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Chappell has set down his "Stories from a Lifetime"

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By Brian Garner

Crop duster (some would say “barnstormer”). Lay veterinarian. Public servant. Any one of those would be achievement enough for one person. Curwood Chappell was all of them.

Now you can add “author” to that list.

Chappell, the former York County Councilman, dropped in at several spots around the area recently to sign copies of his book, Stories from a Lifetime, a combination of biography and stories about his father, farmer and cotton ginner J.H. “Jack” Chappell.

Curwood Chappell’s personal history is tied to both Chester County and York County and that is evident all through the pages of his book. He sat down with The N&R during his “book tour” to talk about his life and how he came to write Stories from a Lifetime.

Chappell, 90-years-old but still as sharp as a tack, visited briefly with Dr. Jim Knox at the Front Porch on the day he was signing his book for folks.

“Your Daddy paid me a million dollars because he wanted me to come (as a veterinarian) when he called,” Chappell said he told Knox.

“But he was always paying you late,” Dr. Knox joked.

He told Chappell, “The thing I love about you is you cared about the small farmer, the working man in the factories, the small businessman and the common man, and tried to take care of them. That has been your greatest achievement,” Dr. Knox said.

Chappell jokingly lamented that he was being taken all over the region to promote the book.

“You know, for 50 years I’ve done whatever everybody wanted me to do. For all the years I was on the (York County) council, I did everything people wanted me to do as an elected official. And now I’m out here asking people to do something for me. It’s a helluva change. It’s not my cake,” he said.

Tapping the cover of his book, Chappell said, “First of all, this book is not about ‘I, me and mine;’ it’s about ‘you and them and they’ – it’s about the people that I grew up with, the people I went to school with, the people that taught me school and the people that helped me do and accomplish a great deal,” he said.

“Fifty years ago, I set out as a lay veterinarian and I wanted to put a veterinarian in every village from the North Carolina line to Columbia. Thank God, I made it. I have 14 veterinarians in all that I indirectly or directly had a part in becoming veterinarians and placed in those villages.

“I picked those that grew up in certain villages, and I rode them and rode them and I talked to them and I got them to go into the veterinarian profession, first in Clemson with pre-med and all of my kids graduated from Booker T. Washington University in Tuskegee, Alabama,” he said.

Chappell said he started with a veterinary student from Chester County and with the help of the county agent at the time, got him into vet school.

“The county agent, Mr. Sitton, asked me to write a letter on this kid’s behalf for vet school. That’s how I got started putting kids in veterinary medicine.”  Those included Chappell’s own kids and grandkids.

“Doc” Chappell, a lay veterinarian who learned his trade helping out other veterinarians before WWII and took several correspondence courses, endured several challenges to his ability to practice veterinary medicine without a license, finally having his case taken all the way to the S.C. Supreme Court.

Chappell is, according to his attorney at the time (“I tried 43 lawyers to defend me when they finally took me to court, but no one would take the case, until somebody told me about a little lawyer in Columbia who later because the top state Supreme Court Justice – she just retired,” Chappell said) the only man in America to have ever practiced veterinary medicine without a license. How he accomplished that and some of his experiences as a vet that farmers called “Johnny Come Quick” because of how fast he responded, makes up some compelling chapters in the book.

“I’ve been lucky, I’ve been hard-working and dedicated and the people have been good to me and I’ve come through. The judge ordered the veterinary board to ‘never touch me again’ if they did, they would be held in contempt of Court,” he said.

“I practiced another 15 years, wide-open day and night and then I began to get these kids out of vet school and they took over in certain sections and I placed them all around, from the Mecklenburg County line, in almost every village and from Columbia to Hickory Grove, Sharon and into York and Clover, Lowrys and Richburg,” he said.

When you ask Chappell why he wrote the book, he looks at the pictures that accompany the stories.

“You want me to tell you what made me write this book? My four kids. One is a preacher, two are veterinarians and one is a legal secretary,” he said.

“This book is about what happens if you don’t get a college education, for one reason or another. You’re speaking to a man who had a hand in starting the technical college system in York County and across the state by going to the meetings and meeting with Gov. McNair and Senator Hollings and we started tech colleges. There was nothing in-between, you either went to Clemson, Winthrop of USC. There was nothing else. We started a tech, because so many kids were not able to go to the high priced colleges,” he said.

“We teach anything at Tech now, from horseshoeing on up,” he said.

He said the backbone of the book is about having a backbone.

“I wrote about moral principle and character. Nothing is worth anything without moral principle and character. We’ve lost that. Somebody in government told us the book (the Bible) wasn't worth the printer’s ink and paper, and we’ve gone down the hill ever since,” he said.

Speaking about the writing of the book, Chappell confessed “it hasn’t been an easy job for a 90-year-old man who had never done much writing in his life. I had a wife (his late wife Vergie) to do my bookkeeping and various professional people that I hired to do the taxes each year. But if I can save one kid, it will have been worth it. I hope young people who read the book would learn that whenever you throw away moral principal and character, then you’ve lost whatever else you’re fighting for,” Chappell said.

Chappell ought to know. He’s been fighting that fight using his moral principle and character for a long time.

To get copies of the book, contact the author at 803-324-1062 or Chappell Animal Hospital at 803-324-4271.