Richard D. Chapin, 96, founder and retired owner of Chapin Watermatics, passed away Friday evening, June 6, at his home on N. Colorado Avenue.
He was born on a farm near Philadelphia, NY, on July 22, 1917 to Willard L. and Mary Alice Hall Chapin.
Richard’s father was a contractor, who built many homes in Watertown and the north country. In 1930 he built a small greenhouse for Richard to start a business known as Chapin’s Flowers, which operated in the city for 55 years. During his high school years, Richard attended classes in the morning, worked in the greenhouse in the afternoon and completed his school assignments during the evening. Richard completed the Commercial Course, graduating from Watertown High School in 1935. During this time and for the following three decades, he traveled to Cornell University annually to attend a two or three day short course, covering the latest growing methods. He also studied floral design and greenhouse management through correspondence courses.
Richard married Ruth E. Rathbun, also of Watertown, July 14, 1938 at Asbury Methodist Church. Mrs. Chapin assumed bookkeeping duties and office management for Chapin’s Flowers. During World War II, Richard converted the greenhouse business to raise chickens to help in the war effort.
About this time, Richard and Ruth began attending a new fellowship of Christians and in1943 became charter members of Parkside Alliance Church, now known as Parkside Bible Church. The couple was also active in the ministry of Gideons, which distributes Bibles to groups locally and worldwide. These groups challenged the Chapins to operate a business that would honor God in all of their dealings and trust God to enable the business to bless others. Faith in Jesus was not just an idea, but a way of life, trusting God to lead them daily to work toward His greater purposes in sending the gospel of Jesus Christ to the entire world.
Following the war years, Mr. Chapin expanded the business, operating from nine greenhouses at Colorado Avenue, and selling to the wholesale markets of Northern New York. Chapin’s Flowers was widely known for their excellent quality bedding plants. Mr. Chapin found great joy in donating plants to city parks and many local churches.
Richard began to experiment with improved methods for watering plants. His first invention, Chapin’s Mist Watering Machine, provided automated watering from a device which traveled on an overhead track. This was used for his outdoor crops and was marketed to several customers in the northeast in the early 1950s.
Richard developed the first commercial application of drip irrigation in 1960. He became known as the "Father of Drip Irrigation", with more than 25 U.S. patents to his credit. Chapin Watermatics, founded in 1962, marketed greenhouse watering systems and Chapin Twin Wall drip irrigation hose internationally. Development of new products and inventing machines to manufacture them provided significant challenges, which literally drove Richard to his knees, seeking guidance from the Lord. He always wanted people to understand that any successes he achieved were because of his dependence on God’s great mercy. His business card read "If you miss knowing me, you miss nothing; if you miss knowing my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, you miss everything."
In 1967, Richard was among a group of fifteen US florists taking the People to People Tour in Europe. This delegation visited parks and floricultural facilities in Russia, Hungary, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, and Belgium. It was especially memorable to travel behind the "Iron Curtain" and have a glimpse of life in a Communist culture. In 1968, Florist Review published seven articles, written by Mr. Chapin concerning horticulture in these countries.
In his "retirement years," Richard founded Chapin Living Waters Foundation, and devoted himself full time to serving as its Executive Director until his death. The foundation is dedicated to helping the world’s poorest people grow fresh vegetables even when there is no rain. He began experimenting with gravity fed watering systems for third world countries following a life changing trip to Senegal in 1974, when drought conditions in Western Africa were so severe that people waited several days for one meal, often consisting of a few boiled leaves. Dick developed a simple "Bucket Kit" which provides adequate moisture for a home vegetable garden during periods of drought. The foundation has provided Bucket Kits and training materials to humanitarian organizations working in about 150 countries. In May 2006, Chapin Watermatics, Inc. was sold with the provision that the buyer, Jain Irrigation, would continue to provide the materials necessary for the Bucket Kits.
In addition to his efforts to feed the hungry of the world, he was committed to helping individuals who crossed his path in daily life. Richard found great joy in offering employment to students and others in need of a job. He made it a priority to patiently assist others when they faced a challenge or suffered a crisis. He was also eager to assist missionary friends with packing their belongings for overseas shipment.
Richard Chapin has been honored by the American Society of Horticulture (1986), the American Society for Plasticulture (1991), the Irrigation Association (1993); was a finalist for the New York State Entrepreneur of the Year for Social Responsibility (1994); and was awarded the Paul Harris Fellow Award for Humanitarian Service in 2000 by Rotary International. He was one of the original inductees to the Watertown City School District Distinguished Alumni Hall of Achievement (2001). A historical plaque at Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island, honoring Mr. Chapin and Norman Smith, Nassau County Agricultural Agent, commemorates the site of the first row crop drip irrigation with plastic film mulch grown in the US in 1964.
Richard was predeceased in 2011 by his wife Ruth R. Chapin and is survived by 4 children and their spouses: Donald, London, England, William and Ruth E., Watertown, Robert and Deborah, Burnsville, MN, and Ronald and Mary Westcott, New Holland, PA, 13 grandchildren, 20 great grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren.