Dennis Chapman: Attorney Remembered as Storyteller, Fan


Dennis Chapman

Dennis T. “Denny” Chapman was a husband, a father, a coach, a grandfather, a sports fan, and a lawyer who spent most of his career at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. Most of all, it seems, to those who knew him, he was a good guy. Probably a great guy.

Denny Chapman passed peacefully in his sleep on Aug. 15 after suffering from cancer and dementia in his final months.

 Chapman was born into the Holy Name Parish to Tom and Frances Chapman. He excelled in multiple sports during high school at Holy Name, taking those talents to Creighton University where he played baseball and earned undergraduate and law degrees.

In February 1969, the year he completed law school, he married Karen Burbach. They had six children and were together until her 2005 passing.

Following his law school graduation, Chapman joined the Army as a JAG officer and was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, until 1975. Returning to Omaha, he worked in private practice before joining Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Steve Martin was CEO at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska where Chapman became general counsel. They worked together to build the first hospital contracts before Martin took the top job.

 “He was very easy going, wonderful to work with. Always had a good story,” Martin recalled. “Managed things with a great wit.”

 Martin also remembered Chapman as a major sports fan and referred to him as a student of Omaha sports history.

“I don’t think he ever went to a baseball game when he wasn’t keeping the box score,” Martin stated. “A great executive and leader ... someone who truly will be missed.”

Attorney Tom Jenkins worked with Chapman at Blue Cross and Blue Shield. He was hired by Chapman in the 1990s and succeeded him as general counsel.

 “Denny was a good lawyer. He had a good knowledge, especially, of Nebraska law,” Jenkins said. “Good guy, good man to work with and for.”

Jenkins said Chapman cared about the company.

“But on a deeper level he cared a lot about the policy holder-members of Blue Cross,” Jenkins said. “He also cared about the employees.”

Beyond that, he was fun to work with. “He was quick to laugh. Serious when he had to be.”

 Anyone who knew Chapman was aware he had a deep knowledge of sports. Jenkins, who said he’s a sports fan but not on Chapman’s level, asked his friend to describe a “four-seam fastball.” The former catcher at Creighton not only explained it to Jenkins but brought a baseball to the office the following day to demonstrate.

Kim Arnold, vice president of marketing and communications for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska, said that Chapman was a natural storyteller.

 “He could entertain you and teach you something at the same time,” she remembered. “I started at Blue Cross and Blue Shield right out of college, and I didn’t know anything about business. He taught me how to read and understand an insurance contract.”

Not surprisingly, she said he had a sports analogy for everything and was organized, sometime in spite of appearances.

 “I remember going into his office and there’d be towers of papers everywhere—but he knew exactly where everything was!” she said. “He was so kind to everyone and always had a smile on his face.”

Chapman retired from the insurance company in 2007 after 27 years on the job.

Tom Chapman is the second oldest of the six Chapman children and is the oldest son. He is the principal of Chapman & Company where he helps start-up companies find what they need and does economic research consulting for communities.

“I have so many memories of him,” the younger Chapman said. “Any time I’m watching sports, I think of my dad.”

That is especially true of Creighton basketball and the College World Series, but he also recalled the roughly five years his dad was on the radio with local sportscaster Jim Kelter doing Friday night Creighton Prep games.

“My dad loved to talk about offensive line play,” Tom Chapman said. “My dad was a center,” who has a keen insight of “the game within the game.”

That knowledge wasn’t limited to just one sport. His father talked about “the Andre Woolridge defense” in basketball, which consisted of trying to talk the Benson basketball legend and later NBA player into going to the wrong gym. Denny Chapman helped pick the state’s Mr. and Miss Basketball for many years after helping to establish that award.

He recalled how a Blue Cross & Blue Shield co-worker who was treated to a soccer demonstration in the hall at work, but the elder Chapman always found a way to get a red card when he coached so he didn’t have to hang around a game.

The lessons Tom Chapman learned from his father were innumerable.

“I learned all the things. How to be honest and humble,” he said. “He would always treat people like they mattered to him.

“If he was with a person, he was ‘with’ that person and not thinking about what he would be doing the next day at work.”

For a time, his father was on the business faculty at Creighton where, “he taught students how the real-world works.”

Denny Chapman was a member of the Omaha Sports Committee and volunteered at the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau where he often lurked in places where people would want pictures, with a particular fondness for downtown, then pop out and offer to take their photo.

At Holy Name he was involved in coaching sports and later served on the Archdiocesan School Board where he helped with development.

While the funny stories are endless, Tom Chapman offered a couple that contrasted with the professional public image.

Michael Fullenkamp, who now is a doctor and diagnosed Chapman’s cancer, first met him at the family home sitting where he was in the living room in a T-shirt and his underwear. Tom Chapman recalls his now wife meeting his dad for the first time in a similar manner while they were both R.A.s at Creighton.

“My dad was ridiculous,” he said. “Totally unabashed.”

Denny Chapman was preceded in death by his first wife, Karen Chapman, and parents, Frances and Tom Chapman.  He is survived by his second wife, Roseanne Emery, six children, four stepchildren, 11 grandchildren; 12 step-grandchildren; and four great-step-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, memorials are suggested to Holy Name Grade School, Marian High School, Heart Ministry Center Omaha, or Creighton Athletics.

— Andy Roberts

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