Voices of Oklahoma: Oil, Slot Machines and Charity
H. ALLEN CHAPMAN AND WIFE MARY KATHRYN LANCASTER CHAPMAN
With University of Tulsa football, we hear the name Chapman Stadium. Who were the Chapmans?
H. (Happy) Allen Chapman passed away in 1979. His wife, Mary Kathryn Lancaster Chapman, died in 2002. Their business interests and philanthropy are very much visible throughout our state. Thanks to Donne Pitman, a family confidant, long-time employee in the family firm and a trustee of the family foundations, you can hear the H.A. and Mary K. Chapman story at www.voicesofoklahoma.com. You will enjoy, and maybe be surprised, by the story of people who have left us so much and who have made Oklahoma so special.
Donne was born in Hanson, Okla. His family moved to California and Kansas before his father became a principal with Catoosa schools, where Donne finished high school. He attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College and then transferred to the University of Colorado. Like his father, Donne got a degree in education. “I did practice teaching, and I really liked that. But I had worked one summer for the Chapman Oil Company as a part-time job while I was in school. They offered me a position … after graduation and put me through a training program. The salary was $50 a month, more than I was offered in Boulder, where I really wanted to stay.” Donne’s father told him, “…come back and try this Chapman organization. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to the mountains.” While there is still a Donne Pitman and a Chapman Trusts connection to “… the mountains,” Tulsa has benefitted greatly by Donne’s decision to work for the family and to stay in Tulsa.
Donne’s Voices of Oklahoma interview is all about his personal and business relationships with the Chapman family. When he started with the firm, “I was just a gopher,” he says. His sensitive and often funny stories give us a glimpse into the lives of Allen and Mary K. Chapman, two people who have left a permanent legacy in Oklahoma.
H.A. Chapman was born in Colorado in 1919. He died at age 59 from complications associated with chronic circulatory and heart problems. “He lived a full life and his body just wore out early,” says Donne (Chapter 4). He lived most of his life in Tulsa and attended Cascia Hall. He did not attend college. Donne remembers a conversation with Chapman when he was asked to meet his boss in Europe. “I pay people to come to me so I don’t have to go to the office,” said Chapman, who didn’t go to his Tulsa office if he could help it. Chapman was “… somewhat insecure and he didn’t like new faces. He wanted people around him that he knew and trusted,” says Donne. “For some reason, I got on that side of him. He relied on me for a lot of personal things that had nothing to do with our business” (Chapter 6).
Chapman had only a few close friends “… because he was nervous about people” Donne reports. Donne says that Chapman had a distant relationship with his own father but visited with Donne’s parents on many occasions. “I always thought he liked the relationship I had with my father and mother because it was cordial,” he says. “He enjoyed the coziness of the Donne’s home and it felt good to him.”
Chapman was not very careful about money if there was something he wanted, says Donne. When one of his friends bought a new Cadillac, Chapman told Donne to go get one for him. He described it in detail but never asked what it cost. “Just getting what he wanted was important to him,” he says. He loved Europe, yachting and racecars, even entering the Indianapolis 500 one year. On the other hand, “he never picked up a check. Getting him to pay cash for something was like pulling a tooth.”
The Chapman oil business owned fields in Kansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. In addition to oil, Allen was a shrewd businessperson who invested heavily and early in what became Bank of Oklahoma, Exxon and Mobil Oil. Like his father, Allen was quiet and reticent in public, and he liked to be in jeans and a khaki shirt, visiting the fields where his company wildcatted for oil.
Mary Chapman was a University of Tulsa nursing graduate. The Chapmans met when Mary was hired to help Allen with some home health nursing needs, and the couple eventually married. “Mary was much more outgoing than he was,” says Donne, “but she wasn’t a socialite (Chapter 8). She had a real strong feeling for the less fortunate and was highly involved in charity work. She didn’t just send them a check. She would take them things they needed,” says Donne. He tells about Mary bringing a truckload of blankets for the poor and insisting to help, handing them out all without publicity. She also liked to play slot machines, and Allen was known to shoot craps on more than one occasion. “They didn’t win or lose large amounts of money, they just enjoyed the challenge.” Even after Allen passed away, Mary enjoyed frequent trips to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.
The Chapman name is synonymous with philanthropy. No story about the Chapmans would be complete without some mention of their many generous gifts. The Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center was a family project; The Little Lighthouse was one of Mary’s favorite causes; the University of Tulsa plays football in Chapman Stadium; and the TU nursing program is housed in James Chapman Hall. Donne, a trustee for the family foundation, says, “Our primary emphasis is on health and education. We give a lot of money to medical research.” While much of their giving is local, “… we do work with the Salk Institute in La Jolla and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. We give to Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, St. John and the Children’s Hospital at St. Francis. There is also a great need in Tulsa for social services. We support the United Way, but many of those organizations receive grants from us aside from our support of the campaign.”
Voices of Oklahoma (VoOK) is an oral history website dedicated to preserving Oklahoma’s history ‘one voice at a time’. You can hear the entire H.A. and Mary K. Chapman story, related by Donne Pitman, and many more interviews contributed by Oklahomans you know or should know, by visiting the VoOK web site. John Erling founded VoOK and was a radio broadcaster for 45 years; 30 of which were in Tulsa where he hosted “Erling in the Morning.” He is an inductee into the Oklahoma Broadcasters Hall of Fame and he can be heard again, along with the Chapman story at www.voicesofoklahoma.com.