Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Andre “Butch” Harper has a soft spot in his heart for children. Left, is 11-year-old Delaney Clements, a cancer patient in Grand Junction, Colo. At right is Kamyn Renfro, who showed her support by shaving her head. Both received awards from Harper.
Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - Harper said he is inspired by this child’s sign. After talking with him, Harper said he was saddened by a 9 year old so worried about the world around him.
Special to the Pahrump Valley Times - In Colorado Springs, Colo., Bill Dolan was with Harper for the presentation of a military patch collage to the Childrens’ Memorial Hospital administrator.
Heather Ruth / Pahrump Valley Times - A plaque in remembrance of Brandon Rayner, the 9-year-old Las Vegas cancer patient who lost his life to cancer while trying to collect a world record number of business cards.
Andre “Butch” Harper has been in the news more often and in more cities across the country than even he can count. He is on a mission which began in earnest when he was 39 years old and has never stopped. He gives credit for his inspiration to four children that are not his own.
arper said, “I’ve told people before…you wouldn’t have liked me years ago. I wasn’t a nice person.”
Growing up in Chicago, Harper said he was in with the wrong crowd. “Just like Las Vegas back in those days, Chicago had its own organizations.”
Without going into much detail, Harper said he did “debt collection” for a “juicer” or loan shark. “The bosses set the time for the payment and if they didn’t get it, someone would knock on your door.”
One of those “someones” was Harper and one instance he said, “changed my life forever.”
Harper was married with four children of his own at home when he was sent out to make a “call on someone late with a payment.”
He said the man made the payment but not until after the four kids were out of the house.
Harper said, “I thought to myself, those could have been my kids and that man could have been me.”
Harper said he turned his life around, quit the bad habits, started his career as a philanthropist inspired by children and made a promise to his wife. “Too many people make promises they don’t keep. My wife had MS and passed away in 2004. I promised I would keep doing good things for the children, seniors and those who have served in the military.”
He is well known here for collecting first buttons suitable for kids and patches from businesses, military veterans, first-responders — actually all patches will work in one of his collages. Harper groups the patches into similar groupings and presents them to children’s hospitals and veterans’ facilities across the country.
He has the documentation to prove it, all nicely packaged in binders with sheet covers protecting the letters from various mayors, printed photos of those presentations and in the back, a picture of every military award for identification purposes.
One most remembered effort was the 10-year-old boy with cancer who wanted to set the world’s record for collecting the most business cards. Brandon Rayner collected over 1 million cards before he succumbed to the disease.
Harper said he never visited the child and saw Rayner without a smile on his face. “He was a fighter. He never gave up. He was an inspiration for me. My little soldier.”
“Anyone who doesn’t understand why I do what I do should visit a children’s hospital — see the children you know will never go to the prom or graduate high school. It breaks my heart.”
Harper has Act of Kindness Awards engraved by Awards Plus and presents them to not only celebrities but to those he calls “the little guys.”
“People do kind deeds all the time and no one recognizes them for it. I present them awards, too.”
He has sent the Award of Kindness to Oprah Winfrey, and although he never personally spoke to her, there is a photo of Winfrey hanging on his wall and a letter of thanks.
One engraved to Ellen DeGeneres is awaiting contact from the celebrity’s publicist to see if she will accept it.
Behind the public eye, Harper helps senior citizens with items such as scooter chairs, or he gathers contributions to help purchase them. He has also been known to pay a bill for someone or buy them groceries. No to Abuse just received a stack of coloring books for children who are victims of abuse.
“I can’t stop. I just never learned to say no.”
He said it’s nothing for him to get a call from a distressed citizen who wants something fixed. “I know just about everyone here. I make a few phone calls.”
He said he recently started getting some people in town interested in the town cleanup by taking a friend for a ride to count how many shopping carts are an eyesore on public streets. “A group of us gathered 240 carts and delivered them back to the proper stores. Another man, working alone, brought in another 80. It doesn’t make a good first impression.”
He said the next thing he knows is the issue has been resolved.
Harper said he’s been told by his friends that it’s time for him to take care of himself first. He will be 72 Sept. 2. He has had two open-heart surgeries, been air-lifted to Las Vegas hospitals three times and been taken by ambulance four times.
He said, “At my last doctor’s appointment, I was told I need to have some blood clots fixed in my legs. I’m not going to do that until I make four more presentations.” He has trips planned to Seattle, Wash., Portland, Ore., Billings, Mont. and Boise, Idaho to visit children’s hospitals. Each will receive a collage of military patches.
Harper founded “Smiles Across Pahrump” giving bicycles to underprivileged children. He recently signed all rights over to the Kiwanis. “I signed the papers and gave them all the banners and flyers … everything.”
His favorite piece of music is “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” The song was written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for their musical Carousel in 1945.
“I try to help bring this town together. It would be a better community.”