dr. John Raber’s Winning Edge Memorial Scholarship Fund,” established at the University of North Georgia.
Checks should be made out to UNG Foundation and mailed to P.O. Box 1599, Dahlonega. Please note where the donation is to go in the check’s memo line.
Please contact Pam Stoffel at 706-857-2873 for questions about the fund.
Online donations can be made at http://ung.imodules.com/raber.