When visiting the Ohio Union, Stephen E. Chappelear ’77 cannot resist buying the latest Moritz College of Law shirt in the bookstore. The lapel of his suit often is pierced with a “Block O” pin. He knows no shame for love of his alma mater – as evidenced by colleagues on the National Conference of Bar Foundations who often introduce him as “Mr. Ohio State.”
The two-time graduate of The Ohio State University is a loyal donor to the College’s annual fund and a devoted volunteer around Drinko Hall. He serves on the College’s National Council, is a past president of the Moritz Alumni Society, and led fundraising efforts as a class reunion chair. He mentors current law students through the Mentoring and More @ Moritz and Moritz Scholars programs, and he is a perennial participant in the Race Judicata 5K run/walk.
“I like to be involved with things that are excellent, and that’s certainly the case with Moritz,” he said. “I want the law school to continue to have an outstanding reputation nationally. If I can help in small ways – time, money, or whatever it is – then that’s what I want to do.”
Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Education: B.A., The Ohio State University; J.D., The Ohio State University
Current job: Member of Frost Brown Todd
Professional affiliations: In August, he will begin a three-year term on the American Bar Association Board of Governors and, in October, a five-year term on The Ohio State University Alumni Association Board of Directors. He is a past-president of the National Conference of Bar Foundations, the Ohio State Bar Association, the Ohio State Bar Foundation, and the Columbus Bar Association.
What you won’t find on his resume: He spent his infant and toddler years three blocks from the law school. His first job was selling Coca-Colas in the stands of Ohio Stadium during fall football games, while his dad worked as an usher. “The only game we could ever watch together was the spring game,” Chappelear said. “I’ve known about Ohio State since I was able to speak.”
Family: He and his wife, Sharon Chappelear, dated throughout their years at Ohio State and have been together 43 years. They have two children, Kacey (a 2007 Moritz graduate) and Chris, and one granddaughter, Francesca.
Passions: Ohio State and the law – period.
Steven Smathers, a two-time Ohio State graduate, recalls his college days as being a difficult time. Besides the usual stresses of going to classes and studying, he had two young children and the additional responsibilities that come with being a husband and father.
“I had financial issues that complicated the daunting intellectual challenge of law school,” said Steven, who credits alumni with helping him make it through. “The scholarships I received, no matter how big or small, helped get me across the finish line. I knew, as a student, that if I was ever in a position to help others, I had a moral obligation to help the students who came after me.”
Science was Steven’s first interest, and he earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1972 with a desire to become a doctor. However, a project he did at Ohio State’s School of Poultry Science for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration convinced him to look further for his ideal career path. “I enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it would be a lifelong fit,” he said.
Instead, Steven dived into law, admittedly unsure about what he planned to do from there. After graduation in 1976, he took a job with a large firm in Philadelphia that gave its young attorneys experience by rotating them through several of its divisions. “I found a home with the corporate group,” he said. “It was competitive enough to be a challenge, but not enough to make my head hurt.”
After several years and a move to Dallas—where he’s lived for more than three decades—Steven spent the next 10 years at the law firm of Johnson & Gibbs, ending as corporate shareholder in the financial institutions group. It was there that he met James Sowell of Sowell & Co., which started as a client, and then became an opportunity. Sowell & Co. buys underappreciated, struggling or emerging companies, then rebuilds and sells them.
“I thought I could be valuable to Sowell. I wanted to give input on the business side,” said Steven, who joined the company in 1991 and is now general counsel and managing director. He has worked with all manner of businesses, including restaurants, golf courses, hotels, energy, pet products and medical device companies. He also shares his knowledge and experience about acquisitions and corporate finance as a professor at Southern Methodist University.
When asked if any Ohio State professors inspired him, Steven names Bob Lynn, Robert Nordstrom and John Slain as major influences. “Without them, my legal education would have been incomplete,” he said. “They not only taught the law, but taught me to love the thinking process that drives the law. They taught me to think about problems and create solutions. It was a difficult process, but the professors were understanding, sympathetic and yet intellectually demanding.”
In 2012, he decided the time was right to establish the Steven and Misty Smathers Endowed Scholarship Fund in the Moritz College of Law. The need-based scholarship goes to students with at least one child. First preference is for a student who is unmarried. The Smathers also are President’s Club donors and members of The Ohio State University Alumni Association.
“Ohio State made me the student I was and the lawyer I became. The school gave me the opportunity to develop skills I did not know I had and to refine the ones I thought were already effective,” he said. “I learned that if I was to succeed in life, I would have to be persistent.”
While the Buckeyes put points on the board against Indiana University on Nov. 5, Kahle was in deep conversation with his companions, Dean Alan Michaels and Professor Sharon Davies. The conversation turned to the subject of Davies’ recently published book, Rising Road: A True Tale of Love, Race, and Religion in America, and her work for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.
When Kahle returned home to Cincinnati, he ran an online query to learn more about the Kirwan Institute. He was impressed by its research and mission of partnering with people worldwide to explore ways of creating and expanding opportunity for all.
He and his wife, Kathy, had been evaluating institutions that made a difference in their lives, and they were preparing to make planned gifts to those important entities. “We wanted to help those institutions serve other people going forward,” he said.
The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law was an obvious candidate for Kahle, a partner at Baker Hostetler and a former co-leader of the firm’s health care industry team. His successful practice in business and corporate law was founded in the education he received at Ohio State. But today’s students, Kahle said, face greater challenges than he did as a law student.
The Kahles’ gift will establish an endowment that will support scholarships for minority students at Moritz. A portion also will be given to the Kirwan Institute.
“I think the issues of racial diversity in our society, but in particular within the law, are complex,” Kahle said. “I wanted to do something to see if I couldn’t help increase the level of diversity within the law. I think the work of the Kirwan Institute helps move the ball forward.”
For Kahle, giving to Moritz and the Kirwan Institute served personal goals. Diverse workplaces, he believes, lead to a richer environment and higher-quality work product.
“For many reasons, the legal profession is not as diverse as it should be,” Kahle said. “One of the ways to address that problem is to provide some targeted financial assistance.”