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Lonnye 'L.J.' Rappé loved fixing cars, making music

ANTIOCH — When Lonnye Rappé was a young man he owned an auto repair shop.

When he deposited his checks at the bank, he'd often chat with a teller named Gerri. One day she mentioned she needed tires. Come on into the shop, he told her.

In the two years they had known each other at the bank, they had never flirted or even been interested in each other. But at the repair shop, he asked her out.

It was love at first sight, two years after they first met.

"We were married two months after we started dating," Gerri Rappe said. "I was his banker, and he thought I had money because I was always taking his. He loved telling people that."

Lonnye "L.J." Rappé died Dec. 16 from congestive heart failure. He was 71. He and Gerri were married for 38 years.

He was born in Plant City and never moved out of Hillsborough County.

"He was born probably two miles from where he lived for 28 years," his wife said.

He never lost his passion for auto mechanics. He sold his garage and worked for many years at Conley Buick.

"He was a problem-solver," his wife said. "Even after he retired, people would call him up when they had car problems. His customers, but even other mechanics, too."

His other lifelong passion was music. As long as his wife and his friends can remember, Mr. Rappé played bass in local bands.

There had been a couple of rock and country bands back in his younger days, but Mr. Rappé was known mostly for his work with Southern Gospel bands. He had played with such groups as the Centurions and the Peacemakers Quartet, and most recently the Deliverance Trio. Usually Mr. Rappé was part of the band that played behind a group of singers.

"He was a great guy, a great friend and a great musician," said Bennie Parker, a member of Deliverance and a longtime friend of Mr. Rappé. "He was an old Southern boy and he talked slow with a Southern drawl. And he'd do anything for you."

The group would perform mostly in local churches, especially East Thonotosassa Baptist Church, where Mr. Rappé was a devoted member. But they'd also play at churches and events around Florida.

"He loved, loved, loved music," his wife said.

Deliverance performed to recorded backing music, augmented by a piano and Mr. Rappé's bass. When the piano player quit, Mr. Rappé thought he should leave too, Parker said. It just seemed odd to him that the only live instrument was a bass. But the group insisted that he stay on, Parker said. They considered his musicianship and his personality an essential part of what they did.

A mild stroke about a year or so ago limited his dexterity, so he took a break from the group. He worked on his music, with hopes of getting his old abilities back so he could rejoin, but his heart condition pretty much ended those plans.

Still, Gerri Rappé said, he maintained the cheery outlook she had seen when he first approached her window at the bank four decades ago.

"He loved life," she said. "And he loved people, He could find the good in anybody."

Besides his wife, Mr. Rappé is survived by sons Joel and Jason Rappe, daughters Katrina Hart, Kimberly Collins and René Miller, eight grandchildren and a great-grandson.

Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Lonnye 'L.J.' Rappé loved fixing cars, making music 12/22/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 22, 2012 3:30am]
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