Rod and Denise Chapel learn to take a step back to focus on their family.
When you first meet the Chapel family, it’s hard not to instantly fall in love with them. They make you smile with how real and authentic they are, on display in their humorous back-and-forth banter. Then they make you tear up a few minutes later with the depth of their love for those struggling in our community. Their story is of one family trying to balance it all — work, family, public service — while staying faithful through everything.
Rod and Denise first met in Kansas City during an event for the chamber of commerce. Rod, a lawyer working on big tobacco litigation at the time, was instantly smitten when he saw Denise across the room. Her focus was on professional networking for a consulting firm where she worked, not on making a personal connection with a love interest. However, the two immediately found they had a lot in common, including a heart for social justice, a family-first mentality, and parents that were both educators and scholars. The two have never looked back.
“I moved to Jefferson City for the love of my life,” says Denise. “I switched gears professionally when I moved here, did some lobbying, worked in leadership for Missouri State Treasurer, and then went to the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan as a project manager.”
Denise grew professionally into a more prominent role with MCHCP within the last decade, now serving as the director of vendor relations. She oversees the compliance and responsibilities of vendor partners who facilitate the health care plan benefits for the nearly 100,000 state and public entity members. It’s a big job, but one she finds rewarding in ensuring people are getting the continuity of care they deserve.
“I’ve always said, ‘Yes, what can I do?’ And now, it’s time to be more intentional in what we say yes to.”— Denise Chapel
Denise also served as president of the national State and Local Government Benefits Association, where she used many of her insights in healthcare administration. This allowed her to gain more experience with sales and consulting to expand the membership and programming within the association.
Rod was the catalyst for the Chapels moving to Jefferson City, where he served as general counsel at the Missouri Department of Revenue, then as director for the Missouri Department of Labor, and finally as presiding judge for the Administrative Hearing Commission. It was always the love of the law that fueled him — he loved fighting social injustices through the legal system. In 2013, Rod started his own law firm, the Chapel Law Group, in Jefferson City and Kansas City to do just that.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to start my own law firm. I’ve wanted to right injustices all my life,” says Rod. “It allows me to represent people that are injured, cheated, or mistreated by helping them solve their issues.”
The Chapels have also poured that passion for helping people, especially those in need, into their services to the community. Both Rod and Denise have served on several boards and committees, including the Parks & Recreation Commission, Missouri Girls Town, NAACP, JC Rotary, YMCA, SSM Advisory Board, the Capital Region Board of Governors, and the Boy Scouts, to name a few. For Denise, there have been plenty of ways to serve and help with women and children’s issues, an area close to her heart.
“We like having our kids with us. It’s our jam. You learn so much in those quiet moments.”— Denise Chapel
“Women are the foundation of a community,” she says. “We build bridges, model character, and lift up humanity. Women really are the nucleus. If we continue to build up women, we can change the world.”
As a mom of two young sons (Nimrod III, or “Nim,” 12, and Bryant, 7), Denise has been very intentional about including them in the family’s community service every step of the way. Both boys have seen the personal commitment of their parents because they’ve all been active in the meetings, marches, and meaningful conversations. It’s been important for them to serve, but even more important to serve together as a family.
One of the significant community projects for Denise was the building of The Linc in Jefferson City when she served as president on the Parks and Recreation Commission. She was passionate about the project coming to fruition because of the connection it provides between Lincoln University and the City of Jefferson, not to mention the educational health and wellness activities now available to residents.
“My hope is we can keep everyone healthy, both mentally and physically, and have our boys be meaningful members of society.”— Rod Chapel
“It’s a place for everybody, but not everyone was passionate about the project along the way,” says Denise. “Those that gave pushback before are probably giving praise now. Change is scary, but we can do more together.”
The grand opening and ribbon cutting for the Linc was truly a community celebration with tons of people and a performance from the Lincoln University Blue Tigers marching band. It was also a family affair, including front-row seats for the two Chapel boys, who were also celebrating their years of hard work.
“There are a few times in life when you look back at a great moment. I can still see my children’s faces and that look of pride on their faces that day,” Denise remembers.
The Chapel family also finds themselves spending time together in other areas like sports. Rod and Denise encouraged their boys to try everything from soccer to baseball to basketball to golf. The boys are currently learning foreign languages and how to play the ukulele. It’s also been important for them to have dinner around the table and to be present with each other to listen.
“We like to have fun. ‘Work hard, play harder,’ we always say. We do have fun, and it’s intentional,” says Denise. “We like having our kids with us. It’s our jam. You learn so much in those quiet moments.”
One area of their lives that is not approached quietly is the holidays. They go big, and everyone is invited, with both sides of the family coming to Jefferson City to celebrate together.
“We have a big-tent approach to the holidays and a house full of folks, close to 30, with family, friends, and students, past and present, from Lincoln University,” Rod says.
“Holidays are so important. Rod and I knew we were the right fit for each other when we had our first conversation about family,” Denise explains. “Both of our families come together at our house for the holidays because we enjoy being around each other. We also want to instill that in our own kids.”
Quality time is incredibly important to the Chapels. Like most families, Rod and Denise have had to find the right balance between successfully juggling two jobs, community commitments, sports, schooling, and home time with their family. There have been seasons of adding more and some seasons, like now, of taking on less.
“I’ve always said, ‘Yes, what can I do?’ And now, it’s time to be more intentional in what we say yes to,” Denise says. “Your time and energy matter. We see the next phase coming fast with our boys and just want to be present.”
As a family, the Chapels are looking ahead to what’s down the road for their boys, including their hopes for them when they become parents.
“My hope is we can keep everyone healthy, both mentally and physically, and have our boys be meaningful members of society,” Rod says.
“I just want them to be good people,” Denise adds. “You don’t have to agree with everybody, but have character and be someone that people want to invite to the conversation. You need both discipline and faith in your life.”