Josephine Rapp, 102, is a tiny woman. Her brown hair is set in a classic halo of curls around her head. She wears a tasteful pearl necklace layered with another silver necklace with a diamond pendant. Coming in at just under 5 feet, Josephine may not be tall but her personality is larger than life.
“Jo”, as her friends call her, lives in her own little ‘apartment’ at an assisted living center in Erlanger. She is the definition of a social butterfly with, what can strongly be assumed as, the MOST festively decorated door at the center. She even has an envelope, pen and paper for people to leave notes for her when she isn’t ‘home’.
In April, Josephine will celebrate her 103rd birthday. A deeply religious woman who is active in her church, Jo’s congregation devoted 300 hours of prayer for her to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2016. What’s her secret? A positive attitude and her friends. “I love all my friends. They say ‘Jo, thank you for smiling. It makes me happy”. It’s just the way I feel. I’m happy to see everybody. I feel sorry for those who aren’t, so I always smile.”
According to Josephine’s granddaughter, Heather Murphy of Fort Thomas, Jo relies heavily on faith, hope and love...the greatest of these being love. “She has a heart of gold for everyone she meets.”
After meeting her, Fort Thomas Matters can confirm that this is, in fact, true.
She was even recently chosen to be the ‘face’ of a new advertising campaign for Express Mobile Transportation, a new division of Executive Transportation in Newport, Kentucky. Jo’s granddaughter Heather’s husband Dennis is part owner.
Recently, FTM sat down with Josephine to learn more about her early life, her love story and the key to a happy life and successful marriage.
Born in 1916, Josephine is the youngest child of her Lebanese parents, Betsy and Jabour. Jo grew up in Cincinnati where her father owned and operated a pool hall on Sycamore St. The family lived above the pool hall in a small apartment. When Jo was nine months old, her mother passed away and her Dad had to take care of her and her two older siblings, Aziz and Julie.
Jo attended St. Xavier School in Cincinnati and when FTM asked about her memories from that time in her life, she lit up. “I loved school but I only went to school until the 8th grade because my father went blind and I had to take care of him. I remember Sister Cecilia loved me, she knit me a hat and scarf for me. I sent her a Mother’s Day card. She was so good to me — advising me, telling me never to wear makeup because I was beautiful the way I was.”
At school, Jo and other students were treated to weekly movies...but they couldn’t read so Father Finn would read to them. “Every Monday night at St. Xavier School, they’d show a movie. Father Finn would gather us around and read the movie to us. He always talked to us, told us to be careful, obey our parents.”
Although Jo enjoyed school and her friends, there were times when she ached for a mother. “I remember my first communion in grade school. My dad was there with me but everyone else had their mothers. I remember being sad that my mother wasn’t there to fix my veil. My sister tried make sure I looked good for communion but it just wasn’t the same.”
Times were tough growing up but Jo’s older sister Julie did her best to be a mother to Jo. “My father wasn’t concerned with holidays so my sister and her friends saved up their money to buy me a doll. They hid it under the bed and as I was playing jacks one day, the ball went under the bed and I found it. I said ‘Santa Claus was here!’ And it just broke her heart because she wanted to give me that doll. She always tried to be a mother to me.”
In 1935, Jo met her future husband Charlie for the first time. One of her friends, whom she called “Baby”, had a grocery store near her apartment. Jo got a job there helping Baby out. On her way to work one day, she passed two men waiting for a bus to take them to the swimming pool at Sycamore St. and 4th. One of them was Charlie. “Our eyes met and my knees started shaking. He finally came in the store and bought something. He said the same thing happened to him. He thought I was the most beautiful girl.” Charlie asked Jo on a date but her father Jabour wouldn’t allow her to date at 19.
Little did she know their paths would cross again during the Great Flood of 1937. She and her sister Julie and brother-in-law Nelson decided to go look at the flood waters and before going, they stopped at a store. Jo ran in to buy a ‘Coca-Cola’ and lo and behold; Charlie was working the counter. “I went up to the counter and said, ‘I’ll have this please’ and he said ‘Is that right?? Why’d you stand me up?’ I was so embarrassed I ran back out to the car and said ‘Step on it Nelson! The fella I stood up is in there!’ Charlie ran out, stood on the rails of the car and said, ‘If you stop, I’ll buy you a beer at the restaurant across the street.’ Nelson agreed and Charlie and Jo talked and danced the night away. “His friends kept asking for the next dance but Charlie told them no.”
Jo’s father finally agreed to let them date but Charlie was so enamoured with Jo that he wanted to get married immediately. The problem was that Jo’s father Jabour didn’t like him. “He said he was ‘too worldly wise’ for me. Charlie would come around the house and Dad would shove him but Charlie wouldn’t give up.”
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Finally, Charlie and Jo began dating. After about eight months, Charlie convinced Jo to meet his mother. Jo was terrified of the Irish/German family and afraid that his mother, Maggie, wouldn’t like her. “I told him there were plenty of other girls he could take to meet her. Other girls that did the Irish jig...but he didn’t want them. He dragged me there and she came out on the porch and hugged me immediately. Maggie was the closest thing I had to a mother. She was with me with all of my babies.”
Marriage & Family:
Jo married Charlie at Sacred Heart Church when she was 24 years old. The ceremony was conducted by Father Finn. The couple then relocated to Bellevue, just two blocks from where Charlie’s mother Maggie lived. Since Jo still worked making bows for shoes at a factory on 3rd and Sycamore, Maggie would often let herself in to their apartment to help with their laundry and dishes.
For a fun night out, Jo and Charlie would go to the Eagles Lodge in Bellevue. “One time I saw two pretty blondes and said ‘Oh, they’re so pretty’ and Charlie said he only had eyes for me….then he got up and sang “I Only Have Eyes For You” to me. I’ve always loved that song.” The original song was released in 1934 in the movie “Dames” and has been covered several times, most notably by “The Flamingos” in 1959.
Charlie and Jo would also go dancing at one of the most beautiful venues, just across the river. “I LOVED to dance! We’d go to Moonlight Gardens.”
Upon his safe return, Jo and her husband Charlie went on to have a total of two children: five girls and five boys. Each child is only two to four years apart. “My husband put his order in for two girls and two boys. We just always prayed for healthy kids.” Now, the kids range in age from the mid-50s to late-70s with their own families. Jo has 27 grandchildren, 42 great grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.
The Rapp family eventually settled in a house they built at 408 Clark St. in Bellevue where they lived for 42 years.
Jo and Charlie were married for 64 years until Charlie’s death in 2002. Jo’s secret to a successful marriage? Go with the flow.
“We were both easy going! Well…Charlie was easy going until after eight kids."