Dick Chapman met governors, movie stars and authors, but his most cherished memento was a note written in crayon on the torn fragment of a brown grocery bag: "Dear WCCO, thank you for saving our lives," it said, and was signed by nine Cub Scouts in suburban New Brighton.
Chapman, a WCCO radio newsman and personality, spent 36 years with the station until he stepped away from the microphone in 1993. Chapman died on Feb. 27, surrounded by family in St. Michael. He was 84.
The Scouts were grateful because Chapman was on the air the evening of May 6, 1965, when a cluster of tornadoes barreled through the Twin Cities. He took phone calls from listeners who were seeing funnel clouds and aired the eyewitness reports live, using a metro map to predict the storm's path and warn listeners to take shelter.
"He invented a new way to use commercial radio that night," said Rob Brown, a WCCO manager at the time who screened phone calls that evening. Sophisticated radar was not available for radio and television weather reports at the time, Brown said, so he, Chapman and Charlie Boone worked six hours without a break triangulating touchdowns and issuing warnings.
The Twin Cities Weather Bureau credited the trio with saving 2,000 lives that night, and the station received three of the nation's top broadcast journalism awards for public service.
Chapman was born in Missouri, attended college at University of Missouri in Columbia and joined WCCO radio in 1957. He began as a news writer for Cedric Adams, and wrote and delivered his own daily newscasts to a generation of Minnesotans on the region's most popular station.
"He was a terrific anchor with a milk chocolate voice," said Steve Murphy, who worked with Chapman for 13 years. "He had a very soothing delivery on air and it served him well because he was an anchor all day long."
Murphy said Chapman was a serious journalist, but also liked to inject wit and humor into his writing, when appropriate.
"If he saw a story he enjoyed, especially on the lighter side, he would insist on writing it himself and delivered it with lots of fun," Murphy said. "That was his style."
Eric Eskola, former Capitol reporter for WCCO, who worked with Chapman on morning newscasts, said that "Chappy," as he was called in the newsroom, had real pride in the quality of the news.
"Like all the 'CCO announcers, he was multifaceted," Eskola said. "He could do a quiz show, he could do news reporting. He was very versatile and very smart."
Mike Chapman said his father was a humble man with a great sense of humor and a strong love of the outdoors.
Dick Chapman lost the lower half of a leg at age 16 in an auto accident, Mike said, and the accident helped to shape his father's life.
"He never let anything get in his way and he didn't want any help from anybody," Mike said. "He could be a stoic guy, very driven."
Dick Chapman also was a fun-loving person, Mike said, and pioneered WCCO's live broadcasts from the state's fishing and hunting openers.
Despite his broadcasting fame, Mike Chapman said his father was down to earth. "He wasn't real showy or flashy," he said, and didn't like all the attention he got broadcasting at the State Fair.
Chapman was preceded in death by his wife, Barbara. Besides Mike, he is survived by three other children: Connie of Crystal, Candace of Minneapolis and Timothy of Hastings. He also is survived by Stan, a brother; seven grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.
Services will be held Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Kozlak-Radulovich Maple Grove Chapel, 13745 Reimer Drive.