The life story of Richard F. Chapdelaine, a member of the “Greatest Generation,” reads like the script of a classic Hollywood movie. A childhood of challenging Great Depression circumstances in New York City, and helped by the kindness of local priests, valorous combat service during World War II followed by college, a long and happy marriage, and a successful business career would have made a memorable enough story for most. But for “Chappy” as he was known to those who knew him well, all of that was just the beginning of a generous Vincentian life well-lived.
A longtime benefactor, Trustee of both St. John’s University and Niagara University, and a devoted supporter of the good work of the Vincentians, Mr. Chapdelaine died at his home in Jupiter, Florida on May 24, 2020. He was ninety-five years old and is survived by Terry, his wife of seventy-three years; two children, Deidre “Didi” (husband James) Brodt, and Peter; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren, with another great-grandchild expected.
Mr. and Mrs. Chapdelaine were designated affiliates of the Congregation of the Mission, a rare distinction bestowed on select members of the laity. “He was a friend to all Vincentians,” stated Very Rev. Stephen M. Grozio, C.M., Provincial Vice-Chair of St. John’s University’s Board of Trustees and Provincial Superior of the Eastern Province of the Congregation of the Mission.
“Our country, our Universities, our Province, and our lives were made better by the impact and legacy of Dick Chapdelaine. May he rest in peace.”
Known for his kindness, professional business acumen, and philanthropic generosity, Mr. Chapdelaine often explained his support and commitment to the Vincentians in simple yet heartfelt terms, “It’s payback, and the main reason is my affection for what the Vincentian fathers did for me. Throughout my life, they were always there for me.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1925, Chappy lost his father at the tender age of six. Mr. Chapdelaine often cited the influence and generosity of local Vincentian priests and brothers who stepped in to help support his widowed mother and family during the Great Depression. The binding ties between Mr. Chapdelaine and the Vincentians were never broken; over the course of the next nine decades, he would remain ever linked to the community that not only helped him as a child, but formed him into the successful, spiritual family man that he would become.
Mr. Chapdelaine attended St. John’s Prep in Brooklyn on a football scholarship, and was guided by the Vincentian charism of spirit and service both inside and outside of the classroom. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served with distinction as a tail gunner. Mr. Chapdelaine rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. His crew—the 466th Bomb Group 785th Squadron Crew #555— flew 35 successful combat missions in Europe during World War II as well as several clandestine missions. For his service, he was awarded the Air Medal with four oak clusters. He was the last surviving member of his flight crew, a group of brothers in arms with whom he remained close throughout his life.
After returning home from the war, it was a Vincentian high school teacher – Rev. Joe Breen, C.M. – who persuaded Mr. Chapdelaine to enroll at Niagara University on the GI Bill. Soon after arriving at Niagara in February 1946, he learned that his mother had died. When he returned to his room, he found airline tickets for the trip home for himself and his roommate, compliments of the Rev. Bud Murray, C.M. That small but simple gesture, never forgotten, would be repaid with interest decades later when in 2007 funds were being raised to construct the “Rev. John B. Murray, C.M. Residence”, a new facility for the Vincentians living on campus at St. John’s. The single largest donation made to the residence (now known as Murray House) was made by Terry and Dick Chapdelaine. A year later, Mr. Chapdelaine would replicate the same generosity for the Vincentian priests residing at Niagara University.
Secure housing was always a project of interest to Mr. Chapdelaine. While a student at Niagara, he and Terry lived with other returning veterans and their wives in apartments at Fort Niagara. Chappy often recounted stories of long winters, thin walls, and snow up to their windows when living in Western New York.
In 1949, he earned his B.S. in Economics from Niagara University and immediately began a lifelong career in investments. He first joined the brokerage house, J.J. Kenny, where he worked for seventeen years before forming his own company, Chapdelaine and Co. It expanded into The Chapdelaine Companies and specialized in the municipal bond market for nearly half a century. Never forgetting the support that he received from the Vincentians throughout his long and successful business career, he provided many students from St. John’s and Niagara with the opportunity to work and develop their careers at his company. He retired as Chairman in 2007.
Throughout his distinguished career, Mr. Chapdelaine was known for his financial acumen and generous philanthropy, especially to the Roman Catholic Church. He was a Knight of Malta, and the Holy See invested him as a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a Director of St. Francis Hospital and served on countless fundraising committees, professional organizations, and was a member at numerous golf clubs throughout the country.
When efforts began to raise funds for the Campaign for St. Thomas More Church, the Chapdelaines not only provided financial support, but also added their organizational and financial expertise. They regularly attended mass at the Church and celebrated their 70thwedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows on the St. John’s campus surrounded by their own family and their extended Vincentian family.
Mr. Chapdelaine was unique in the honors that he amassed from not one but two Vincentian Universities. Mr. Chapdelaine was a Trustee Emeritus of both St. John’s University and Niagara University. In 1984, St. John’s conferred upon him an Honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree, and in 1987, he received from Niagara an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree. Mr. Chapdelaine was a charter member of the Founders Society which recognizes St. John’s most generous supporters. In addition, he was a member of both the Loughlin Society and the McCallen Society for planned giving donors.
An accomplished baseball player, avid golfer, and sports enthusiast, Mr. Chapdelaine was a longtime season ticket holder for the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team. He cheered for and financially supported Red Storm Athletics and organized and attended countless golf outings and fundraisers. Born just days three days before Hall of Fame Coach and alumnus Lou Carnesecca, the two legendary St. John’s men shared a special friendship for decades.
In 2004, in a ballroom in New York City filled with Vincentians and special friends, Mr. Chapdelaine was honored at the President’s Dinner with the Spirit of Service Award.
“Dick Chapdelaine, a former Board of Trustees member, was one of the most loyal and generous supporters of St. John’s University. Our thoughts and prayers are with Terry, their daughter, Deidre “Didi”, son, Peter and the grandchildren and great-grandchildren at this difficult time. St. John’s has been fortunate and blessed to have Dick as a friend and benefactor. He will be greatly missed,” remarked Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University.
The entire St. John’s University community mourns the loss of Richard “Chappy” Chapdelaine, and will always treasure his generous commitment to the vision and values of St. Vincent de Paul.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, private services will be held this coming Thursday, May 28. A memorial service will be planned for some point in the future.