All in the family

DALLAS -- Roger and Chelsea Pope call themselves "returners," people who have left their hometowns only to come back to raise their families.

DALLAS -- Roger and Chelsea Pope call themselves "returners," people who have left their hometowns only to come back to raise their families.

Technically, it's Roger -- who was born and raised in Dallas -- who is the "returner," after spending time in the Seattle area, where he and Chelsea met, following graduation from Dallas High School in 1990.

But from Chelsea's obvious affection for Dallas, you would never know this wasn't her hometown.

The Popes, Roger, the owner of Visual Media Center, and Chelsea, the executive director of the Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce, say that fondness stems from the small-town life that still can be found here.

"It's like Mayberry -- a place that time forgot," Roger says.

Roger told Chelsea about Dallas before they moved here, describing it as a quiet, connected and welcoming little town.

She says some of the stories sounded too good to be true -- that his family's dairy would allow people to buy products after hours and drop payment in a box, or that neighbors truly did look out for each other.

She discovered Roger had been right about Dallas after moving to town to help his family with Tipps Copy Center and start his media and marketing business, Visual Media Center.

Chelsea says she's heard countless stories of the Pope Dairy's "honor system." She's even had business owners call her to make sure she knew oldest-daughter Courtney, 16, was hanging out with friends downtown.

After a short time, the Popes knew they were in the place they wanted to raise their family.

And what a family.

If you want a good laugh, spend some time with the four of them in the same room. They all exude a positive attitude and evidence of their individual talents is apparent, even in just having a conversation.

Creative ideas flow freely from Roger and Courtney. Ami, 12, has her fair share of creativity, but has a special talent for building, sculpting and organizing set-up crews, even as a 6-year-old.

Chelsea says she has to keep everyone on task.

"That's hard to do in a room full of right-brained people," Chelsea laughs.

They wanted to put their combined talent to good use almost immediately after moving here.

"We said `We've got to get involved,'" Chelsea says.

To say they accomplished that goal would be an understatement.

"They bring a lot of energy and get behind projects," Dallas City Manager Jerry Wyatt notes. "They are the first ones there and the last ones to leave."

Chelsea's involvement with the chamber started with volunteering on Summerfest and planning Johnnie Ray Day. She quickly moved to serving on the board and, soon after that, took the job as executive director in 2005.

Chamber Past President Greg Hess says under Chelsea's leadership the chamber's membership has grown, even in the face of a tough economy.

Wyatt says since Chelsea has been executive director, the goal for downtown Dallas has begun to shift from strategies to fill the region with businesses to perfecting the right mix of shops to make it thrive.

He says she has been able to foster connections between businesses and organizations that have spurred innovative ideas and partnerships.

Hess says the entire family has the same heart for service.

"They are just both good people who care and want to see the town flourish," Hess says. "The kids are always involved and always happy to be involved."

To Courtney and Ami, involvement doesn't mean being dragged to events to make an appearance. It means really rolling up their sleeves to help. Courtney even gathers other teens to help set up and clean up after events her parent's organize. Once she brings them, Ami finds them all something to do.

"She has a commanding presence," Roger says of his youngest daughter.

Before Chelsea took over running the chamber, Roger's business designed the chamber's Web site and took over some of the entertainment at events. Eventually, Visual Media Center revived an occasional Saturday night event for teens, After Darc, as well as helped launch the Dallas Distinguished Educator program. Roger also helps train future film makers in a video production class at Dallas High School.

Wyatt says Roger has been instrumental in assisting the city find better ways to communicate with the public and plans for "nsight" (pronounced insight) -- a communitywide improvement effort involving the Dallas School District, the city and the chamber.

The Popes say their motivation in these many projects is to highlight what the city has to offer and restore the best of Dallas' past.

"That's the goal, to see Dallas get back to what it used to be," Roger says.

Wyatt and Hess say they believe both generations of Popes will only brighten the future of the Dallas area.

"They give every event everything they've got," Hess says. "They are kind of all-in."

Their energy has made a noticeable difference in new or revisioned events, such as the downtown showcasing Winterfest and the Dallas Area Visitors Center's Polk County Bounty Market, set to open Thursday, June 3.

Chelsea says her family, who all still live in Washington, have stopped asking when they will move back.

The Popes have found their Mayberry, and they plan to stick around.

"I think we all realized this is home now," Chelsea says. "And now it's about making a better community."


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