Ralph Baldwin Chapin was the Chairman and Treasurer of Chapin Manufacturing in Batavia, New York, a company founded by his grandfather in 1884. Born in 1915, Ralph graduated from MIT with a degree in business administration and mechanical engineering. He worked for three other manufacturing companies in Cleveland, Hong Kong, and South Africa before returning the Batavia in 1945 to run his family’s business.
Upon returning to Batavia, Ralph fell in love with what is now the Chapin Mill property. Ralph and his family settled into the Mill House and began a long-term project to rehabilitate the buildings and grounds. In the meantime, in 1965, he met Philip Kapleau in Japan shortly before the publication of his seminal book, The Three Pillars of Zen. Ralph obtained galleys of the book and was instrumental in introducing the book as well as Roshi Kapleau to Dorris and Chester Carlson, whose Rochester meditation group later formed the nucleus of the Rochester Zen Center.
In 1996, upon the occasion of the Zen Center’s 30th anniversary, with the support of his family members, Ralph Chapin donated Chapin Mill to the Center. In a letter to the Center’s members, Ralph commented, “This is all an accumulation of years of thinking about how Chapin Mill could be used by the Center to continue building a strong and active Sangha, a strengthened transmission of Zen teaching, and the potential for a larger community to benefit from the many levels of Zen practice.” Ralph Chapin – Rochester Zen Center charter member, benefactor, and dear friend – died on Friday, August 18th, 2000. Thankfully, he was able to participate in the planning process for the Chapin Mill Retreat Center and enjoy the sight of his property bustling with Zen Center volunteers and contractors as the first phase of construction was underway… making Ralph’s dream a reality.