Isabella Noble Chappell
Isabella Noble Chappell, longtime leader of the arts community in Portland, died peacefully in Portland on February 1, 2019 at the age of 95. For many years the manager director of the Portland Civic Theatre, she was an actor, teacher and mentor of many in the theater world, friend and patron of local artists and loving matriarch of a large family that misses her dearly.
Born Isabella Noble O'Connor in Montclair, N.J., July 13, 1923, she was the eldest of three children of Burdett H. and Kathleen (McKeag) O'Connor. Early training in ballet was followed by a passion for acting and she spent two years studying in New York with Sanford Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse, graduating in 1944. In New York, she met Wilmot D. "Bill" Foster, a medical student at Columbia University. They married in 1945 and moved to Foster's home town, Portland, where they raised five children until his detain in 1957. Editor of the Junior League's newsletter and active in their causes, she was a Founding Chair of the Docent Guides at the Portland Art Museum. Her friendships with the staff and faculty at the museum and its school let to the leadership role in the organization of the Printmaker's Fair, held as part of the Oregon Centennial Exposition in 1959.
After working promotionally for Portland Moving and Storage, she married her boss, Wallace L. Chappell, in 1961, gaining a stepdaughter; later, the combined family welcomed another daughter. As her children grew older, Isabella returned to the stage, appearing in plays and becoming an indispensable board member at the Civic Theatre. In 1969, she was named PCT Managing Director, where she served as mentor to many actors, directors, musicians and designers while tirelessly promoting the theater's mission and building Portland's future theater audiences. After retiring in 1987, she served from 1998- 2006 on the panel of the Drammy Awards, the region's annual theater awards and in 2006 received the group's Lifetime Achievement Award. Among the many other boards she served on were Boys and Girl's Aid Society, Columbia Gorge Commission, Metropolitan Art Commission (now the Regional Arts and Culture Council), Arts in Oregon Association (precursor to the Oregon Arts Commission), Artquake, Portland Jr. League and the American Community Theatre Association. A supporter of both modern architecture and historic preservation, she was on the Citizen's Steering Committee for the Central City Plan (1984-87), and the Board of Advisors for the Architectural Heritage Center founded by the Bosco- Milligan Foundation. Although transplanted from the East coast, she enthusiastically embraced Oregon, becoming a fierce campaigner for the state's pioneering billboard- control legislation while working for the Hallock Agency.
In retirement, she applied her theater skills and her zest for historical research to a new career as a tour guide, introducing Portland's art, history and natural beauty to countless visitors. Intellectually curious, an intrepid traveler and genealogist, she was game for every adventure and quick to jump up and dance. She will be remembered for her laugh, her ability to cook for large crowds and knit in the dark at rehearsals. Once asked to describe her life, he offered a line from one of her favorite plays, "Dream Girl," by Elmer Rice: "I want to be in the world…and of the world…but never to stand aside and watch."
Her husband Wally died in 2012. She is survived by her seven children and their spouses, Wilmot D. "Bill" Foster, Jr.; Kathleen A. Foster; Christopher H. Foster (Andrea Carlstrom); Janice M. Chappell (Michael De Manche); Michael B. Foster; Kevin M. Foster (Laura); Adair Chappell ("Dan McGee); seven grandchildren, Sarah, Ellen Adair, Ariel, Aurora, Devin, Warren and Eleanor; and one great- grandchild, Elliott Isabella.
A celebration of Isabella's life is being planned on her July 13th birthday. Details at ww.portlandcivictheatreguild.org. The family suggests memorial gifts to any of the many organizations she found inspiration in.