Bethel School Board member Stanley Chapin has lived an adventurous life that has zigzagged from the east to west coast and through a host of seemingly unrelated careers.
As a young man, Chapin spent years working on state-of-the-art flight simulators in the Air Force. After leaving the military he did a complete 180 and took a job on a large mushroom farm in Olympia. He eventually settled into a role at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, where he spent 16 years creating animal exhibits before retiring in 2016.
Chapin has tried his hand at a variety of careers, but his current job as one of the five board members shaping Bethel’s future is perhaps his most impactful. He and his fellow board members are responsible for a diverse district that spans more than 200 miles and has an annual budget of over $260 million. It’s not a job Chapin ever imagined he’d be doing, but his innate curiosity and genuine love for the Bethel community has made him a perfect fit for the role.
Chapin grew up with a big family in a small Massachusetts town about hour outside of Boston. He was a happy kid, and it wasn’t until much later that he realized how much his parents struggled to keep the family afloat.
“We were a very, very poor family financially, but very wealthy in that we were a very close knit, loving family,” he said.
A smart but easily bored child, Chapin made his way through school without ever giving his full effort. After graduating high school he spent a year in college before realizing he’d rather be out earning a living.
He dropped out of school and spent three years working at a machine and tool manufacturer, but when the company moved to South Carolina he decided to stay in Massachusetts.
Needing what he describes as a “dramatic change” in his life, Chapin enlisted in the Air Force and was shipped off to Illinois for a year of technical school. The first half of his Air Force career was spent working on flight simulators, and when that position was reclassified for civilian workers he took a job repairing medical equipment in military hospitals.
While working full time in the Air Force, Chapin decided he wanted a college education and began what turned out a to be a seven-year process of earning a Bachelor’s degree in management.
Chapin finished his military career at Joint Base Lewis McChord, and when he retired after 23 years of service there was some question about where he and his family would settle down. His wife, Anu Chapin, had taken a job as a librarian at Spanaway Elementary School, and their two children were both attending Bethel schools. Anu loved her job and the kids were happy in school, so it became an easy decision to stay put.
Chapin was still a relatively young man when he retired from the Air Force and he wasn’t about to spend his days on the golf course. Instead of easing into a life of leisure, he went looking for work and found a job as operations manager at Ostrom’s Mushroom Farm in Olympia. After five years in the fungus business, Chapin left Ostrom’s and took a job as Operation and Project manager at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.
During his 16 years at Point Defiance, Chapin helped design and build some of the zoo’s most popular exhibits, including the Asian Forest Sanctuary and the zoo’s theater.
Chapin credits his wife for sparking his interest in public education. Anu, who still works at Spanaway Elementary, is passionate about education, and her passion is contagious.
“She’s eligible to retire, but she loves it too much. She loves the kids too much to leave,” Chapin said of his wife.
In 2013, Chapin learned the School Board had an open seat that needed to be filled. He cared deeply about Bethel and thought he could help make the district even better, so he applied for the position and, after a thorough interview process, was selected to sit on the board.
He and his fellow board members have tackled a number of important issues, but one decision Chapin is particularly proud of is the push to equip all Bethel students with individual iPads.
Chapin learned of other schools implementing 1:1 technology programs and immediately started thinking about how Bethel could do the same. He said having technology in the classroom is “a critical tool to equal the playing field for students.”
“A lot of kids had phones and laptops or even iPads — 50 to 60 percent of the kids,” he said. “You could say, well that’s a pretty good percentage, but that means 40 percent of the kids are underprivileged and don’t have that opportunity that these kids do.”
It took months of research and debate, but voters in 2014 passed a technology levy designed to put an iPad in the hands of every Bethel student. The final iPad rollout will be complete this year.
A natural raconteur, Chapin loves nothing more than talking to members of the Bethel community. He cites the district’s annual All Bethel Community Day as his favorite place to mingle with parents, teachers and students. He respects the work everyone does in the district, but he saves his highest praise for Bethel’s educators.
“I love working with the teachers,” Chapin said. “Let’s face it, there’s no school, there’s no school system, and there’s no learning if you don’t have great teachers. Luckily we have great teachers.”
Chapin also knows that teachers need adequate space in order to do their best work. Neither Chapin nor his fellow board members relish the idea of asking the community to pitch in more money for schools, but they know the district can’t continue to flourish without the help of bond measures.
For his part, Chapin called bonds “a necessary evil,” but said voters will see a return on their investment in the future — even if they don’t have children in the district.
“I own a home. I pay the taxes for these schools just like everyone else who owns property,” he said. “I understand the value of what the money is used for with regards to the education of our children. Because, quite honestly, without educated children who become educated adults, our society is not going to be a fully functional society.”