Joseph Hopper

My great-grandfather Joseph Hopper (1892-1971) served as a PCUS missionary in Korea from 1920 to 1956. My grandfather compiled this brief memoir of the first 30 years of his father’s life in Kentucky.

Joseph was a prolific writer. You can find many of his works at joseph-hopper.com.

Title page of Hopper's study of Revelation

Joseph Hopper, my father, grew up in a strong Christian home as is evident from the description of his parents and other relatives. He and my Aunt Margaret Hopper used to reminisce about their happy times as children. Like many others in Presbyterian homes he wrote a letter to the “Christian Observer” which reveals something of his home training:

A BIBLE VERSE EVERY MORNING.

Dear Mr. Converse: I am five years old. I have three brothers. I go to school. I am reading in the second reader. I am in subtraction. I have recited the twenty-third psalm. Please publish my letter. I say a verse every morning. I go to Sunday school. Your little friend,

Joseph Hopper Stanford, Ky.

He must have excelled as a student from the very start, and all the records point to his having an excellent academic record all through his years of education and he also participated in extra-curricula activities. An evening “Declamatory Contest” was held by the Stanford High School at Walton’s Opera House one Friday evening in March while Father was a student. There were nine “declamations” interspersed with musical numbers. Father gave the first “declamation” on the subject “War and Public Opinion.” One wonders how his thoughts on that subject would appeal to the public today!

I have some of his report cards from Centre College and they are a monotonous string of “A”s in every subject so it is not surprising that the commencement program (dated June 11, 1914) lists him as graduating “Magna Cum Laude.” A newspaper clipping from his hometown paper reads…

ANOTHER HOPPER WINS Young Joe Hopper Captures Oratorical Contest

Another Hopper boy of Stanford has won high honor at Central University at Danville. These young men, sons of Mr. and Mrs. George D. Hopper, of this city, are making great records and their many friends are very proud of them. Tuesday’s “Danville Advocate” said: The Annual June Oratorical Contest among the members of the two literary societies of Central University was held in the College Chapel last night at 8 o’clock. There were four speakers and all acquitted themselves most creditably. Mr. Joseph Hopper of Stanford, was awarded the handsome gold medal for the best oration, while Mr. John Jacob Bethurum, of Somerset, won second place….Mr. Joseph Hopper’s subject was: “A Representative American.”

A newspaper reports a “Vacation School” in three churches with a large attendance of interested happy youngsters ranging in age from 6 to 14 years. It is noted that “whispering and throwing spit balls is allowed.” Among the teachers listed is J. Hopper, a college student at that time. About the same time was another event of a different nature:

COLLEGE BOYS MERRY ON “Y” ROOF GARDEN
: Men of Eleven Institutions Vie In Songs and Yells Under the Stars

The biggest night thus far on the Y.M.C.A. roof garden was “college night” last night, when over three hundred people enjoyed a program of college songs, yells, stunts, athletic events and pranks.

The participants represented the following eleven colleges: Purdue, Indiana, Wabash, Kentucky State, Central University, Washington and Lee, University of Tennessee, Transylvania University, Virginia Polytechnic. About forty college young men took part….

The third event was…called “continuous glum” in which the participants endeavored to excel in retaining a gloomy Gus expression. It provoked uproarious hilarity and one after another each of the hard working contestants was obliged to relax his features from latitudinal to longitudinal dimensions… It was won by Hopper in eleven minutes.

Hopper recited a Bostonese version of “Twinkle, twinkle little star.”

The final event was a coat race with four couples participating. Mr. Hopper of Central, Miss Dudley Brown, Mr. Hawkins of Rochester [others named]. The ladies stood at one end of the course, the young men at the other with coats fully buttoned. At the signal to start the young men walked rapidly to their partners and removed their coats, placed them on the young ladies, buttoned them up and returned to the starting point. It was a very exciting event and was won in one minute and fifteen seconds by Mr. Hopper and Miss Brown.

The president of his college gave Father the following handwritten letter of recommendation shortly before his graduation at a time when he must have been considering taking a job as a teacher:

April 30, 1917
Central University of Kentucky
Danville, Ky.
Frederick W. Hinitt, Ph.D., D.D.
President

To Whom it may Concern:

Mr. J. Hopper will graduate from Centre College next June with the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He desires to secure a position as teacher in a High school and it gives me pleasure to give a most cordial endorsement of his ability. His scholarship is sound and thorough. I believe that he will make an excellent disciplinarian. He has an attractive personality, is a man of high character and will exert a good influence in any school. I regard him as an unusually promising man who will make a first-class record in school work. I shall be glad to answer any special questions concerning him.

F. W. Hinett, Pres.

Masonry seems to have had a very large place in the Hopper family, and Father evidently became a mason too, but it is not clear exactly when. He never spoke much about this in later life, and certainly did not keep up his connections with it. Apparently for his own father and others in the family masonry was considered an activity which strengthened their religious faith and commitment and took the place in their lives of civic clubs such as Rotary or Kiwanis today. We do have this undated clipping from a newspaper:

ALL CHAIRS IN LODGE OCCUPIED BY HOPPERS
When Young Joe Hopper Takes His First Degree in Masonry–

A Very Unusual Event

What is said to have been a record in Masonry was established here last Friday night, when Joseph Hopper Jr., had the entered apprentice degree conferred upon him by Lincoln lodge No. 60 of Stanford. On that occasion all of the chairs of the lodge were occupied by members of the Hopper family, who did the work upon the youngest member in most impressive manner.

Walter O. Hopper, of Mt. Sterling, a brother of the candidate was Acting Master; George D. Hopper, Sr., his father, acted as Senior Warden, Geo. D. Hopper, Jr., a brother, acted as Junior Warden. A first cousin, Dr. W. O. Hopper of Perryville, was Senior Deacon, and John Hopper, another first cousin, of Perryville was Junior Deacon. The aged and beloved Rev. Joseph Hopper, an uncle, acted as Chaplain.

It will easily be seen that the Hopper family believes in the principles of Masonry. This prominent family are all Masons, save one.

The ceremonies were simple and impressive throughout and a large attendance of the members was had.

Father prepared for the ministry at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (1914-1917).1 We have very little information about his seminary years. One short newspaper clipping states that: “Armenia in Relation to Mohammedanism” was the subject for Missionary Day at the Seminary, Wednesday, March, 15, Dr. R. A. Webb presiding. ‘Armenia in Early Church History’ was discussed by Mr. A. L. McDuffie; ‘Modern Armenian Massacres,’ by Mr. Joseph Hopper, of the student body…”

An article published in a Louisville Seminary bulletin in 1989 gives some insight into student life when Father was there, and one incident in which he was involved which seems totally out of character for him.

PAUL VAN DYKE REMEMBERS SEMINARY LIFE

Dr. Paul Shepherd Van Dyke, the Seminary’s oldest living graduate, recently reminisced about his days at Louisville. “I vividly recall my three best friends at Seminary: John Rood Cunningham, Barney Guerrant, and Joe Hopper. We all sat at the same dining table. We weren’t the most dedicated students and sometimes we went to a sort of vaudeville place on the edge of town. The place wasn’t indecent, but when some of the seniors heard about it, they called us in and advised us that we were engaging in an unsuitable activity. It was pointed out that this was conduct unbecoming of seminary students, so we stopped.

When I arrived in Louisville, I was immediately impressed by the beauty of the Seminary architecture. The grey stone Gothic buildings that surrounded a quadrangle on three sides were lovely. One wing contained dormitory rooms and two faculty apartments; another wing was mostly classrooms and a few dormitory rooms, and the central section housed the dining hall, offices and other classrooms. There were magnificent trees and a lovely lawn. Broadway ran right through the center of the city in front of the Seminary from one end of Louisville to the other and that afforded an easy way to get around. The YMCA and the public library were both within one block…. There was student preaching once a week on Thursday night for middlers and seniors. The juniors came, but they did not preach. After the sermon the faculty really took the sermons apart and put them together again….

Dormitory life was very simple. Most of the men were on scholarships. I believe two were married and we didn’t envy them at all. I received $25.00 a month to cover incidentals, clothing, travel, and any eating out. Honorariums from church preaching were $5.00. It was a completely kind, trusting, caring atmosphere and the fellowship was close.

We had summer work and mine was in “Bloody Breathitt” County in Kentucky, which had a reputation of being the most wracked by feuds. I held services in a school house and lived in a log cabin. The main industry was cutting timber, binding logs into rafts, and floating them to the nearest sawmill…

After seeing the above article, I wrote to Dr. Van Dyke and received the following reply on March 14, 1989, parts of which I quote:

Joe was an exemplary seminarian, excelling in all that was excellent, and an exceptionally well balanced person.

He and I were church history buffs and enjoyed a friendly rivalry in that subject.

I recall the student preaching during our senior year – I put the texts here to save space: Joe’s text: Gal. 6:14; Guerrant’s text: John 1:38, and mine II Cor. 5:14. We all received special commendation from Dr. Hemphill, President and Professor of Homiletics.

I remember that an older brother [William Hopper] of Joe’s was pastor of a church in Louisville when we were in seminary and of attending church there.

Father did some preaching during his seminary days as indicated by the following newspaper clippings (undated):

PREACHED HIS FIRST SERMON

Joseph Hopper, of this city, who is attending the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, preached his initial sermon Sunday morning. He was sent out to Cave Run church, some fifteen miles from Louisville, where the splendid young man acquitted himself most creditably. Joseph promises to be a fitting successor to that grand old uncle of his, “Cousin” Joseph Hopper, of Perryville, who has been preaching for over sixty years, and whose clear and forceful expounding of gospel truths has caused so many to turn from the ways of the world to lead Christian lives. Joseph’s friends here are expecting big things of him in the Master’s cause and there is every reason to believe that disappointment will not be their portion.

THE LINE FORK

Twelve miles from the railroad, over a big mountain, in Letcher county, on the Virginia border, is a large stream known as the Line Fork. It is thickly settled by a fine type of the Cumberland Highlanders, who have never had the advantages of many other settlements.

Early in the summer, a young man, Mr. S. B. Ghiselin, a teacher in the Marshall Institute of Richmond, Va., came to Kentucky and began work in that secluded settlement. He was most cordially received, and soon had two flourishing Sabbath-schools started, with over one hundred pupils. Though six miles apart, he conducted both, walking most of the time. All through the summer, he visited the homes, and distributed religious literature, gave scores of Gospels to the children and sowed the good seed in many hungry hearts.

Two young preachers, Mr. Jos. Hopper and Mr. William Guerrant, assisted him for ten days, and a number of Highlanders made public profession of faith. There were no Presbyterians in the whole region, and few of any faith but the Primitive Baptists, who received him with true Highland hospitality. There are scores of such places awaiting the labors of the Soul Winners.

Father also took part in some summer camps for young people. A Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Ballard of Glenview had given their summer home “the Cathedral House” for use as a camp for girls, but during one July the “Men’s Club” and “Young Men’s Club” also ran a “Boy’s Club.” Another clipping reports:

Mr. Joseph Hopper of Stanford, who is experienced in Y.M.C.A. camps, arrived in the city last Friday to take charge of the boys’ camp as director., He is being assisted by Mr. Wallace Blakely, a member of the Young Men’s Club, who is swimming instructor. Mr. Hopper has just returned from having charge of a vacation school in Evansville.

The account of his first sermon in his home town church reveals one of his The service of the Presbyterian Church on Sunday morning was of more than ordinary interest. Mr. Joseph Hopper, the youngest member of the family of Mrs. G. D. Hopper, preached for the first time in his home church. The church was well filled with a good number of people representing other communions being present. Mr. Hopper’s sermon was a very appropriate one for the occasion. It was an earnest heart-to-heart talk on the subject of choosing a life work, and was therefore especially helpful to young people. The verse of Scripture chosen was from the Book of Proverbs, third chapter and sixth verse…. Mr. Hopper was licensed to preach by the Presbytery of Transylvania at its spring meeting in April. He is a graduate of Centre College and of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Kentucky. He bears the name of his revered and beloved “Uncle Joe Hopper…. Turning aside from some more attractive opportunities for service Mr. Hopper has decided to begin his work where the need is greatest, and has accepted a call to a field of Christian usefulness in the Kentucky mountains. His work will be in the counties of Breathitt and Lee. He expects to go to his field of labor this week ordained in the near future.

Father was ordained by West Lexington Presbytery on Oct. 9, 1917. At that time and the next year or so he received a number of calls to various churches. A letter dated July 19, 1918 from David M. Sweets, editor of the Christian Observer,” was written as a representative of the Presbytery to enclose a call to the Mulberry Church which had been found in order. A call dated June 10, 1918 was to the James Lee Memorial Presbyterian Church of Louisville, Ky. He served as pastor of churches in Athol, Canyon Falls, and St. Helens from 1917 to 1918.

The following newspaper clippings indicate that his installation services included evangelistic appeals as well:

Twin Creek Church, Athol (West Lexington Presbytery). Rev. Joseph Hopper was installed pastor of this church on Sunday afternoon, October 14, by a commission of West Lexington Presbytery. Rev. W. B. Guerrant, Rev. A. L. McDuffie, and Ruling Elder Joseph Newland, of Jackson, composed the commission. The morning hours were given over to the holding of a Sunday school institute. During the day’s services six persons united with the church on profession of faith and were baptized.

Canyon Falls (West Lexington Presbytery). On October 11, 12, and 13 a community meeting was held here, attended by several hundred persons. Ruling Elder W. K. Massie, of the First Church, Lexington, presented a large flag to the school and several other addresses were made by Rev. J. W. Tyler DD, Thomas B. Talbot, Lieutenant Governor Black and others. On the evening of October 14, Rev. Joseph Hopper was installed pastor of the church appointed by the Presbytery.

St. Helens (West Lexington Presbytery). On Sunday, October 21, Rev. Joseph Hopper was installed pastor of the St. Helens Church.

Rev. Wm. Cumming preached and charged the pastor and Ruling Elder Thomas B. Talbot charge the people. At the close of the service one young man made profession of faith and was baptized.

During those days we have some newspaper clippings telling of his preaching. They are undated and cannot be produced in any kind of chronological order.

Corbin, Ky. Last Sunday morning and at night Rev. Joseph Hopper, of Louisville, preached two splendid sermons to an unusually large congregation at both services. Rev. Hopper is of consecrated Presbyterian ancestors, and though young in years has the bearing and delivery of an experienced minister. We regard him as one of the most promising young preachers in the Southern Presbyterian church, and one of whom any congregation may well be proud to claim as a pastor.

Shoulder Blade, Breathitt County. On September 14, the annual Sunday School Institute of this field was held at Shoulder Blade. Those who took part in the program were, Mr. T. B. Talbot, who presided; Dr. J. W. Tyler, Rev. and Mrs. W. B. Guerrant, Rev. Joseph Hopper, Judge Mann of Elkatawa, Miss Holcomb of Highland School, Mrs. Patsy Turner of Canoe, and Miss Ashford of Shoulder Blade…

Thanksgiving in the Mountains (West Lexington Presbytery). On Thursday, November 29, an all-day Thanksgiving program was given at the Mill branch school house near Athol, Breathitt county. In the forenoon there were special exercises by the pupils of the Sunday school, an address on Sunday school work by Mr. T. B. Talbot, who presided, and a Thanksgiving sermon by Rev. Joseph Hopper…

Shoulder Blade, Breathitt County. Shoulder Blade is one of the places where Rev. W. B. Guerrant has been preaching regularly since last summer and where are located two of the most efficient lady missionaries… On Sunday, March 21, a commission of West Lexington Presbytery met at the place and organized a church…with a charter membership of sixty-five…

The officers of the church were then elected… (The Sunday School in the afternoon) was followed by the installation of Rev. W. B. Guerrant as pastor of the church. Rev. Joseph Hopper presided, preached the sermon, and propounded the constitutional questions…

West Lexington Presbytery. The spring meeting of West Lexington Presbytery, at Versailles, was brought to a close on Wednesday evening with an interesting and inspiring conference on the home mission work of the Presbytery. Most of the home mission work of the Presbytery is in the mountain counties of eastern Kentucky Three young ministers from this field, Messrs. McDuffie, Guerrant and Hopper took part in the program… The new church recently organized at Shoulder Blade, which has a new building completed and paid for, starts out with a membership of seventy-five, and gives promise of becoming a strong, aggressive church.

Thomas Talbott, the Sunday-school missionary, and his little son had a narrow escape from drowning while crossing the Kentucky river, in Lee county, Thanksgiving day, says a dispatch. The boat in which they were crossing the stream struck a concealed snag in the river and Mr. Talbott and his son were thrown overboard in deep water. Rev. Hopper, who happened to be in the boat with them, went to the rescue of the struggling father and son and undoubtedly saved one of them from drowning. As it was they escaped with cold baths. Rev. Hopper is youngest son of Mrs. Kittie Hopper of this city, who is making his mark as a mountain pastor and evangelist.

For a short time in 1919 and early 1920 Father was “stated supply” or “acting pastor” of the Highland Church of Louisville in 1919. Evidently the pastor of that church died during the summer and Father was asked to continue there. A letter of Mr. Thacker of Lexington, Ky. to Father dated Aug. 30 1919 indicates that he was called to a church in that area too, but Father replied:

I certainly would delight to jump into this Lexington field, and would do so except for the situation at the Highland church. The providential leadings seem to indicate that I remain at Highland. At a meeting of the Highland session Sunday, Dr. Lyons said words to this effect: “The captain has fallen. The lieutenant is on the field. It would be a calamity for the work not to be carried forward.”

This must have been quite a change from the home mission work he had been doing. During that time he apparently applied for appointment as a foreign missionary and, in order to prepare himself further, he went to what was then called the White’s Biblical Seminary in New York.

We have one interesting item about him in September: a small card which reads as follows:

Kindly admit Rev. Joseph Hopper to informal meeting with PRESIDENT WILSON at Hotel Henry Watterson, (Auditorium) at 2:30 o’clock, Sunday afternoon, September 28, 1919.

Commission on International Friendship and Good Will of the Churchmen’s Federation.

Whether or not he attended this function, I do not know.

Of far more lasting importance that year was his meeting with Annis Barron of Rock Hill, South Carolina. She was also attending White’s Biblical Seminary in preparation to serve under the United Presbyterian Mission as a teacher of missionary children in Egypt. She belonged to the A.R.P. (Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church). She and Father found themselves with a similar calling in life, fell in love and were engaged. Father must have had a busy time if he was simultaneously studying at this seminary, supplying the Highland Church in Louisville, and courting Mother! They often told us how Dr. and Mrs. W. D. Reynolds who had been missionaries in Korea since 1892 (the year Father was born) helped Father choose his engagement ring for Mother. They were married on Dec. 18, 1919 in Rock Hill and more description of this event will be given in connection with my account of Mother’s family. They began preparations for going to Korea immediately.

West Lexington Presbytery. On Monday, January 26, an all-day meeting in the interest of missions was held in the First Presbyterian church, Lexington. The program was arranged by Mr. Thos. B. Talbot, who presided.

Mrs. Patsy Turner, of our mountain mission work, told of her work at Canoe Mrs. Cockerham, president of Kentucky Synodical, gave a little talk on “Montreat.”… .The closing address of the day was made by Rev. Joseph Hopper, a member of West Lexington Presbytery, who served in our mountain mission field for about two years. His subject was, “From the Mountains to Korea . ” He and Mrs. Hopper expect soon to sail for Korea as foreign missionaries, to be supported by members of the Highland Presbyterian Church.

In February of 1920 the bride and groom sailed for Korea. The “Great Northwestern Telegram” office of Vancouver, B.C. Canada indicates their departure:

1920 Feb. 24 3:33 PM (From) Louisville, Ky. (To) Rev. Jos Hopper

Care Steamer Empress of Japan to arrive Vancouver, B.C.

Students of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary of Kentucky wish you and your wife God speed on your voyage. May God’s richest blessing abide with you in all your missionary activities.

Upon arrival in Korea they were assigned to Mokpo, on the southwestern tip of the peninsula. From a newspaper clipping we read:

Mrs. Kate Egbert is in receipt of a splendid letter from her cousin, Joseph Hopper, a Presbyterian missionary to Korea, which is full of interest. He and wife are located in pleasant, modern quarters at Mokpo, a city of 20,000 inhabitants, composed of both ancient and modern civilization, having waterworks, telephone, telegraph and wireless communication, electric lights, etc. the local church has 250 members; Sunday school 400 members; only one Protestant mission to combat with 600,000 people, but Mr. Hopper seems quite enthusiastic and when he masters their language will be assigned a charge. Both he and his wife are well pleased with their surroundings.

That report is rather amusing in the light of what we know of their home which was not exactly “pleasant, modern quarters” and had no electricity until some ten years later. I doubt that in later years Father would ever assume that the Korean language could be “mastered.”

Several articles by my parents were published in “The Missionary Survey,” during 1920 and 1921 parts of which are quoted here:

A UNIQUE PREPARATORY COMMUNION SERVICE Rev. Joseph Hopper

The preparatory communion service about which I am to tell you may well be called unique because of the place in which it was held, the people who were present, and the program of the service.

This service was held in a church and in a community quite different from the place where I attended my last preparatory communion service in America early in January. At that time I was in the Hawes Memorial Building of the Highland Presbyterian Church, Louisville, Ky. Since then, however, I have come to a foreign county, and my first meeting of this character here was in the leper church of Kwangju, Korea. The Kwangju home for lepers has at present 310 inmates. The Southern Presbyterian Church has a strong organization at the Kwangju leper home, the leper church having a membership of over 100. As this church is a part of Mr. (J. V. N.) Talmage’s parish he asked me to go with him on Wednesday night, April 7th, and preach to the lepers at their preparatory communion service.

Upon my first arrival in Kwangju on March 24th, I felt a little hesitance in going in the neighborhood of a leper, but was soon assured by Dr. (R. M.) Wilson that with the necessary precautions I need not fear. I was glad, therefore to go with Mr. Talmage to this leper service. The church building has recently been erected, and is a well arranged, attractive- looking structure.

When the hour for the service had come, the church was filled with about 250 lepers. They were not nearly so repulsive as I had imagined. They were neatly dressed, and looked happy and cheerful. They seemed ready to enter into the spirit of worship, many of them having their own Bibles and hymn-books. They looked so very different from the poor lepers we see begging on the roadside, who have never been physically nor spiritually cleansed.

As the service began, a strange and wonderful feeling came over me. I had never seen that many people at a preparatory communion service before–and they were Korean lepers! What an inspiration it was to hear them sing.

“O, for a thousand tongues to sing, My great Redeemer’s praise, The glories of my Lord and King, The triumphs of his grace.”

The words were foreign to me, but not the tune, nor the spirit in which they sang it. Like the Samaritan leper of old they with a loud voice were glorifying God, and giving Him thanks. With prayer, song, and Scripture reading the service continued. In response to a question of Mr. Talmage, six of the lepers said they were ready to recite the Shorter Catechism, and a number of others the Child’s Catechism. Many who had recently been admitted into the home showed by their skill in finding and reading Scripture verses that they had learned to read since their arrival. I had been told before that they were excellent Bible students, but their answers at this time simply astounded me. Had I been a school teacher, I could easily have given them a grade of 95 per cent on this impromptu examination… .After they had answered such questions, I realized that the Korean church has its Bereans, that it might truthfully be said of these lepers too, “Now these…received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily whether these things were so.”

The sermon which followed was my first sermon to a Korean congregation. It was a wonderful privilege given me to witness for Christ in the uttermost part of the earth, especially to a congregation of this character. I felt that Christ’s commission was being heeded in a special way in that the poor were having the gospel preached to them. The Holy Spirit was evidently present. The lepers gave excellent attention, following closely Mr. Talmage, who interpreted the message to them.

From the August 1921 “Missionary Survey.” A card from Rev. Joseph Hopper makes the following announcement: “Mrs. Hopper and I are rejoicing over the arrival of a son–Joseph Barron Hopper–who was born on May 17th. We are glad this little missionary arrived on the field just at this time of sore need, for he will be able to render a big service in cheering the hearts of missionaries and natives while waiting for the reinforcements that are coming out to help in the work this summer.”


  1. It is interesting to note that for two years his time there over-lapped with that of Dot’s father, Jay Hershey Lonqenecker, who was at the seminary from 1913-1916. Also, his brother George apparently roomed with him part of the time at the seminary while taking his law degree nearby. [return]

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