Kurt Chapelle, 37, of Fenton Township, graduated from Lake Fenton High School in 2001. Since then, he has turned his life around from being the “class clown,” to being recognized for his love of community and support of charitable causes, including the Polar Plunge. A successful car salesman at Feldman Chevrolet in Highland for the past five years, Chapelle has recently started his own side business, Pig Beach Dock Co. on Lake Fenton, where he resides with his wife, Danielle. He has a twin brother, Kory, who is two minutes older.
You say the same thing to everyone you see: “Best Day Ever.” Why?
I say it all the time because it’s how I feel. Things could always be worse. My glass is always half-full, not half-empty. It hasn’t always been that way for me.
What was growing up like for you?
My parents, Fred and Therese Chapelle, divorced when I was 3. I was raised by my mom and stepfather, Walt Henry, but was blessed to have four parents in my life. My father, Fred, and his wife, Brenda, live in Linden.
I had A.D.D. and dyslexia (learning disability), so school was very difficult. I became the class clown to hide my fear of having to read in class. I was also in special education classes. Walt helped me big-time; he told me to embrace who I was, to be myself.
What about the car accident that affected your life so much?
On July 11, 1999, my friend, Jeff, was killed and I was badly injured in a car accident. I was 16 years old; I think about it every day. I’ve had 24 surgeries on my legs. At one point, I figured, I could die next week, so what was the point? Jeff came to me in a dream and told me everything was going to be okay and that I needed to take care of myself. He was going to be a doctor; meanwhile, I’m A.D.D. and dyslexic. I had survivor’s guilt.
How did you move on?
It was definitely a process. I’ve stopped drinking, looked adversity in the eye and said, ‘Let’s do this.’ I started focusing on work and doing the right thing. Every day I get up and strive to do my best to help as many people as I can. Laugh harder today than I did yesterday. I think that’s why I give back. Life’s a struggle for everyone, so it’s our job to help each other through it.
What do you wish you did differently in school?
I regret not doing theatre. I was too embarrassed with the stigma of special ed. I’ve always wanted to be an actor, and actually lived in LA for seven years and did a few parts in films and as featured extras on TV. I moved back home six years ago; now I feel blessed to live in the community where I do. I hated living here as a kid; everyone viewed me as a screw-up. I also regret not applying myself at school.
What motivates you to raise money for Special Olympics through the Polar Plunge every year?
My next door neighbor growing up was a special needs child, and is now 39 years old. He has taught me so much. We hang out, play golf together and go bowling. He’s one of my best friends. He was in my wedding. He’s going to start working with me a few days a week at the dealership.
What has been the defining moment in your life?
My wife, Danielle. She’s the best thing that ever happened to me, along with being a twin to Kory. She saved me, in more ways than one.