Leta McFarlin Chapman Memorial Trust (1974) - Chapman Legacy Society
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Gifts Established:

  • 30 Endowments
brick engraved with name Leta McFarlin Chapman Memorial Trust (1974)

Leta McFarlin Chapman Memorial Trust (1974)

They called him the “Mystery Millionaire” or “Mr. Anonymous,” an exceptionally private, modest man who shunned recognition, but who turned oil and cattle ventures into one of the nation’s great fortunes. James A. Chapman and his wife, Leta, shared their wealth and became two of The University of Tulsa’s most beneficent donors, touching nearly every corner and every aspect of the institution including endowed professorships, scholarships and buildings. Without the Chapmans’ assistance, former TU president Ben Henneke said TU “might have become Tulsa State University,” forced to become a public school for lack of funding. Thanks to the Chapmans’ ardent belief in free enterprise and minimal government, the university survived.

There likely was another reason for Chapman’s philanthropy. According to one source, his own schooling ended at the eighth grade; most certainly he wanted any young person who yearned for an education to have the means. James, however, did not grow up poor. The second of eight surviving children of Mr. and Mrs. P.A. Chapman, he was born in 1881 on a prosperous cotton and cattle farm in Ovilla, Texas. When he struck out on his own around 1900, he first moved to Holdenville, Okla., where he became associated with his uncle and Leta’s father, Robert M. McFarlin; and H.G. Barnard, Leta’s uncle. McFarlin and Chapman partnered in 1903 to create the Holdenville Oil & Gas Company and develop part of the Glenn Pool oilfield.

By 1907, James was a millionaire. A year later, he and Leta married, and they moved to Tulsa in 1912 with more oil success to follow. When Cushing became an oil boom site, the men founded the McMan Oil Company to take advantage of the boom. They expanded, but so did others. New fields in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas created an oil glut, but McFarlin and Chapman, conservative in their approach, were debt free. They could afford to lower production and stockpile crude for more favorable days.

Eventually the market returned, spurred by World War I. A conservative approach was a major factor in James’ ongoing success. He believed in morality and thrift. One associate said he rarely had more than $200-$300 in his wallet; in fact, he carried a small notebook, where he meticulously logged his expenses. In 1916, the men sold McMan Oil Company to Magnolia Oil for $39 million, which at the time was the largest single transaction the industry had seen. A year later, the partners formed McMan Oil and Gas. In 1930, Standard Oil subsidiary Dixie Oil purchased that company for $20 million. James continued to invest in oil leases and engaged in banking, but eventually spent much of his time overseeing his five ranches, including the famous Chapman-Barnard Ranch in Osage County. Despite his business prominence, few people in Tulsa, except his closest associates, knew who James was or what he did.

Standing soldier-like at over six feet tall, James had a naturally reserved personality. An asthmatic condition made him allergic to smoke, and he didn’t socialize like others in his field. Except for time spent conducting business at the Drew Building or working his ranches, he and Leta lived quietly at The Mayo Hotel. Although an elevator operator there said he could always count on a hearty “good morning” from James, to many he appeared cold. Those who knew him well said he just needed to know and trust people to open up. Interviews with his associates tell of a complex but good-hearted man.

A highly principled businessman with a fabulous computer-like mind, James was hard driving and authoritarian, a passionate believer in work, who could inspire his employees to act decisively on his behalf. He could talk cattle with cattlemen and oil with well site workers. His attorney, John Rogers, recalled that he had “a tremendous memory, good judgment and luck.”

Leta was the more social half of the couple. She used their club memberships and hosted family parties. In later years, she was recognized by the National Conference of Christians and Jews and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. She cared about social welfare issues and supported a number of local causes in that vein along with TU. The couple had donated to causes since the early 1930s with the proviso that absolutely no publicity be given to the gifts. “I am doing this for people, not for the publicity,” he told one of his associates. If word leaked out about a gift, James marked the charity off the list for any subsequent donations.

By his late 60s, he grew concerned about his estate because he didn’t want to give it to the government. So in 1949, the couple created their first trust – The J.A. Chapman and Leta M. Chapman Trust – to assure the wealth they had acquired would instead go to good causes. Three other trusts followed: the J.A. Chapman and Leta M. Chapman Charitable Trust in 1966; the Leta McFarlin Chapman Memorial Trust in 1974; and the Pauline McFarlin Walter Memorial Trust in 1980, which was created by Leta’s sister. TU was the largest beneficiary of the initial trust and has been fortunate enough to be among the beneficiaries of the subsequent trusts. The Chapman Trusts continue to account for a major slice of TU’s annual operating revenue, and they have underwritten a tremendous range of scholarships and fellowships in every area from accounting to English to law to the social sciences. The Chapman Trusts also have endowed faculty chairs and professorships, supported McFarlin Library, and advanced a number of other capital projects.

James Chapman died in 1966, and Leta passed away in 1974. Since that time, the Bank of Oklahoma, the Rogers & Bell law firm, and, more recently, the Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers firm have watched over the trusts and maintained the Chapmans’ long association with TU.

The Rogers & Bell relationship can be traced back to Harry Rogers, who joined the staff of McMan Oil Company in 1913 as an attorney who proved effective at protecting the company’s leasing rights against predatory claimants. His brother, Albert, became a McMan accountant in 1914, and their brother John Rogers joined the company as an additional legal counsel in 1915.

Albert Rogers was the first Individual Trustee of the Chapman Trusts, followed by his brother, John Rogers, in 1964. John’s law partner and TU Law alumnus, William Bell, became the Individual Trustee of the Chapman Trusts in 1977, followed by William’s daughter, Sharon Bell, from 1988-2017. Sharon Bell graduated from TU’s College of Law in 1985, and she joined her father’s law firm and is now managing partner of Rogers & Bell. Sharon is married to Tulsa attorney and TU alumnus Greg Gray (JD ’85), also with the firm Rogers & Bell. Ms. Bell served as a distinguished TU Trustee from 1988-2018.

Today, Jeffrey A. Sanders represents Bank of Oklahoma as the Corporate Trustee for the four Chapman Trusts. In 2018, Frederic Dorwart of Frederic Dorwart, Lawyers assumed the role of Individual Trustee of the Leta McFarlin Chapman Memorial Trust and the Pauline McFarlin Walter Memorial Trust. Mr. Dorwart also has strong ties to The University of Tulsa, serving as an esteemed TU Trustee since 2010.

The Chapman legacy at TU spread beyond the four Chapman Trusts. James’ and Leta’s son, Harry Allen Chapman, and his wife, Mary Kathryn Chapman, gave generously to TU through their own foundations – the H.A. and Mary K. Chapman Charitable Trust and the Mary K. Chapman Foundation. Their gifts include a 1968 contribution to establish the School of Nursing, and a 1971 gift to finance the construction of TU’s Mabee Speech and Hearing Clinic, which was renamed the Mary K. Chapman Speech and Hearing Clinic.

The Allen Chapman Student Union is named for H.A.’s generosity, and the trusts provided funding for major renovations of this facility in 2014 and 2015. The H.A. and Mary K. Chapman Charitable Trust also provided generous funding to upgrade TU’s stadium, now called the H.A. Chapman Stadium, and to develop Chapman Commons as part of a welcoming entrance along Eleventh Street. In an effort to unlock the undiscovered resources of the Gilcrease Museum documents archive, the trust also sponsored the H.A. and Mary K. Chapman Digitization Lab at the Helmerich Center for American Research. Today, the generosity of the Chapman family continues to help reinvent the university and bring unprecedented success to its students, faculty and all those they serve.