Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer
Ron VanBlargan and Susan Nusbaum have a truly great Chautauqua story.
While many couples have married or met on the grounds, VanBlargan and Nusbaum can claim both. With strong memories that span several stages of both of their lives, VanBlargan created his own legacy, naming Chautauqua as a beneficiary in his will.
VanBlargan and Nusbaum’s romance was sparked by an Opera Guild cast party in 2003. VanBlargan served on the Opera Guild board, while Nusbaum was an incoming member; the two were assigned to plan the cast party.
“It was a very romantic party, we had strewn rose petals on the tables,” Nusbaum said. “And it took a lot of planning, a lot of late nights, movies and dinners.”
Three years before, their spouses both died. A mutual friend of VanBlargan and Nusbaum, MaryAnn Morefield, had promised VanBlargan’s late wife that she would keep women away from him during his first season back at Chautauqua. Morefield followed through, but the next season, she introduced VanBlargan to Nusbaum.
They married in 2005, at the Chautauqua Golf Club, with both of their families present. They now reside in Buffalo, N.Y.
They were both Chautauquans, however, before their acquaintance. In 1976, VanBlargan, a former Lutheran minister, his late wife and their son started coming to Chautauqua from his various parishes across western Pennsylvania.
Nusbaum and her late husband traveled to Chautauqua from Buffalo to see the opera or symphony, finally buying a home off the grounds in 1998. Though her children only came to Chautauqua as adults, Nusbaum hosts a “cousins week” for her seven grandchildren, who range in age from 8 to 18.
“I’m a different person than I would have been if not for Chautauqua, and that’s been very helpful to me,” VanBlargan said.
Nowadays, VanBlargan and Nusbaum still are very involved in the musical programming that brought them together. Though VanBlargan stopped serving on the Opera Guild board two years ago, he and Nusbaum sponsor a student from the Young Artist program every year. This season, they have an “adopted opera son.”
“We love the opera, and we try to support it every way we can,” Nusbaum said.
Nusbaum, a former criminal prosecutor, also is a poet and serves on the board of directors of the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends. In addition, both said they are appreciative of the spiritual elements of Chautauqua.
“I’m Jewish, and he’s Lutheran, and we both have found resources here,” Nusbaum said. “I think the way we feel about Chautauqua is that it’s inclusive, and we’re able to find what we need here spiritually. It’s definitely a place that’s opened our minds.”
Chautauqua, VanBlargan said, has served as the setting for many important memories. Both VanBlargan and Nusbaum have significant emotional ties to the Institution.
“I’ve always wanted to leave something to Chautauqua,” VanBlargan said. “When I made up my will, I thought of the important things in people and things in my life. My family, Susan, the seminary (at Gettysburg) and Chautauqua are all very big things in my life, and I decided that I would leave money to all those things. And that’s what I’ve done.”