Rosine Chappell

August 1, 2006 by  
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All-American Cancer Fighter

When Cancer Fighters of Houston Inc. gave volunteer Rosine Chappell its All-American Award, she said, “This would mean so much to my father.” He would be proud of her volunteer efforts to make the world a healthier, better place – but he would be beaming at the “All-American” distinction. He went through a great deal to make sure his daughter would be an American.

Rosine’s father, Sam Joseph, was born in New York on Jan. 1, 1900. Seven years later, the family returned to Bucharest, Romania – but at age 24, Sam finally returned to the America that he loved. He spent a year and a half working for the new Neon Company in New York.

Rather than come to the United States as planned, Sam’s fiancée, Charlotte Klein, enticed him back to Bucharest for the wedding. Charlotte wanted to stay in Bucharest. Sam gave in and settled down in the “old country.”

Sam’s pride in his American citizenship and his desire to return never paled. He would tell his young daughter, Rosine, tales of a “wonderful America, where one could be whatever one’s heart desired and where the streets are paved with gold.”

As Nazi power grew and Europe became more dangerous for Jewish families, Sam (goaded by his older brother who lived in Corpus Christi, Texas) tried to get papers for his wife so they could go to the United States.

The Consulate in Bucharest made it very difficult, insisting he open an escrow account in American dollars to ensure that Charlotte would never be “a financial burden to the U.S, government.” But it was illegal for a Romanian Jew to have dollars. However, Romanians working at the consulate were paid in dollars. Sam spent years buying those dollars at greatly inflated prices.

Finally, with the all-important Affidavit of Admittance for Charlotte and an account in Switzerland, the Joseph family was scheduled to leave what had become a dangerous and repressive Romania on July 1, 1941. They had visas for Russia, Japan and San Francisco.

Luck was not with them. On June 2, 1941, Germany invaded Russia. Now, Turkey was the only escape route out of central Europe. It took Sam months to get that government to accept Charlotte’s papers. Istanbul was fascinating for the 13-year-old Rosine. But it is the food that she really remembers, “Fresh meat, especially. By then in Romania we had no fresh meat. If there was any, it was usually horse meat.”

The Josephs traveled by train through Syria to Baghdad, Iraq. Sam went to a bank and wired Switzerland. The reply was garbled. Every reply was garbled. The family was out of money.

Every day, Sam went to the bank. Finally, a banker told Sam to meet him outside. In hushed tones, he told Sam that he too was Jewish but no one knew. Baghdad had recently had a “pogrom,” or massacre, and many Jews were killed. For their safety, the banker had sent his family to Bombay, India. If Sam would agree to check on his family in Bombay, the banker would give him the money to get there.

The Josephs sailed on a Nordic cargo ship from Basra to Bombay. It was December 1941, and Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. Like the Russian visas, the ones for Japan were now useless.

Sam, Rosine and Charlotte met the Bombay banker’s family and found them prospering. The family tried to persuade the Josephs to stay in Bombay and not risk the voyage to America – Nazi submarines were sinking passenger and cargo ships. But Sam was determined.

The President’s Line ship, USS Madison, on a mission to rescue missionaries stranded by the invading Japanese, made room for the Josephs. It was a three-month-long, circuitous, submarine-evading, zigzagging journey. They sailed from Bombay to South Africa to Rio and then hugged the South American coast up to New York.

As they sailed into New York harbor, everyone aboard sang “God Bless America.” Then, the ship turned around, causing the Josephs and others to fear they were being denied entry. They found out that a German submarine was in the harbor, and later that night they sailed back.

The ordeal wasn’t over. Immigration wouldn’t accept Charlotte’s Affidavit of Admittance. They were stranded on Ellis Island. Sam hired an attorney, and a week later they were on a train headed to Corpus Christi, Texas to join Sam’s brother.

Sam Joseph’s persistence paid off. Rosine went to school and improved the little English she had learned from the Anglican Nuns in Bucharest. Now, she is very opposed to bilingual education because she says, “Without the immersion in English, I don’t know how long it would have taken me.” Listening to her, you’d never know English wasn’t her first language.

She graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in Romance Languages and was teaching ninth grade Spanish when she met and married Cliff Chappell. His career with Shell Oil and IBM brought the couple and their three children to settle in Houston in 1967.

The Chappell family has done its part for Houston. Rosine was instrumental in creating the Concierge Desk at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the first hospital to have such a volunteer service.

She also joined Cancer Fighters at its inception in 1980. Cancer Fighters of Houston Inc. is a 501 (c) (3) charity. Its bylaws require the organization to be an all-volunteer organization with no paid staff. All money raised must go for “research, education and service in Houston.”

The volunteers raise seed money for cancer research. It is the “seed money” that allows doctors and scientists to begin their research. Rosine is one of five members of the Cancer Fighter’s Research Committee. They carefully study grant requests and interview prospective recipients to decide which projects will be funded.

Sixteen years ago, while helping fight cancer, Rosine was diagnosed with colon cancer; and now, Cliff is nine years into his battle with cancer. Yet, from the smiles on their faces and their easy relaxed style, you’d never know they had a care in the world.

Truly, Rosine Chappell is an All-American Cancer Fighter, who, with her brave father’s help, has more than earned the title.

Cancer Fighters is located at the Rose, 3400 Bissonnett, Ste. 185, Houston, Texas 77005. For more information, call (713) 668-2996.

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