By Susan Robbins ’86
What does a group of aging baby boomer alumni do when they want to pay tribute to one of their beloved professors who is about to retire? Why they set up a Facebook group and start messaging like crazy!
When we heard that Dr. Chappell would be delivering his "last lecture" at Alumni Weekend 2010, two fellow English majors and I, from the class of 1986, decided that we would share our memories of Dr. Chappell. This was not that unusual because, on occasion, we e-mail each other short essays on some topic or another for no other reason than we enjoy reminiscing about our college days and also still enjoy crafting a piece of writing. We exchanged our memories and then it hit us. What if we gave these tributes to Dr. Chappell? What if we encouraged some of our fellow alumni to do the same? We would find a way to compile notes of congratulations and appreciation and present them to Dr. Chappell on Alumni Weekend.
And just like that, the Facebook group "Cheers to Chuck Chappell" was born. In a short time, the group grew to more than 150 members. But we still wanted to contact all the former English majors. With help from Pamela Owen ’82 in the Alumni and Constituent Relations office, that task was accomplished. Then the notes, e-mails, Facebook postings, and pictures started pouring in.
The tributes came from former Hendrix students of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s. They came from many different states, from Canada and New Zealand. They came from numerous alumni-turned-professors, teachers, executives, stay-at-home moms, editors, and even a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Dr. Chappell’s students had done well in the years since Hendrix, and they wanted to thank him for his inspiration. They also wanted to thank him for his devotion to his students, his scholarship and his friendship.
Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Blackmon ’86 said of Dr. Chappell’s devotion to literature, "I came to share in and be inspired by that awe, and it helped me see that there was a value and viability in a life of letters." And Lindsey Smith ’94, now an English professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote: "To this day, I use notes from your class as I prepare my own lecture notes! I so much appreciate all you have done for me as I have made my own way in academia."
Mel White ’74 credits Dr. Chappell with a great deal as well. "Chuck is responsible in a big way for getting me started on my writing career. When I applied for my first journalism job at the Arkansas Democrat in 1974 I had nothing to show the managing editor, Jerry McConnell, except a paper (on Moby Dick) that I had written at Hendrix. Chuck had given me an A+ for it and had written some nicely encouraging comments. Jerry gave me the job, and I’ve always thought that the paper had a lot to do with it. Chuck’s comments gave me a boost in confidence, as well, and the discussions about literature in his classes helped me understand what I did and didn’t like about writing."
Of course, no student of Dr. Chappell’s could ever forget his quick wit. "I cannot imagine English literature or Hendrix College without your constant jokes and puns and your infectious laugh," wrote Charter Morris ’00.
While his humor is unforgettable to his former students, his kindness is what defines him for most of us. Nearly every letter, e-mail or posting contained some remembrance of Dr. Chappell, the gentleman. "You were always the trusted, level-headed man we all knew would do the right thing, in your kind and gentle way," Ann Laux Turney ’75 noted.
Elizabeth Farris Bumpers ’97 wrote, "Long after I graduated from Hendrix, Dr. C and I voted at the same place for the 2004 presidential election. I was pregnant and very sick, and he found a chair for me to sit in during the wait, and moved it for me whenever the line moved! What a gentleman!!!"
Jenny Noble Anderson ’02 called Dr. Chappell, "unfailingly enthusiastic and so wonderfully approachable... People like you made freshmen like me feel less homesick." Could there be any higher compliment paid to a professor? Cory Ledoux ’00 echoed the sentiment, "He was always extremely generous with his time and energy, not to mention the unfailing kindness of his disposition. In fact, in my own teaching experience, I have tried to model interactions with my students as much as possible on memories of working with Dr. Chappell."
Certainly, when any of us think of Dr. Chappell, we instantly think of William Faulkner, too. Leave it to Werner Trieschmann ’86 to find a certain irony there. "Dr. Chappell always struck me as the most genial and genuinely nice professors on campus, which was odd considering how much he loved the degenerate, drunken yet admittedly genius writing of William Faulkner," Trieschmann noted. Many alumni had fond memories of the trips to Oxford, Miss. Andrea Edwards, ’86 wrote, "What a privilege to journey with you to Yoknapatawpha County--you and Mr. Faulkner made quite a pair. And how could I forget the really important things you taught me, like where to find the best catfish in Oxford..."
Another favorite memory often mentioned was Dr. Chappell’s legendary postcard collecton from former students with the words, "This is where were honeymonning at. Your friend, ( Mrs.) Vernon Waldrip." Waldrip was a character in Faulkner’s story, "Old Man." Binky Martin ’86 wrote, "I’m not sure how large his collection of postcards has gotten. But I do know that my postcard is one of his favorites: a postcard from the Arkansas School for the Blind with the line written in Braille. He mentions it every time I see him, and that makes me happy."
Putting a scrapbook together and reminiscing via Facebook has given many of us the chance to thank our beloved professor. I feel especially privileged to have been the person to collect these notes, memories and good wishes. I got to see the common theme running throughout and it is this: You inspired us Dr. Chappell! You inspired us with your outstanding teaching, your devotion to your students, and your uncommon kindness.
And so we toast to Dr. Chappell, in the words of Melissa High Simpson ’94, "May you revel in your retirement, knowing that you have taught well, mentored well, and befriended well."
The many (Mrs.) Vernon Waldrips out there,
(your former students and forever fans).