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Julie Chappell: Three Decades with TNC

Chappell sees working at TNC as a chance to turn her love for the outdoors into something bigger and more meaningful.

In 1983, Julie Chappell interviewed for two jobs with The Nature Conservancy. She didn’t get either of them. But fate intervened, and this December Julie is celebrating her 30th anniversary with the Conservancy. She has been Director of Operations since 1987.

“When I started there were five people in the central office and two staff at Nags Head Woods,” Chappell remembers. “We used a Wang writer (an early computer made by the now defunct Wang company) to prepare correspondence. I handwrote receipts for gifts on a multiform pad. We kept a card file with 3 by 5 inch cards for every major donor.”

In comparison, The North Carolina Chapter now employs 38 people, has five offices across the state and a large room filled with files. Last January, Chappell spearheaded her sixth office move with the Conservancy to a beautiful new space at Durham’s American Tobacco Complex, overlooking the Durham Bulls’ stadium.

But, some things have not changed: the Conservancy is still doing the work that attracted Chappell in the first place. “I grew up in a rural area with no neighbors, so I had to entertain myself,” she explains. “So, I was outdoors a lot – digging around in ditches and finding crayfish, or using my microscope to look at pond scum.”

At the Conservancy, she saw the chance to translate that love of nature and the outdoors into something bigger and more meaningful. “The mission was very attractive to me from the start – very motivating. I was amazed to see the support we got from people. In the beginning, I was in charge of handling all the cash and checks. Someone would send in two dollars in an envelope, and it would just break my heart.”

She was also impressed with how the Conservancy was working in North Carolina. Her first trip to a Conservancy preserve was to Nags Head Woods. “I had been to the Outer Banks many times, but I had never seen anything like that. I had no idea that Nags Head Woods existed. I was impressed that the Conservancy had protected that property.”

Over the years, Chappell has seen a lot of staff come and go, but one thing has remained constant. “My co-workers are some of the smartest people I know,” she says. “We hire smart people. That adds to the challenge sometimes, but that’s good.”

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