An ambassador for the textile industry in and around Piedmont, Donald Roper was also the area historian. A self-described “linthead” for his upbringing on Cotton Mill Hill, Roper spoke fondly of his years in the mill village. He shed a positive light on the textile industry, proclaiming that it provided jobs and social benefits to families in the community.
Roper was an avid builder and collector of toys and other objects created from leftover mill parts. His most memorable is the gear-wheel wagon, made from various mill scraps like pick gears and other odds and ends from textile machines. He maintained, however, that children were not the only mill residents to benefit from spare mill parts. Adults often found ways to improve their homes and yards using a variety of surplus pieces as well. Roper could often be found sharing his mill town stories and relics with students at regional schools, as well as in other venues, such as the annual Footbridge Festival.
An avid athlete and former sports reporter, Roper served the community under the pen name of “Saluda Sam,” keeping readers informed of special events and local sporting news. In 1997, he volunteered to become a member of the first Institute of Community Scholars, managed by the S.C. Arts Commission’s Folklife and Traditional Arts Program, and soon began sharing his documentation of the life and work of Piedmont mill owner, Albert Rowell. Within a year, Roper had completed a booklet about Rowell’s life and the local community. He also helped to transform Piedmont’s community building into a local mill village museum by assembling community memorabilia and making traditional mill toys from lumber and metal scraps.
In 2002, Roper was recognized for 50 years of service in the textile industry. A year later, he received the Piedmont Community Achievement Award for his service and contributions to the community. Roper passed away in 2018. He was a member of the Executive Council for the University of South Carolina Society and a lifetime member of the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina. Roper received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2009.