Longtime community activist dies
Robert Chapa Sr. was a champion for the poor.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
Until he was slowed by declining health a couple of years ago, Robert T. Chapa Sr. often put in 14-hour days working to better the lives of Austin's less fortunate.
Chapa, who died Thursday at 83, would start with breakfast at places such as Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, where he met with friends including former Mayor Gus Garcia and plotted strategy on favorite subjects such as securing more money for education.
Robert T.Chapa Sr. 1922-2006
Then Chapa would make the rounds, politicking City Council members, state legislators and others, working his connections and charisma to secure more money for the poor, said his son, Robert T. Chapa Jr.
His days often ended at a meeting of one of the many boards or committees he served on, and they could last into the night. He was chairman of the Austin Travis County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center for a decade until 2004, and the center's south Austin headquarters bears his name.
"What was important for him was to be at service to the whole community," Garcia said. "There wasn't a cause that he wouldn't pick up."
Chapa died of complications of congestive heart failure at an Austin,Texas long-term care facility.
Friends and family called him a dynamic force, a liberal community activist who believed in equality and giving the poor access to education and a chance to better their lives.
"He was really a champion for the poor and disadvantaged because that's where he came from," said his son.
Chapa was born in the Rio Grande Valley town of SaliÃ±eno,Texas to migrant worker parents. After high school, he joined the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps before enlisting in the Army in 1942.
During World War II, Chapa fought in Europe with the 104th Infantry Division, where he rose to the rank of staff sergeant. Chapa earned a Bronze Star for restoring communication lines under fire in Northern Germany, his son said.
After returning home, Chapa earned an accounting degree from St. Mary's University in San Antonio and worked as a teacher, then an assistant superintendent in the Rio Grande City school district.
He met Estela Gonzales in April 1951, and they married five months later. In 1967, they moved their family to Austin, TX where Chapa began working for the federal Department of Labor. He remained there until retiring as state director for veterans services in 1990.
By that time he was a force in the community. He served on the boards of the Boy Scouts, the Downtown Austin Community Court and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
And he loved politics, Garcia said.
Chapa took leadership roles on Garcia's campaigns for school board, City Council and mayor. He also was a big supporter of U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Prospective political candidates would seek Chapa's approval before announcing they were entering a race, said Robert Chapa Jr.
In addition to his son and wife, Chapa is survived by another son, Ricardo Chapa of Austin; a brother, Ruben Chapa of Roma; a sister, Ella Soza of Austin; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation is scheduled for today and Sunday at Mission Funeral Home on South First Street in Austin,TX. His funeral will be at 10 a.m. Monday at San JosÃ© Catholic Church.
Roberto T. Chapa, Sr. passed away in Austin,TX on September 7, 2006 after a lengthy illness. He was born on November 25, 1922 in Salineno, Texas and was preceded in death by his parents Benigno and Teresa Chapa. He is survived by Estela G. Chapa, his wife of 55 years, his son Roberto T. Chapa, Jr. and his wife Martha E. Chapa; his son Ricardo J. Chapa and his wife Diane Chapa; five grandchildren, Roberto G. Chapa, Rolando A. Chapa, Marcie L. Chapa, Daniel R. Chapa and Christina Y. Chapa; two step-grandchildren John A. and Eliza M. Coronado and two great-grandchildren, Roberto G. Chapa, Jr. and Antoni B. Chapa. Also, surviving him are his brother Ruben C. Chapa and his wife Corina, his sister Ella Soza and her husband Tony and his sister Delia Guerra and her husband Jesus. Mr. Chapa and his wife were long-time members of the St. Mary's Catholic Church in downtown Austin. Mr. Chapa graduated from Roma High School in South Texas and promptly joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1940. He spent a couple of years in the Pacific Northwest building roads and dams for the CCC and learned the fundamentals of discipline and hard work that would serve him well in later years. Mr. Chapa proudly served with distinction in the United States Army during WWII. He enlisted in 1942 and was assigned to the 104th Infantry Division. The 104th Timberwolf Division was an elite infantry unit that specialized in "night fighting" and was deployed to Northern Europe during the war. It was during this time that Mr. Chapa, who was a Staff Sergeant in Company B, 1st Battalion, 415th Regiment, was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery under fire and for actions above and beyond the call of duty. He remained in the army reserves and was commissioned a Captain in 1955. He retired from the United States Army Reserve with the rank of Major in 1967. After the war, Mr. Chapa attended St. Mary's University in San Antonio, Texas and graduated with BBA in Accounting. Before moving his family from Rio Grande City in South Texas to Austin in 1967, Mr. Chapa served as the Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the Rio Grande City ISD and owned a tax accounting business. In Austin, he worked for the U.S. Department of Labor in various capacities and retired in 1990 after serving as the State Director for Veteran's Employment Services for several years. Roberto T. Chapa, Sr. has been described as an institution in the Austin community. He was very active in local civic organizations including the Austin Travis County MHMR, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Capitol Area Boy Scouts Board, the Lions Club, the Board of the Downtown Austin Community Court, St. Mary's Cathedral Finance Committee, the Knights of Columbus, the Mexi-Arte Museum, the Community Action Network and numerous political campaigns. He devoted his entire life to public service and made significant contributions to the betterment of the Austin community. He was truly an inspiration to everybody who knew him and worked with him. Mr. Chapa was one of the founders of the Fiesta Independencia Foundation and the Hispanic Committee on Scouting. He also served as the Board Chair for the Austin Travis County MHMR for over ten years until his retirement in 2004. He loved the outdoors and especially deer hunting with his sons and grandsons in the Texas Hill Country. However, golf was his favorite sport and he loved to play regularly with his family and friends. He was especially proud of the "hole in one" he made on the Jimmy Clay course on May 15, 1994 at the ripe old age of 71. Mr. Chapa was a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He instilled in his family the importance of hard work and community involvement and that commitment is evidenced by the office building named in his honor by the Austin Travis County MHMR Center in 2004. Recitation of rosary Sunday, 7:00 p.m. at the Mission Funeral Home Serenity Chapel (South) 6204 South First Street located between Stassney and William Cannon. Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated Monday 10:00 a.m. at San Jose Catholic Church. Interment will follow at Assumption Cemetery. Pallbearers are: Roberto G. Chapa, Rolando A. Chapa, Daniel R. Chapa, John A. Coronado, Daniel Soza and Adrian Gonzalez. Honorary Pallbearers are: Gustavo L. Garcia Sr., David Evans, Richard Mendoza, Carmelo L. Macias, David Quintanilla, Michael Von Ohlen, Jose Guerra, Gilbert Martinez, Humberto Aguirre, and Robert I. Martinez. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Fiesta Independencia Foundation Scholarship Fund, c/o Libertad Bank 1708 S. Lakeshore Blvd., Austin, Texas 78741.