Longtime Natchitoches resident John Ropp was the surprised guest of honor Saturday evening at an appreciation dinner hosted by the Couples Too Sunday School Class of the First Baptist Church of Natchitoches.
Ropp, named as a Natchitoches Treasure in 2019, is a cornerstone member of the class, led for the past decade by David Kees. Ropp’s perpetually charming personality and his countless acts of kindness not only within the church, but throughout the community helped inspire the idea to surprise him with the appreciation dinner attended by nearly 80 invited guests at Merci Beaucoup Restaurant in Natchitoches.
Class members formed a steering committee about two months ago to put on the dinner, led by Jimmy Berry and including Dr. Jerry Ferguson, Donnie Johnston, Warren Massia, Anita Pierce and Bobbye Wells. The decorations committee included Margaret Berry, Marion Johnston, Anita Pierce and Glenda Austin.
Born and raised in Natchitoches, John Ropp graduated from Natchitoches High School as an accomplished student-athlete in the late 1940s. He attended Northwestern, where he played football for the Demons of Coach Harry “Rags” Turpin in the early 1950s.
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwestern as he began his career as a teacher and coach. In eight years at Rusheon Junior High School in Bossier City, Ropp’s football teams had a combined record of 50 wins and only 7 losses. At one point, they won 21 consecutive games.
When Airline High School was created in Bossier City in the mid-1960s, he was the logical choice to be the Vikings’ first head football coach. In their inaugural season, Airline amazed everybody by winning four of 10 games when a winless year was widely anticipated.
Then in his second season, Ropp led the Vikings to a 9-1-1 record, best by any Shreveport-Bossier high school team in 1965. Obviously a phenomenal coach, Ropp was tabbed to return to his college alma mater and be an assistant coach, handling the offensive line and kicking game, for the Demons.
In his nine years on the staff, NSU had winning seasons in all but the last one.
That first season, Ropp helped Coach Jack Clayton’s last team, the 1966 Demons, go unbeaten, 9-0.
Ropp remained on staff under head coaches Glenn Gossett and George Doherty. Many school records were set during those seasons in rushing, total offense and in the kicking game, influenced greatly by Ropp. He coached 21 all-conference linemen for the Demons. He was known as an extraordinary recruiter.
He stepped away from coaching in 1975, entering private business. He later served as president of the N-Club and served on the NSU Foundation board. In 1992, Ropp was elected to the N-Club Hall of Fame, the highest honor Northwestern awards to its former student-athletes and coaches.
He is a skilled poet. He has published books of his poems and usually has an original one, or a limerick, that he shares with the Couples Too Class each Sunday.
Ropp has also become a ventriloquist and has entertained around the community at assisted living and nursing homes, hospitals, schools and church groups, among others.
Two Natchitoches High School teammates, Wilton Corley and Dan Poole, told the audience about their youthful days with Ropp and described his continuing positive influence on so many lives.
Brothers Steve and Kim Gaspard played for Ropp at Northwestern. Each shared colorful examples of why their favorite coach was so impactful in their lives, as well as for all of their teammates and other Demons he coached.
PHOTO: John Ropp (at right) with family members