John Robert Chappell, 85, of Idaho Falls, passed away on February 7, 2020, at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center.
John was born June 11, 1934, in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, to Nevalyn and Lenon Chappell. He was born in the same farmhouse as his father, a house that his grandfather, George Washington Chappell, built. John loved reminiscing about growing up on the family farm, about attending the one-room schoolhouse at Green's Chapel, and about the adventures he had with his friends, his dogs and his big brother, Paul.
He had an early interest in science, and with the help of his principal at Graham High School, he was accepted into the apprentice school at Newport News Shipyard in Virginia. He thrived at the apprentice school, learning skills in machining, drafting, and hull design. In 1955, he obtained a job in the Shipyard's hydraulic laboratory and was then awarded a scholarship to attend Georgia Tech. He received his bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1960.
He met his future wife, Helenbyrd Kilpatrick, at Trinity Methodist Church in Newport News. When he won a scholarship to attend MIT for graduate school, Helenbyrd went with him. He received his master's degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT in September, 1964. John and Helenbyrd were married a month later on November 28, 1964. It was a good year.
John and Helenbyrd settled in Newport News and had one son, David. John continued to work in the hydraulic lab on projects ranging from the turbulent boundary layer around ships to submarine design and from hydro-turbines to deep sea mining. He traveled to Greece and other locales to supervise tests on ship efficiency. He was a co-author on a patent for an improved design of the bulbous bow, a ship hull design that improves efficiency and speed.
In 1975, John, Helenbyrd, David and Buffy (their dog) moved to Idaho Falls, Idaho. John worked at the Loss of Fluid Test Facility (LOFT) at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) for three years before transferring to hydropower. There, he served as a liaison between the Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE-funded hydropower projects across the country. John retired in 1993.
John had many life-long interests. He liked to go fishing and rock hunting, build telescopes and metal detectors, search for lost treasures and meteorites, research UFOs and Bigfoot, listen to bluegrass music, take pictures and tell tall tales. He was a member of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, the Idaho Falls Astronomical Society, the IF Gem and Mineral Society and the IF Camera Club. He was an accomplished photographer and he enjoyed sharing his deep knowledge of astronomy at public star parties.
In his later years, he was known for always jotting notes on his generous supply of 3x5 cards that he kept in his shirt pocket, taking pictures and his insatiable love of books. John was a kind, gentle man with a passion for science and the mysteries of the world. He always had something interesting to say and he loved listening to other people's stories. He will be deeply missed.
John is survived by his son, David Chappell; daughter-in-law, Karina Chappell; and grandchildren, Kai Erik and Aidan Olov Chappell. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helenbyrd Chappell, and his brother, Paul Clifton Chappell.
Services will be held at 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, 2020, at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 1730 St. Clair Road, Idaho Falls, Idaho.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to your favorite charity (he supported the IF Rescue Mission, the Humane Society and many others).
To send flowers to John's family, please visit our floral section.