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Montezuma County leader Steve Chappell dies; service is Saturday

Steve Dale Chappell, was a well-known dryland bean farmer, accomplished cross-country skier, and former Montezuma County Commissioner. (Courtesy photo)
Steve Chappell was a family man and national Nordic champion

Steve Dale Chappell, a successful farmer, athlete and public servant who kept a strong grip on the plow as well as the ski pole, died unexpectedly last week.

Chappell, 78, was born in Cortez and learned to dryland farm pinto beans from his father in the Goodman Point area.

“He was a really excellent farmer and was well respected. It was amazing how straight his rows of beans were, and he did not use all that GPS stuff,” said friend Gerald Koppenhafer.

Chappell served two terms on the Montezuma County Board of County Commissioners from 2007 to 2014 including alongside Commissioner Koppenhafer.

“He was a strong advocate for property rights and for agriculture,” he said. “He was good to work with and always governed with common sense. People trusted him, Steve did what he said he would do. He was concerned about everybody.”

Steve Chappell was a big supporter of local sports, including the swim teams. From left are his granddaughter Baily Duran, son in-law Victor Duran, granddaughter Brinley Duran, Chappell, daughter Candi Duran and granddaughter Victoria Duran. (Courtesy photo)
A front-page photo in the March 13, 1962 Cortez Sentinel shows 16-year old Steve Chappell, left, and his ski coach pointing to Lake Placid, where Chappell competed in the Junior Nordic National Championships. (Jim Mimiaga/The Journal)
Steve Chappell was a top ranked junior Nordic skier while a high school student in Cortez. In 1962, he won the Junior National Championship in Nordic skiing. (Courtesy Montezuma-Cortez High School.)
A memorial service was held for Steve Chappell Saturday at the Cortez Elk's Lodge. (Courtesy Bailey Duran)

Chappell’s son, Steve Chappell Jr., ran for a county commissioner seat in 2018 as an Unaffiliated candidate, but lost to Republican Jim Candelaria.

“I learned a lot from my dad, like learning by being a good listener and staying true to your values,” his son said in a previous interview with The Journal.

Chappell’s daughter, Candi Duran, said of her dad that “one of his greatest traits was his grit and determination and the way he could work through anything.”

Chan Chaffin a longtime friend of Steve Chappell’s recalled Chappell’s hard work, business savvy and skiing skills.

“We grew up in the same area. He always looked strong and farmed a lot of ground. He knew how to make a living at it,” Chaffin said. “Steve was a great athlete, made quite a few achievements skiing.”

Chaffin ran the Arriola Store, a farming supply shop that Chappell and his father frequented back in the day. It is now Basin Co-op.

“He was always friendly and nice. It’s always tough to lose someone in the neighborhood,” he said.

On March 8, 1962, Chappell won the Junior National Nordic Championship in Steamboat Springs.

“Not many communities can boast a national ski champion,” states a March 15, 1962 editorial in the Montezuma Valley Journal. “Steve Chappell and ski coach Dave Totman deserve a pat on the back for the time and effort that went into winning a national championship.”

He was a major player for the Cortez High School basketball team that won the Class AA state championship in 1962, beating Lamar 71-55. Montezuma-Cortez High School beat Broomfield 46-39 for the school’s second championship, the Class 4A title in 2002.

Chappell held the M-CHS mile record for 19 years with a time of 4:40 set in 1962, said M-CHS activity director officials. The record was not beaten until 1980, when Keith Howerton ran a time of 4:27, according to M-CHS records.

Amazingly, Chappell recorded this time after playing a high school baseball game, and he was not on the track team, according to his obituary.

Chappell coached several youth sports teams throughout his life, including baseball teams, and served on the Montezuma-Cortez Re-1 School Board. He also worked as a local hunting guide for more than 30 years.

One of his favorite stories was saving his best hunting dog, Annie, from a mountain lion attack near Red Mesa south of Hesperus. Chappell grabbed the lion by the tail and tossed it off a cliff, according to his son Steve, who witnessed the incident.

Chappell was a devout man and a faithful member of the Lighthouse Baptist Church for more than 36 years, serving as a teacher and deacon, according to the obituary.

A dedicated family man, he raised eight children, and two of his sons became Navy SEALs. He enjoyed spending time with his 22 grandchildren.

Chappell earned a bachelor's degree from Biola Christian University and worked as a teacher at M-CHS while farming.

Services will be held at the Elks Lodge on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 10 a.m. Memorial contributions may be made in Steve’s name to Lighthouse Baptist Church New Building Fund accessible through: lbccortez.org/givingpage.