Patti Clapp recently had a friend ask her about an education issue being considered by the Richardson Independent School District Board of Trustees.
“I said: She’s out of that business, leave her alone,” says Roger Clapp, Patti’s husband. “But she still sat down and explained what she knew about it.”
“She will never retire. She enjoys being active – accomplishing things.”
Patti Clapp represented our neighborhood on the RISD Board of Trustees for 15 years, retiring a year ago. During her tenure, she devoted approximately 30 hours a week, serving the children of our community and their parents to make our neighborhood schools better.
But her work for Lake Highlands didn’t stop there. She is president of the Tejas Girl Scout Council board of directors, devoting more than 10 hours a week; she serves as precinct chair of the Republican party for her neighborhood; and she helped found the Lake Highlands Republican Women’s Club.
And these are just a few of the groups with which she’s involved.
“I don’t think you can live in a community and not fully enjoy it without getting involved,” Clapp says.
“It seems like the more involved you get, the more doors open for chances to give to the community.”
Every year since our newspapers’ inception, the Advocate has teamed with the East Dallas Chamber of Commerce to honor a neighborhood resident or volunteer making a significant, positive impact in our community.
We solicit nominations from the community and review the nominees with an eye toward honoring someone who is working hard to make a difference.
Thanks in large part to Clapp’s work, our neighborhood schools provide a quality education and many neighborhood girls benefit from the Girl Scouts’ services and programs.
“Where I like to be involved is with children,” Clapp says. “Because I like it, I put more into it.”
“When you’ve got kids of your own, you see what they need and what other kids need, so you combine the two.”
“You have to ask yourself, where is it that I’m really going to get passionate?”
IN THE BEGINNING
Patti and Roger Clapp moved to Lake Highlands in 1968, shortly after the birth of their first child, Julie. At first, they lived in an apartment complex on Audelia Road.
“We’ve lived in Lake Highlands since,” Clapp says.
Their first home was on Tanglevine. In 1975, they moved to their current home on Trail Hill.
Patti and Roger married in 1966, a year after she graduated from the University of Oklahoma with an English degree and minors in History and Politics. They met while each was pledging a fraternity and sorority.
Clapp’s community involvement dates to her college days. In addition to the sorority and several other activities, she served as a senior class officer at the University of Oklahoma.
The Clapps moved to Dallas from Oklahoma shortly after marrying so Roger could attend Southern Methodist University School of Law. While he attended school, Clapp taught English in the Dallas Independent School District.
“They literally would not put me in a high school because I was too short and too young,” Clapp says.
She worked until she had her first child, then decided to stay home with Julie and her next two children – Doug and Catherine.
“I stayed home with my kids until 1987,” Clapp says. “I was real fortunate to be able to make that decision. Your kids are young for only so long. They grow so fast, you can miss so much.”
But “stayed home” is just a figure of speech when it comes to Clapp. Her community involvement demanded a lot of her time. As a young mother, her activities included the Pre-School PTA, the Junior Bar Wives Association and the Dallas County Republican Party.
When Julie would play as a child, she would pretend to have committee meetings, learning from her mother’s example, Clapp says.
But Clapp says it was important to be involved, so she often included her children in her activities. As a family, they stuffed bags with campaign literature, painted campaign signs and walked precincts.
She became her neighborhood’s precinct chair in 1976 and has served in that capacity since. She also served as chair of the Dallas County Republican Party’s precinct organization committee from 1979 to 1984.
While in that position, which was a full-time volunteer job, she says she recruited and trained 300 precinct chairs in the Dallas area. As if that was not enough, Clapp was the founding president of the Lake Highlands Women’s Republican Club in 1982.
But Clapp’s biggest impact on Lake Highlands began in 1979, when she ran for the RISD school board. Even though all positions on the board are at-large, Clapp says Lake Highlands residents try to make sure they have a neighborhood representative.
Ann Stormer, who has been Clapp’s friend for 20 years, asked her to run for the school board.
“I’m very proud of my decision,” Stormer says. “I think she did a wonderful job. She’s very intelligent. And whenever she does anything, it’s 200 percent. She’s totally dedicated to the children.”
THE SCHOOL BOARD
“Why not me?” Clapp says of her decision to run. “I had been a teacher and was concerned about education. We had children and were concerned about their education.”
“It was one of those situations of: Stop pointing the finger, maybe I need to do this.”
During her first election, she had a run-off and sacrificed a trip to England in order to campaign. She won and ran for re-election four more times without being challenged.
But Clapp learned that the trip to England she gave up was the first of many sacrifices for RISD – other sacrifices included her privacy and part of her role as a parent.
“I think I was a little naïve about what I would sacrifice,” Clapp says.
Roger went to most parent/teacher conferences and school open houses, Clapp says, because teachers could never see her as a parent – they saw her only as a trustee.
When her children had problems or were involved in school controversies, because of Clapp’s role as a trustee she was limited in what she could do or say because of the way it would be interpreted by others.
There were times she was accused of misusing her role as a trustee when she was acting as a parent on behalf of her children.
“Being a parent is an important part of being a trustee,” Clapp says. “But it’s also the part that causes problems for a trustee.”
“Even though you understand the difference between your roles, teachers, administrators and other parents don’t always understand.”
All of Clapp’s children graduated from Lake Highlands High School. Julie received a degree from the University of Southern California and now works for the Volunteer Center of Dallas. Doug received a degree from Dartmouth University and is working on a graduate degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. And Catherine will graduate this spring from William and Mary University and plans to attend graduate school to earn a degree in nutrition.
When the three Clapp children were growing up, there were many nights Patti drove back and forth between the RISD administration building for trustee meetings and her children’s schools to catch choir performances and school plays.
There were also phone calls from irate parents concerned about an issue the trustees were considering. Clapp says she answered for some of her votes and decisions in the grocery store or the car pool line.
But she says it is part of the job.
“If you’re not willing to answer the phone calls or talk to people, you shouldn’t serve as an elected official or volunteer,” Clapp says.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Since Clapp was a stay-at-home mom, she had something many other trustees didn’t – time to visit schools during the day, meeting students and teachers and attended meetings.
“I was in the community,” Clapp says. “I was available to everyone. Roger used to say it was a full-time volunteer job, and it’s not far from that.”
“I treasure those years of being involved with the board on that level.”
Clapp says a lot of parents would be surprised about what the board considers – from graduation requirements to what type of products should be used or whether or not to buy Blue Bell Ice Cream.
Clapp says she once climbed on top of school buildings to learn about roofing materials and designs.
“We spent a lot of time on issues I thought we would never spend time on,” Clapp says. “You run thinking: I’m going to help kids, I’m going to be making decisions that will influence education.”
Bob Warner, who served on the school board with Clapp for 10 years, says Clapp brought a unique perspective to the board.
“You talk about someone who gives 150 percent, she just does it and does it and does it,” Warner says. “She’s extremely intelligent. She’s extremely dedicated. She’ll do what it takes to get a job done.”
“RISD is a much better school district because of her,” Warner says. “She never had a hidden agenda. You may not always agree with her, but you always knew where she was coming from.”
Clapp also served on the board for the Texas Association of School Boards from 1981 to 1992, and served a term as its president. The organization represents school boards across Texas and while on its board, Clapp addressed state-wide education issues before the Texas legislature.
It was through her connections because of her volunteer work and her knowledge of education and politics that Clapp was offered a job in 1987 with the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce to do education and government relations.
“You always benefit from what your involved in,” Clapp says. “I’ve grown from all of this. It’s that growing that spurs you on to more things.”
Between her full-time job and her youngest daughter graduating from high school four years ago, Clapp says she knew it was time to retire from the school board.
“I’m always interested in learning,” Clapp says of her decision. “I’m into a whole new range of issues. I don’t sit still very often. I’m very much a type-A.”
“I’m not shy about stating what I believe or becoming involved where I think I should.”
THE GIRL SCOUTS
When her daughters were young, Clapp was involved with Girl Scouts by serving as their troop leader and cookie mom. Her involvement with the organization grew, and for eight years, she has served on the board of the Tejas Girl Scout Council, which oversees Girl Scout activities throughout the Metroplex and East Texas.
For the past four years, she has been president of the board.
On many weekends, Patti and Roger travel to small towns in East Texas to visit troops. Every year, she drives to Tyler for the granting of Gold Awards, the Girl Scouts’ equivalent to the Eagle Scout.
She attends cookie rallies and recently went to a Texas Stadium sleep-over of Girl Scout troops in Irving.
JoAnn Fogg, executive director for the Tejas Girl Scout Council, met Clapp seven years ago. Clapp served on the committee that hired Fogg.
“She has been committed to expanding Girl Scouts to all girls,” Fogg says. “As chair, she sets that tone for the rest of the board. She’s one of the most committed people I know.”
ON HER OWN TIME
In her off-time, Clapp is likely to be reading a mystery novel or watching “Murder She Wrote” on television.
She also enjoys doing crafts, especially needlepoint. In 1978, she and a friend published “Crafts ‘N Things,” a directory to Dallas artists, and for nine years she ran another business, The Point Needlecraft, where she designed, marketed and painted needlepoint canvas and quilted items.
Clapp says she wouldn’t have done things any other way because serving is so important to her.
“It’s much more of a day-to-day thing,” Roger says of Patti’s service.
“That character comes through as a way of life – just an unending devotion to service without generating headlines.”
“It’s just a life of service.”