Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 5:20 PM on Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Homer's most inspiring runner dies

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by McKibben Jackinsky

Side-by-side John ChappleIII, left, and his father, John Chapple Jr., tackle the last half mile of the Migration Run in May, a 5k event that is part of Shorebird Festival. The run was Chapple Jr.'s last race. He died on June 23, 2012, a few weeks after turning 90.

On the day of the Homer Spit Run, the race that he continually won in his age category, Homer's oldest runner, John C. Chapple Jr., the patriarch of a four-generation Homer family, died. Chapple passed away early Saturday, June 23, several weeks after his 90th birthday on June 5. Chapple Jr. had run in all but three of the 37 Homer Spit Runs, according to his son, John Chapple III.

A moment of silence was held for Chapple Jr. at the start of this year's Spit Run (see story, page 16). Megan Pitzman, Chapple's great-granddaughter, wore his 2012 bib next to her own bib. Chapple III wore the bib his father wore in his last race, the Shorebird Festival Migration Run held in May.

"He was always just a real people person," Chapple III said. "He kind of instilled that in my sisters and myself."

One of Homer's few surviving World War II veterans, Chapple Jr. was born June 5, 1922, in Brooklyn, N.Y. He moved to Saranac Lake, N.Y., when his mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He met his wife, Betty, in Saranac Lake, where she was born and raised. They had their first date on Oct. 13, 1939 — a Friday. Chapple Jr. graduated from high school in 1941 and she graduated in 1942. After serving with the U.S. Coast Guard in the North Atlantic out of Newfoundland, as a weather observer from 1943-44, the Chapples married in 1944. They moved to Lake Placid, N.Y., living there until moving to Homer in 1980 to join their children who had moved here.

Chapple Jr.'s son remembered when his dad ran for town assessor. He pounded the pavement with a unique pitch. He told people he would raise their taxes, but that he would be fair.

"People went to the polls just to vote for him," Chapple III said. "It was pretty special. People were coming to our house all night long. They were putting bottles of champagne on the fence and the doorstep."

Chapple Jr. began running in high school, despite his mother's discouragement. She used to drive by as he was running and throw ice water on him. He was one of 150 runners to enter the Boston Marathon in 1947, and competed in more than 17 marathons. His best finish was 43rd, in 1951. He inspired runners of all ages and abilities by continuing to run in his later years. As recently as 2005 he won the admiration of younger runners, doing a 13.5-minute mile; he was 83.

With his son, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Chapple Jr. led Team Chapple, sometimes with as many as 12 runners in the Homer Spit Run.

Memorial services will be held starting at 11 a.m. Monday, July 2, 2012, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church. A graveside service will follow at Hickerson Memorial Cemetery, Diamond Ridge. A celebration of life will follow at the Homer Elks Lodge at about 2 p.m.

Chapple Jr. was preceded in death by his beloved Betty, who died May 16, 2011.

He is survived by three people sharing his name: his son, John Chapple III, grandson John Chapple IV and great-grandson John Chapple V. He also is survived by his daughter-in-law Peggy Chapple of Homer; daughters Becky Sawyer of Lake Placid, Alexandra Chapple of Palmer and Jessica Chapple of Clark Fork, Idaho; 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael. armstrong@homernews.com.