Chapman made hall of fame career after taking some fatherly advice
Mary Lou Chapman has had many times in her life when she was part of a first. She was the first to cook American beef in Japan, for example, and when she was a kid she was the first girl in her county to try to catch a calf in the catch-a-calf contest.
Girls weren’t allowed to catch the calf themselves.
Chapman didn’t catch one, but her efforts were noticed by one of the businessmen at the competition.
“Of course I had to go after the biggest calf in the ring,” she said. “I tried to bulldog the calf … it kicked me in my chest and knocked me down, and yet I still had my halter around its neck.”
The halter wasn’t on the calf properly, though, so she held on while it took her around the arena.
She used the calf she got to start her own herd.
Just as her dad helped get her into the contest, he was the one who encouraged her not to pursue a career as a veterinarian.
CAREER TO JAPAN
Chapman’s dad told her most ranchers wouldn’t want to call a woman veterinarian for their animals. Chapman wasn’t afraid to break barriers, but she followed her father’s advice. That was in 1960, so when she went to Colorado State University in September of that year she picked a more practical field — home economics.
There’s no telling how her career would have gone as a vet, but the professional path she took led her to be honored as a 2018 Farm Credit Colorado Agriculture Hall of Fame inductee.
About two years after graduating from CSU, Chapman took a position as the director of home economics for the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, which became one of her most notable accomplishments.
She went to Japan in May 1968 with the Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture and the chief marketing specialist for the department to represent Colorado at the American Food and Agricultural Exposition. It was the first time it was held outside the U.S., and while there, Chapman cooked the first U.S. beef in the country.
“One of the biggest things I did for Colorado agriculture, I think, came really early in my career,” she said, referring to her representing U.S. beef in Japan.
MAKING HER MARK
Eventually, Chapman left the board to work as the consumer marketing specialist at the Colorado Department of Agriculture. She was offered the position once before, but turned it down because at the time the person in that role mainly went to schools and did cooking demonstrations. That’s not what Chapman wanted to do.
Chapman said she was given the chance to make the position her own.
She wanted it to be a spokesperson position. She told those interviewing her, “‘ Right now, what I see going on in the real world and in the news media, I think there’s a lot of spokespeople out there for consumers, but they don’t know much about agriculture.’”
She got the job and stayed there for almost 11 years. She spent that time developing programs and acting as an advocate for agriculture.
Chapman said recent food movements, such as using local foods or the distrust of foods, is a flashback to the ’70s, when she faced the same issues then that many producers are going through today.
Her desire to advocate for agriculture eventually led to her start an eyes and ears program for different agencies under CSU in 1982, before institutions were able to hire outside lobbyists.
Today, Chapman is the president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Food Industry Association, which advocates for grocers in Colorado and Wyoming. She said it helps bridge that gap of advocacy for the grocers and the agriculture industry.
But even with the strides and advocacy work she did throughout her career, being selected into the hall of fame is still a bit “surreal” to her.
And all of what she accomplished would not have happened had she gone the veterinarian route like she originally planned.
— Fox is a reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at (970) 392-4410, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @FoxonaFarm.
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