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Since the 1970s, Garden City has been a destination for immigrant families looking for opportunity and a tight-knit community to call home. At the heart of that is Angelica Castillo Chappel, a Mexican immigrant and local force of nature who has come to have a positive impact on the place she calls home.
Castillo Chappel's involvement stretches across Garden City. She serves as vice chairwoman of the St. Catherine Hospital Board of Directors and is on the Black Hills Energy Citizens Advisory Council, Garden City Police Department Crime Stoppers Board and St. Mary Catholic Church Finance Council. For years, she’s led the Garden City Community Mexican Fiesta as president.
She volunteers for the Garden City Family YMCA and is property manager and co-owner of the Labrador Apartments complex with her husband, John Chappel. One of her latest and proudest endeavors: she and her husband becoming third-party equal owners of the recently opened Flat Mountain Brewhouse in downtown Garden City.
“I started by just getting involved in the community, Chamber of Commerce, meeting people and wanting to do some good for my community,” she said.
Seeking out opportunity is in Castillo Chappel’s blood. As a child, her father, out of hope and necessity, moved her family from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Garden City. He wanted his children to have it better, Castillo Chappel said. She was 13.
Even as a child, Castillo Chappel took hold of her new opportunity at an early age. When she started school in Garden City, she soon found herself, a young teen, thrust into a English Second Language program with eighth- to 12th-graders. It was hard, she said, but she didn’t want to miss opportunities because she couldn’t speak English.
“I told myself I’d be out of ESL in 3 months,” Castillo Chappel said.
A lifetime later, Castillo Chappel says Garden City has increasingly become more culturally aware and responsive.
“Garden City works very hard to see people not just as different. We don’t see white. We don’t see Vietnamese. We don’t see Somali. We see people,” Castillo Chappel said. “Garden City has no walls. We celebrate who we are and we embrace who we are.”
She sees part of that celebration in the Mexican Community Fiesta, which she has helped organize for 15 years. The fiesta, held every September in celebration of Mexican independence, started 93 years ago with a small parade organized by the first Mexican immigrants.
The celebration is still rooted in the Mexican holiday, “but it’s not just about celebrating Mexico’s independence. It’s celebrating culture,” Castillo Chappel explained.
“We have booths from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and we have our Vietnamese and Thai restaurants all represented,” she said.
The Fiesta organizers act as a team, Castillo Chappel said, and she’s proud of that. The event donates to the Garden City Community College Endowment Association and has set up a scholarship at the college.
“I wanted to change the dynamics, not only to bring cultural awareness to our community, but to always give back,” she said.
Most of Castillo Chappel’s efforts and energy are now funneled into the Flat Mountain Brewhouse in downtown Garden City, which she co-owns with her husband, John, and partners, Carrye Jane and Carlos Mantilla, and Carmen and Jorge Guzman.
When she first the idea for the budding business, she immediately thought of how it would help the community she calls home. Now, after an enthusiastic opening earlier this year the place is in full swing.
Looking back, it’s surprising, Castillo Chappel said.
“You know, coming here 30 years ago as a little girl from Mexico, I never would have imagined I would be a partner to a brewhouse and restaurant. It’s been a fun journey,” she said.
“I am a proud 100% Mexican that became a U.S. citizen. I’m proud to be from Mexico and I’m proud to be from the USA. I told my husband my next license plate tag was going to be Mexican with a 'K' because I’m from Mexico and I’m from Kansas, and a cheerleader for both. I’m proud to be who I am, and I have a strong sense of giving back to the Garden City community I call home.”