Longtime Thunderbolt resident Frank Chappell was remembered as leader, a brother and a mentor.
Chappell passed away on May 27 at Candler Hospital, at age 85.
Otis Brock, who also lives in Thunderbolt, met Chappell when the two were athletes at Savannah State. “I was a senior and he was a freshman,” states Brock. “We he came to Savannah State, he had a lot of leadership ability. He was a very serious and dedicated young man which led to his success with the Savannah Police Department,” he added.
Chappell grew up in southwest Georgia and played football at Brooks High School.
Once he graduated high school, the Quitman native joined the United State Army. After fulfilling his military duty, he left the Army and decided to make use of his education dollars and enrolled at Savannah State.
Chappell joined the Tigers football team which was coached by Ross Pearly at the time. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 215-pounds, Chappell played on the offensive line for the 1955 and 56 seasons.
He was one of 24 newcomers on the ‘55 squad which also included Quitman natives Willie Batchelor,
Byron Mitchell and Louis Gordon. The 1956 team posted a 4-4 record and won the Southeastern Athletic Conference (SEAC) Championship. That season, the Tigers were 4-1 in the conference and had big wins over Alabama State (34-0) and Morris (40-0). The team also had a 16-13 Homecoming victory over Clark College.
Batcher, who was a all-conference back for the Tigers, was Chappell’s college roommate. “We stayed in Wright Hall in room 310,” he recalled.
“Frank was supposed to go to Bethune-Cookman but because me and some of our other high school teammates were going to Savannah State, he changed his mind and came with us,” said Batchelor. The Quitman guys stayed together. We had love for each other and a real friendship.”
The football players from Quitman were so popular on campus, that coeds referred to them as the ‘Q-Town Boys’.
While attending Savannah State, Chappell met the former Annie Coleman of Valdosta.
After marrying Annie on July 27, 1957, Chappell decided to leave Savannah State and joined the Savannah Police Department after they advertised they were hiring another group of African American officers. Chappell along with 13 others were hired as part of the second group of African American officers hired by the Savannah Police Department.
“Those were some tough times,” said Mrs. Chappell. They could not arrest whites back then. They had to call downtown and wait for a white officer to come so they could make the arrest. Anything could of happened while they were waiting for the other officers to arrive. Those officers went through a lot, but they endured,” she added.
Chappell spent 35 years with the police force and retired as a sergeant in 1992.
James Barnwell, who is the current chief of the Savannah State Police Department remembers Chappell well.
“It is a great loss for the community. He was a smart and gentle man. He helped developed a lot of young officers at the Savannah Police Department.”
Barnwell said that when he joined the SPD force, Chappell was one of the men that mentored him. “When I got there in 1984, he was one of the leading investigators on the force,” he added.
“If he saw you messing up he was going to correct you and show you the right way on how something should be done. He also didn’t allow you to talk to people any kind of way. That’s something we don’t have today,” said Barnwell.
In talking to Barnwell, one cannot help but notice the large picture of the Savannah Nine hanging on the wall in his office. “I take that picture with me wherever I go. It reminds me that we are standing on the shoulders of those men.”
After retiring, Chappell became a alderman in Thunderbolt, where he served two terms.
Services for Chappell were held June 3 at St. Benedict The Moor Catholic Church and Interment was at Forest Lawn Memory Gardens.