Chapman feted for 'servant's heart,' love of community


A family man with a servant's heart is how friends and co-workers will remember Gary Chapman, who died earlier this week.

A Tahlequah native, Chapman was a banker, Cherokee Nation tribal councilor from 1976-1991, and served on many boards, including the Tahlequah Hospital Foundation Board.

Bank of Cherokee County was founded in 1907 – the year Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory united as the state of Oklahoma – by a group of prominent members of the Cherokee Nation. In 1996, ownership of the bank changed when another group of Cherokee citizens, headed by Gary D. Chapman, acquired it. The bank is now headed by Chairman and CEO Susan Plumb, his daughter.

Chapman's legacy extends far beyond his family, to decades of commitment to Hulbert, Park Hill and Tahlequah. He was secretary-treasurer of the Cherokee Nation under the administrations of Chiefs Ross Swimmer and Wilma Mankiller, and to end a financial conflict within the council, he agreed to serve with no pay and no contract provided the fighting stopped, during a later administration, according to one of many published stories.

Former State Sen. Herb Rozell recalls his friend as a good guy.

"He was friendly, honest and fun to be around," said Rozell, who knew him because their fathers were friends. "I went to Welling and he went to Bagley; I believe I was a little ahead of him. In those days. they were miles apart."

Rozell met Chapman during the late '40s, probably in athletic competition.

"I knew his father, Zeke; he was a superintendent of schools," Rozell said.

They served on a church committee years ago, to come up with a program to help youth stay in church, and recommended a youth pastor.

"We worked together on some tribal stuff," Rozell said. "He wasn't ashamed to give you his opinion. Gary was always a nice fellow, even as a teenager."

Former Cherokee Nation Deputy Chief Joe Crittenden said he always heard good comments about Gary before he ever met him. Crittenden worked for the tribe for many years, and got better acquainted with Chapman in 2003, when they were both running for an office, Crittenden for council.

"I remember we were at a meeting, and were outside shooting the breeze on a break and checking out his new car, and I just liked him right off. He was always such a gentleman," said Crittenden. "I never saw him out of sorts."

"Accommodating" was a word he used several times when talking by his friend.

"If you needed a float for the holiday or anything else, people could count on him to step up and help the council," Crittenden said. "I counted him as a friend and have nothing but good thoughts about Gary Chapman. He was someone you could count on, solid and steady, a nice, helpful gentleman and a friend of the Cherokees, a friend to our people."

Northeastern State University President Steve Turner described Chapman as "inspirational," saying they met soon after the Turners moved to Tahlequah.

"Directly after my appointment as president of NSU in October 2011, Penny and I were contacted by a longtime family friend in Ada, who told us when you arrive in Tahlequah, you have to get to know Gary Chapman. He was described to us as a good man, a community leader, and a great banker," Turner said. "After meeting Gary, I understood why he was described to us in such glowing terms. He was all of those things and more."

Turner realized Chapman was the champion of the Christmas Parade, and in fact, he was involved in every parade.

"I recall a time in his office at the bank in Hulbert where he shared the rich history of the community with me. His passion for Green Country was inspirational," Turner said. "He was the definition of a 'community banker.' He knew everyone and was genuinely concerned about making life better for those he encountered."

Veterans also were recipients of his generosity.

"He's done a lot for the Cherokee Nation veterans and when asked to so something, he'd drop what he was doing to help," said Hominy Littledave, with the Office of Veteran's Affairs and the Cherokee Nation Veteran Center. "For parades, he'd help with hats, caps, shirts whatever was needed."

Attorney Tim Baker recalls first knowing Chapman as his Boy Scout leader.

"Gary and I go way back," said Baker. "Mom had us in Scouts, and when I was 12, he was my Scout master. I still remember him in his Boy Scout shorts and top, badges, handkerchief and tie. The image has stuck with me. He was a great Scout leader; he helped me with merit badges and went with me to a national Jamboree."

And a lifelong friend recalls that Chapman was a "good-looking kid" with a great sense of humor.

"I've known him forever," said Beth Herrington. "My dad taught his dad in summer school at Northeastern."

They first met at First Baptist Church, where they attended with their parents, who were friends.

"I was a little older than him, I think about 17 when we met, but I graduated college and he was finishing high school, and he was with the young people at church when it down on College Street."

She also appreciated that he was very outgoing and willing to listen to people. Family was very important to him, she added.

"When they moved to a new neighborhood, he made it a priority to get a greenhouse for [wife] Sue because she liked to work with flowers," she said.

The children were always "their first priority," Herrington said of the Chapmans, and they had many friends.

Most people don't know that Chapman took care of the lawn service for the Thompson House, and now his daughter is carrying on his good works.

One of her favorite stories was when she and Sue were at the Thompson House, which was being rented for a wedding.

"After the wedding, there was wine left over and the groomsmen wanted to drink it. We nicely told them it was time to go, but they weren't in a hurry. They weren't disagreeable, but we were ready to go," Herrington said. "So finally, Sue called Gary and he breezed in and said, 'Nice to see you fellows,' and he began turning off all the lights. 'Time to go,' he told them and he was jolly as can be. Before they knew what happened, they were out the door."

Recommended for you