ISHPEMING When he was young, Alan "Kalevi" Chapman wasn't the biggest kid around. He tried out for the Ishpeming high school football team when he was 14; he made the team and went to every practice, but never saw any playing time during games.
That same year, he tried out for the basketball team, but he didn't make the first round of cuts.
"They said I was too small," he said. "My dad asked me what I wanted to do after that. I said I wanted to be a ski jumper. With that, I don't have to be big I just have to be good."
Alan “Kalevi” Chapman is shown ski jumping during a competition at Suicide Hill Ski Bowl in 1972. (Photo courtesy of Mary DeRoche) Inset, Chapman, 77, smiles while sitting at his kitchen table on Tuesday in Ishpeming. (Journal photo by Justin Marietti)
Although Chapman's parents didn't have much money, with the help of neighbor Joe Perrault, they were able to get Alan a nice set of jumping skis.
"At that time, everybody ski jumped," he said.
Chapman, 77, said that he put in a lot of time practicing, and began jumping at Suicide Hill ski bowl by the time he was 15.
"When I was 16, I was pretty good," he said.
Shortly afterward, he began competing in tournaments all over the U.P., lower Michigan, and Wisconsin. He was involved in ski jumping for 25 years, and he said the highlight of those years was working as a forerunner in the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley, Calif. He also spent time skiing in Washington and Colorado, but he said he preferred the hills in Ishpeming and Iron Mountain to any other. Chapman earned the nickname "Kalevi" in 1961 when a friend told him he looks just like Kalevi Kaerkkinen, a professional ski jumper from Finland.
"That was the best compliment I could get," Chapman said.
Chapman and Kaerkkinen actually met in Squaw Valley, and the two became friends. Kaerkkinen had so much fun that decided to come to Ishpeming rather than head back to Finland.
"He couldn't speak any English and I couldn't speak Finnish, but we had fun regardless," he said.
Chapman said that he enjoyed the many years he spent skiing, but some of his fondest memories were with his fast-pitch softball team. Chapman began playing around the age of 13, and he didn't stop until he was 65. He played center field for several different teams, including Koski Korners and Woody's Bar.
"I could run well until I was 65, but when I couldn't run anymore I gave it up," he said.
Chapman said he is referred to by residents of Ishpeming as "Mr. Hematite," because he is such an avid fan.
"I go to every game I can," he said.
He was employed by Cleveland Cliffs for 32 years, where he said he was "everything from a plant tester to a painter." Chapman also committed two years in the U.S. Army, and much of that time was in South Korea.
Justin Marietti can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.