Prescott Peeps: Russell Chappell

Jul 25, 17 • 5enses, Prescott PeepsNo Comments

Russell Chappell. Photo by 5enses.

How did you first get involved in nonprofits in the community?

When my wife and I moved to Prescott in December of 2004, we discovered our home was surrounded by birds and wildlife. We thought it would be nice to feed the birds, so I visited Jay’s Bird Barn, where Eric Moore loaded me up with optics, books, seeds and birding information and invited me to the next Prescott Audubon Society meeting, so I guess Eric is ultimately responsible for my relationship with Audubon, and I thank him and blame him for that.

As a pilot, I focused on avoiding birds, but I really never studied them. Halfway through that first Audubon meeting, I was planning how to graciously thank them for their hospitality and quietly slip out the door. The chapter’s IBA Coordinator, Karen O’Neil, was giving a presentation and her vocabulary and passion about birds were foreign to me, and I didn’t feel birders and I would be compatible. During a break, Eric introduced me to the chapter president, mentioning my background in computers, aviation and technology. The president asked if I’d be willing to operate their projector at the next meeting. I agreed and was thus committed to a second meeting.

The president also mentioned the chapter had CD with a lot of data on it and wondered if I would review it and see if the contents could be used to assist in increasing membership. I said yes and a few minutes later a lady handed me a folder with scraps of paper and a CD and congratulated me for being the new membership chair. I asked her to remain as membership chair since she knew the members, and offered to assist with technical stuff. It turned out to be a great partnership. A database was created and several hundred information cards were mailed, inviting folks to consider being a part of the chapter. We experienced a five percent response which is good for a mailing campaign. A few months later, the chapter’s webmaster relocated overseas and a local professional webmaster volunteered to manage the website, but they were too busy to keep it current. One thing led to another and eventually Virtual Property Development, a web design company owned by Terry Baeseman, was hired. Terry encouraged me to become involved and tutored me for hundreds of hours, at times until 3 or 4 a.m. He was generous with his wealth of knowledge and I owe him a debt I can never repay. I eventually accepted the title of webmaster which I question frequently when things go awry. Today, I handle all website duties, but Terry is still there when I have questions.

After a few meetings at Audubon, I was somehow appointed as a board member. I don’t remember how or why, but I have appreciated the opportunity to share thoughts and ideas with this wonderful group as we worked to make the chapter the best it can be. I’m a firm believer in term limits and a few months ago I resigned from the board, but continue to support their website and several administrative functions. Years of interacting with the board and members of Prescott Audubon has brought me much joy and a special appreciation for people and nature. The chapter is filled with generous, caring volunteers and citizen scientists who provide our community with an awareness of how important habitat, environment and conservation issues are for humans as well as wildlife. The chapter has flourished, committees are staffed with enthusiastic volunteers, and it is a respected organization in the community. What an honor to be allowed to contribute to such a wonderful organization. When I think back, I’m amazed how a simple agreement to operate a projector contributed to so many great experiences.

How did you get involved with the Prescott Astronomy Club?

While visiting the Prescott Library, I noticed there was a Prescott Astronomy Club meeting, and I had enjoyed several astronomy classes in college and have always been in awe of the universe, so I attended. It was a Third Thursday Star Talk and I enjoyed the presentation and found the members of the club well versed in all aspects of the vocation and eager to share their knowledge.

I did notice that birders and star watchers are different. I generally find birders to be more emotional, outgoing and excited as they roam the countryside armed with guide books, spotting scopes and binoculars looking for some special species. Astronomers, on the other hand, simply hope it doesn’t get cloudy or rain. They setup their telescopes, brave bugs, weather, unexpected lights and the occasional sprinkler system someone forgets to shutoff, while precisely aim their scopes at unique celestial objects, that are precisely at the right place, at precisely the right time, all the time. However, they do get emotional about astrophotography, a wandering comet, or special events like the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse.

In 2015, the Prescott Astronomy Club provided 51 outreach programs, and 49 in 2016. That’s an astonishing record of service. This is possible because a lot of volunteers do a lot of volunteering and are dedicated to sharing their expertise. I’m overwhelmed by the quality of speakers they bring to events — people from NASA, Lowell, the Vatican Observatory, JPL plus many brilliant experts from related scientific fields. The good news for me is they find my graphic and computer abilities of value, so I get to associate with these intelligent individuals.

Terry Baeseman was also webmaster for the Prescott Astronomy Club, working with his cousin John Baeseman to maintain the website. I was looking for ways to contribute and they permitted me to work on the website. I now can show my appreciation for the knowledge I glean from these folks. As webmaster, I report to John who is a director-at-large and it is great working for the club.

So, volunteering to do one thing snowballed into all these other things. Is that typically how things happen for you?

It is. For several years prior to moving to Prescott, I served as president of the Pueblo West, Colorado Neighborhood Watch. Again, my administrative and IT background filled a need and let me contribute to the community. I especially enjoy working with all-volunteer nonprofits. They only exist because people care and freely devote themselves to mission of the organization. Working as a volunteers often is harder than a regular job.

With military experience as a Battalion Adjutant, Operations Officer, Aviation Instrument Examiner, Safety Officer and numerous other duties, combined with a government, business and sales background, it would be a disservice to the community not getting involved where there is a need. And I ‘m simply one of untold numbers of individuals who volunteer each day. Beside, assisting these organizations provides me with a mission which in life is very important. I approach all responsibilities as missions. I approach life as a mission, and believe all missions should be completed to the best of your ability.

There are endless tasks with tech stuff, though. Do you still get that same sense of accomplishment?

Yes! I’ll tell you something only Pat, my wife, knows. When an event or meeting winds down, I find a quiet place and call her. I thank her for encouraging me to interact with these organizations, and I then I tell her how the event went — what worked and what didn’t. If it has been a successful event, I’m elated and if things haven’t gone well, I whine and explain how I think we can do better. It is during these conversations I feel a special sense of accomplishment and no recognition or award could make me feel better.

Why help out these groups?

First, there are so many people in both these organizations who work behind the scenes who are definitely more capable and worthy of recognition than me. [Editor’s Note: Russ spent the next 15 minutes listing other people and related groups who deserve coverage because, hey, that’s Russ.] To answer your original question, I have difficulty saying no. I contribute time and resources not expecting or enjoying recognition, and the only reason I’m doing this interview is to promote the idea of supporting these all-volunteer organizations like the Prescott Audubon Society and Prescott Astronomy Club, plus, 5enses provides a unique and special service to our community and deserves support.

I encourage people to volunteer to the nonprofits in our area, especially those that are totally volunteer-staffed. Groups like PAS and PAC, the Native Plant Society, Central Arizona Geology Club, Citizens Water Advocacy Group, and a few more, including Prescott Creeks, which technically isn’t totally volunteer-staffed, but is extremely deserving. … There are many important volunteer opportunities in our community, and if this article results in just one person becoming a volunteer, I will be thrilled and our community will benefit.


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