Bill Tapper was born in Evanston, Ill., in 1905. Nurtured by Calvary Baptist Church in Evanston, he graduated from Bethel Academy in 1928 and went on to Bethel Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., graduating in 1931. He received a B.A. from Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn., in 1934, serving Becker Baptist and the Ebenezer Mission (later Grace Baptist) of Minneapolis during his student days. Ordained at Grace Baptist Church in 1931, he served as their pastor until 1935, then served as pastor of Bethel Baptist Church in Duluth, Minn., from 1935 to 1943. In 1943, Tapper was called to be director of a new Bible school and young people’s work for the Baptist General Conference. He traveled extensively, visiting all 15 districts and 341 churches. In 1948, he became pastor of Edgewater Baptist Church in Minneapolis. During these years he also served as an adjunct professor at Northwestern Bible College. In 1953, the conference asked him to assume the newly-established role of Executive Secretary of the Board of Trustees.
Tapper had a heart that had been damaged by rheumatic fever when he was a child. Doctors advised against stressful responsibility; never the less, he cheerfully accepted the opportunity to serve God through the role of Executive Secretary of the Board of Trustees. He served in this role for five years until his death in 1958 at the age of 53. Bill was married to Eva Nelson Tapper and they had three children, Miriam, John, and a child that died shortly after birth.
Under Tapper’s leadership, the conference continued the work of expansion and consolidation begun in 1945. A conference-wide stewardship program, United Mission for Christ, was designed, which “seeks to unify the churches and conference boards into a oneness of purpose, plan, and performance” (Guston and Erickson, p. 228). In the area of home missions, the Vancouver Bible Institute was accepted under the conference umbrella. Work began on an outreach program to Native Americans in Northern Minnesota, and missions work in Alaska and Mexico was expanded. The Revolving Building Trust Program, an investment program to provide money for church construction, began. The Baptist General Conference World Mission program, begun in 1944, continued to grow. A mission hospital in Assam was founded and the Philippine mission opened a new work in Masbate. Brazil became the first South American field, and plans were made for expanding work to Argentina. The world mission staff grew from 59 in 1952 to 112 in 1958, and the mission budget doubled to more than $550,000.
Publications within the conference reached significant milestones, including the first printing of Gordon Johnson’s My Church in 1957, still used today for membership orientation in conference churches. An extensive series of leadership training books was also published. A joint venture on Sunday School papers with the Covenant Press ended; in its place, staff prepared material to be published by Gospel Light Publications and distributed not only in Baptist General Conference churches but in evangelical churches across the country. In 1957, G. George Erickson, who had been involved with conference publications for over 34 years, retired, marking the end of an era.
The crucial role Bill Tapper played in establishing a central leadership position for the Baptist General Conference is summed up in these words from a Standard article in August 1969: “It was with considerable reticence that the trustee board and the conference established the office of executive secretary of the trustee board several years ago. But when the ministry of Rev. William Tapper proved the wisdom of the decision, it was decided, after his death, to establish the office of general secretary of the conference” (Standard, August 1969).