Insight: Spring 2008

Spring 2008

Alumni Spotlight: Barbara Chaplin

Passionate Supporter of Writing

By Cliff Meyer

When Barbara Chaplin (IAS '98) thinks about marketing or customer service for the auto dealerships she leads with her husband, Kent, she's driven by her UW Bothell education.

"One question always asked in classes was 'What psychology or what cultural forces caused people to be drawn to a particular piece of art, literature or film?'," says Chaplin. "That question stays with me in everything I do and is important to consider when designing advertising and working with people. It makes for an open mind and builds critical thinking and problem-solving skills."

Barbara Chaplin

That intellectual tradition also enters into the Chaplins' support of UW Bothell. The couple, who own Bellevue-based Chaplin's Automotive Group, jumped at the opportunity to help underwrite UW Bothell's "Writing for Their Lives" series. "I am a proud graduate of the school," says Chaplin. "I have been a lifelong avid reader. I love to write and play with words. So, it seemed the perfect fit."

The series, part of UW Bothell's Initiative for Creativity, Performance, and Research, features outstanding authors reading from and discussing their work in conversation with IAS Professor Jeanne Heuving. The 2007-08 theme was Liminalities, which Heuving describes as "bringing together writers whose work happens at the threshold between diverse media, genres, and languages."

The UW Bothell gave me a great deal, so it is only natural that we would want to give back by supporting the UW Bothell. Barbara Chaplin Alumna
Recent series guests have included celebrated poets from around the nation and Canada, including Don Mee Choi, Zhang Er, Hank Lazer and Lissa Wolsak. Chaplin was delighted to sit in on Heuving's poetry class when it was visited on Oct. 3, 2007, by poet and activist Kathleen Fraser, who appeared in the series' public event earlier that week. "I was impressed by the fact that Ms. Fraser gave the students and me permission to interpret her poetry in our own way and make it our own," Chaplin says. "It was freeing. It was a special experience."

Chaplin adds that she enjoys almost every type of literature. "I admit to being a mystery lover (probably from my Nancy Drew reading days) and to being an Agatha Christie addict."

Like many UW Bothell students, Chaplin's college career didn't begin until well after her graduation from high school (in Shoreline). "I felt I needed to work and earn some money first," she says. "Then, marriage and children took precedence." In 1973 she married Kent, whom she had met when they were teens. Three sons followed: Brandon (now 30), Nick (28) and Tyson (23).

In 1991, Chaplin became interested in a UW Extension film and video certificate program open only to students with a two-year degree. "So I started at Edmonds Community College," Chaplin recalls. "I enjoyed school so much and my momentum was rolling and when I received my associate degree, I decided to continue and I thought UW Bothell would be perfect for me."

Chaplin transferred to UW Bothell in winter 1996. "I had a pretty strong foundation of literature and art history classes from Edmonds and I wanted a well-rounded and well-grounded education," she says. "That is why I chose Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences as my major with a concentration in Culture, Literature & the Arts."

Chaplin's favorite classes included art history with IAS Professor JoLynn Edwards and socio-political studies with IAS Assistant Professor Bruce Kochis. She completed a senior thesis on psychoanalysis and film with IAS Associate Professor Constantin Behler. "I had never worked so hard and had so much fun at the same time before," Chaplin says.

After graduation, she continued to work in various roles in the family business, which currently includes Volkswagen and Subaru dealerships in Bellevue and a Chevrolet dealership in North Bend. All three sons now work at Chaplin's, as well.

But what about the couple's minority ownership of the Seattle Thunderbirds hockey team?

"Tyson began to play hockey when he was 13," Barbara Chaplin says of her youngest son. "He had been very shy and playing on a team interacting with teammates, parents, and coaches brought him out, and he grew tremendously as a person." Later, the Chaplins became further interested in hockey after becoming friends with a young Thunderbirds player from Russia . So, in 2003, when the Thunderbirds were up for sale, the Chaplins joined a successful effort to buy the team and keep it in the Seattle area.

It was part of the couple's well-known philanthropic and leadership commitment to the community, which extends to social services as well as higher education.

"We think it is important to give back," Barbara says. "The UW Bothell gave me a great deal, so it is only natural that we would want to give back by supporting the UW Bothell."