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Park Hill Character: Blueprint For Life

For Frank and Jan Tapy: Be Decent, Be Thoughtful, Be Fair

Story and Photo by Jack Farrar, Special to the GPHN

I recently spent two delightful hours with Frank and Jan Tapy, who have lived in Park Hill for 44 years. You may know Frank Tapy as a carpenter, a political activist, a ceramicist/potter, a builder of floats, a teacher, a basketball and soccer coach, or creator of political theater paraphernalia.

He has been honored by numerous institutions for his volunteer work – they include Gove Community School, Park Hill Elementary School, Smiley Middle School, East High School, Destination Imagination, and the Greater Park Hill Community.

During the visit Jan fed me chocolate chip cookies, several cups of coffee, and brought out an album to illustrate her husband’s exploits. It contains dozens of citations, awards and thank-you notes, many from the hundreds of students who have benefitted from his volunteerism. One is from former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, including her iconic smiley-face “Pat” signature, congratulating him for his time as a volunteer carpentry teacher.

Recently, Frank has focused his community involvement with Together Colorado, which is affiliated with People Improving Communities through Organizing (PICO). He is on the Board of Together, and serves on the Economic Justice, Immigration, and Education Committees. Frank and Jan are both involved with community outreach at their church, Our Savior’s Lutheran, supporting such causes as traffic safety, mental wellness and affordable housing.

Down to the chassis

Frank’s most indelible impression on the community can be found in the 200-or-so Park Hill homes he has worked on, many while employed by Fedde Construction.

You might assume that Frank is a highly organized individual, a detail-oriented multi-tasker. Not so. “I can be loose and messy,” he admits. His wife nods her head, lovingly. He’s, well, a bit scruffy. His wispy hair sprouts in different directions.

Frank grew up in Omaha, Jan in Des Moines. He attended the University of Omaha, and the University of Iowa, with fine art degrees. She studied nursing, and ended up working in public health for Denver Health for 33 years. They met at a Lutheran Center at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City.

Frank’s artistic talent and fondness for the eccentric inspired him to design and supervise the construction of at least 10 floats on behalf of his fraternity. They were not your usual cardboard, duct tape and glue contraptions thrown together by beer-fueled collegians. Frank’s floats were works of art, and solid.

“One float consisted of a junker car that we bought for next to nothing. We completely stripped it down to the chassis, steering column and engine. It was a truly self-propelled float.”

As college students, both Frank and Jan were deeply affected by the Civil Rights movement and U.S. involvement in Vietnam. He formally declared as a conscientious objector in 1966 in Omaha. “That was pretty unusual for a conservative community,” says Frank. “But I was treated respectfully.”

‘Everything is right there’

When asked what has most influenced his view of life and his political activism, Frank cites the Sermon on the Mount. “Everything is right there – a blueprint for how people should treat each other. We’re here to build a decent society, to be fair to the least among us.”

Frank and Jan kept coming back to a basic theme during our conversation: Money and power, concentrated in the wrong hands, are dangerous. They’re both Democrats, and would like to see the party focus on reducing the effects of economic disparity.

“I almost wish the party was less organized,” says Frank, “less under the control of the elite.”

Jan felt Hillary Clinton was well qualified to serve as president, but made some crucial strategy errors and was a victim of the “good old boy” syndrome. “There are still a lot of people out there who can’t take a woman seriously in a position of power. It’s sad.”

Although Frank and Jan’s connections to the Lutheran Church are strong, they think narrow-minded organized religion shares a good deal of blame for the troubles in the world.

“I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the institutionalization of faith,” he says.

Jan’s got another take: “I think faith has a role to play. There’s a call to take care of one another.”

Both are fans of Pope Francis.

Pressing issues

The rapidly escalating cost of housing, especially in neighborhoods like Park Hill, is worrisome to the couple. “Many people of color and the poor are being driven out,” says Frank. “Gentrification is a form of segregation.”

On the topic of marijuana, Frank and Jan both voted for the legalization in Colorado, but they have some reservations.

“I’m okay with it being legal, but I worry about the kids using it,” says Jan. We need more research.“

“Legalization make sense because of the de-criminalization aspect,” says Frank. “But I’m not entirely comfortable with it.”

The Tapys are somewhat pessimistic about future of the planet. “The fossil fuel companies control Washington,” says Frank. That said, “climate change is a reality that we just have to accept.”

“Coal isn’t coming back. Renewables are the future.”

Jack Farrar is a longtime Park Hill resident and board member of the nonprofit Park Hill Community Bookstore, at 23rd and Dexter. This is an installment of a regular feature about people who help make the neighborhood great. Past Park Hill Character profiles can be read online at greaterparkhill.org.

 


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