By Nancy Tannler
If you’ve been involved in local activities here in SE Portland in the past thirty years, you’ve invariably heard the name Nancy Chapin.
Her name is synonymous with our community. She is one of those behind the scenes people who organizes parades, street fairs (Division/Clinton Street Fair), picnics, clean-ups and business and neighborhood association. Her degree in Public Administration has been put to good use.
Chapin was born here at the now defunct Rosicrucian Hospital. She said, “The nurses at the hospital told her mother that she might be the reincarnation of her grandmother since she had a serious countenance for a little baby.”
Chapin laughs at this but confirms the fact that as a child, she was more interested in books and learning than hanging out with her peers.
Her family moved to Myrtle Creek on the coast when she was a little kid. Her dad was going to help his brother’s wife run a variety store during the war, figuring the brother would be conscripted into the military, but then he never was. They moved onto Brookings by the time Nancy was entering middle school.
Here she met one of her lifelong friends, Joanne, who took her under her wing and helped Chapin find a place amongst her peers.
“Before Joanne befriended me, my outside social relationships were with my teachers. I would help grade papers for them and clean the blackboards,” she said.
She thrived during her years in Brookings and then her dad decided to sell his share in the mill he owned and move to Eugene, a big city for Nancy.
“My graduating class in Eugene was 605, if I had stayed in Brookings there was 29 kids in the graduating class. A completely different experience, I felt like the hickster,” she said.
She met her first husband while attending Pacific University in Forest Grove. They married right away and had four kids, Mike, Susan, Terri and Alan.
When the children got older, Chapin went back to teaching English and Drama at Pleasant Hill High School. “We did eleven plays while I was there. The best was The Diary of Anne Frank,” she said.
“Just as an exercise in constraint and patience, I had the young actors stay in the auditorium all day while we rehearsed the play. The only people that could leave were those playing the part of the Dutch couple who helped the Frank family. The kids really got it.”
After teaching there four years and coming to the end of her marriage, Chapin had a choice to either go to Uganda as the Head Mistress of a secondary school or go to Poplar Dale, Ontario and take care of an old farm house for a year.
The farm house won out, since those were the beginning of Idi Amin’s self-proclaimed presidency and the genocide of the people of Uganda began.
“[The farm] was a wonderful experience for us all. Our only responsibility was to record the weather on a daily basis for the owner of the house.”
After a year of housesitting in Canada, Chapin moved back to Portland and went to work as Head Start director from 1974 – 1981. By this time her children were young adults and Chapin and a friend took advantage of this new found freedom and set out on adventures.
Remodeling an old school bus, they traveled 10,000 miles around the United States with two dogs and two cats. This experience instilled a sense of how important a strong community is to people and commerce. She returned to Portland with an interest in grassroots communities and what they could accomplish.
Chapin served as the Executive Director of APNBA (now Venture Portland) for 14 years and became acquainted with many of the different business districts in the City. When she would attend State Main Street meetings, she would say “I’m from Portland, the City with 30+ Main Streets.”
Her own business, The Support Group, now TSGPDX, enables her to continue to help business associations form, maintain and run their meetings, events and publicity effectively. She started TSGPDX in 1986 and her first project was to print 1,000 bumper stickers that read, “Expect a Miracle”.
“If I had it to do over again I would write, ‘Accept a Miracle,’”she said.
When asked about the growth she’s experienced in the City, Chapin said, “Every Eastside District I’ve worked with has grown its retail offerings – even 82nd Ave. and especially the Belmont Area and Foster Rd. It’s exciting to see the growth and changes!”
Knowing many of the small businesses as intimately as she does, Chapin is concerned the City is pushing too hard and fast to fix the roads at the expense of residents, businesses and customers. Potentially any business person will be hit in all three categories. Even $100 a month can be the straw that sends a small business over the edge.
Long term thinking, like gas taxes, for example, will take longer but at least will be paid by people who drive on the roads.
After twenty-five years as a single person, Nancy recently married Joe Reed, a long time musician acquaintance. They live in SE Portland with her son, Alan. Nancy’s optimistic about the future. She’s one of those ageless people that just keeps on keepin’ on.
“I love what I do and continue to work with and support business people and residents. A dream before I retire is to see the Foster Rd. Transportation/Streetscape Project finished.”
She plans to spend more time with her husband, four children and grandchildren as well as traveling in Oregon, the US and maybe the world.