John Chapman - Honorary Degree Recipient 2009
The following was printed in the 2009 Idaho Magazine:
By Tony Evans
In 1906, Lafayette Russell Parsons came from Detroit, Mich., to Weippe to manage the Mussel Shell Mining Company. He had seven children and settled his family in Moscow to ensure they would all receive a university education. When the Mussel Shell ceased operations, Parsons taught chemistry at the University of Idaho and later became the comptroller. Parsons also twice served as university president.
Fifty years later, Lafayette Parsons’ grandson, John Sherwood Chapman ’58, began studies in political science at the University of Idaho. Chapman would sometimes join friends for coffee and intellectual conversation at the home of Professor Boyd A. Martin and his wife, Grace. The hosts often talked with the students about politics and about the prospects for world peace.
The Martins became surrogate parents for Chapman, who never lost touch with them during his busy career as an attorney. Over the next 50 years, Chapman found time to serve on numerous civic and political organizations in support of the arts, health care, education and international development.
But the politics of peace remain a central interest to Chapman and he has endowed a chair for Peace Studies at The Martin Institute at the University of Idaho. In doing so, he has ensured that the conversations that began so long ago at the Martin home continue for future generations of students and teachers. Four generations of the Parsons family have attended the University of Idaho, and they represent nearly a century-long legacy of learning, and of giving back.
“We are at a serious point in history,” said Chapman recently at his Cloverly Ranch near Hailey. “We have lost many friends internationally. The terrorist problem puts us in a precarious situation. It is my hope that this fulltime professorship at the Martin School of International Studies will serve to promote peace and avoid conflict among nations.”
In 1964, after graduating from Stanford University Law School, Chapman was asked by Idaho Senator Frank Church to lead a delegation to Ecuador as part of President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress program. The team went to Pelileo, a town that had been destroyed by an earthquake.
“Our goal was to improve our relations with South America,” said Chapman, who asked his friend and mentor Boyd Martin and his wife, Grace, to come along. Together they helped to create the Idaho Partners of the Americas, and raised more than $100,000 to rebuild the infrastructure of Pelileo. In 1966, they returned to Pelileo, and a hero’s welcome, when they were carried on the shoulders of the residents of the town during a fiesta held in their honor.
In 1978, Chapman teamed up with Boyd Martin once more to begin negotiations with the Idaho State Board of Education to establish the Martin Institute. For 20 years, Chapman served as chairman of the Institute’s advisory board, and is currently a board member and CEO emeritus at the Martin Institute.
As a civic leader in Boise, Chapman was instrumental in creating the Boise River Greenbelt. While serving as chairman of the Idaho Commission for the Arts, he noticed that the state was spending only the bare minimum on the arts in Idaho. He worked to establish “Arts for Idaho,” a lobbying group that brought the rank in per capita arts spending in the state from dead last to 26th in the nation in three years time. For 10 years, Chapman was a member of the Democratic National Committee and represented the 15 western states on the DNC Executive Committee alongside then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. While at the University of Idaho, Chapman was president of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and founded the annual fraternity Turtle Race as a way to help settle an internal conflict at the fraternity.
“I was a Phi Delt, but I had two uncles and a first cousin who were Betas,” said Chapman. “This, of course, required some skills at conflict resolution early on.” As an attorney, he served on the Idaho State Bar Association Board of Examiners and is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel. “My family had seven attorneys who were members of the Idaho Bar Association. I had no choice but to join,” joked Chapman, who says he was raised with both the Republican and Democratic political points of view.
Perhaps because of the political mix in which he grew up, Chapman sees working for peace as a nonpartisan process. “I am very much in support of the principles of the Martin Institute. Their research programs gather students from many different countries and encourage them to travel abroad. We should do everything we can, both domestically and internationally, to avoid violence and to encourage cooperation among people and the nations of the world. This makes peace more attainable.”