Kelsey Burritt | Staff Writer
Smith Memorial Library, a gathering place on the grounds, will take a day to celebrate the giving personalities of local librarians. The Summer Strummers, a group of some of the most generous personalities on the grounds, will strike up a sing-along on the library steps from 8:30–10:30 a.m. this morning.
Library Day has been a tradition on the grounds long before Lynn Kinnear, library director, arrived on the scene in 1990.
“It’s just a day that shines the spotlight on the library for the community and also the area librarians,” Kinnear said.
Librarians from the two-county library system get free admission to Chautauqua for the day. The day also offers the opportunity to join Friends of the Library. Tables will be set up outside the library, where Chautauquans can sign up with a $5 minimum donation.
Last year, the library began a new tradition. Any donor of $100 or more can choose a gently-used book from a collection the library has laid out.
The library also hands out “My favorite book” stickers today, which community members are encouraged to fill-out and wear for the day. Kinnear has seen people cross-out ‘book’ and write ‘author.’
But the celebration is not just for the librarians. The library sets up a reception on its front porch with donuts, coffee, tea and other refreshments. That is where the Summer Strummers lead the community in song.
“People love them,” Kinnear said. “It wouldn’t be the same without them.”
The Summer Strummers is a string band established in 2003 by a group of Chautauquans who, already dedicated to their community, wanted a chance to have some fun. This year, they added a trumpet player to the ensemble — Paul Weber, who also plays in various other Chautauqua Amateur Music Program (CAMP) ensembles.
Ray Defendorf plays the 12-string guitar with the Strummers.
“I play six of them very well, but the other six I don’t know,” Defendorf said. This summer marks his third playing with the Strummers, making him one of the most recent additions to the group.
“I used to watch these guys and think, ‘You know, that’d be a fun thing to be a part of,’” Defendorf said. “There’s a certain feeling of belonging when you’re actually part of a Chautauqua institution like the Summer Strummers.”
Defendorf is a Roman Catholic permanent deacon, and he retired from full-time ministry three years ago. He and his wife have managed the Catholic House for the past eight years. Inspired by religious folk music, Defendorf began writing his own music in that genre years ago.
“I like to say there are a lot of great musical groups, very talented musical groups here at Chautauqua,” Defendorf said, “and then there’s The Summer Strummers.”
Though Defendorf’s jab may be in good spirits, pointing to the informal and fun-loving nature of the group, it also raises to the table the varied and formidable careers that the Strummers have led outside their common hobby.
Joe Prezio, one of the group’s founders, was a nuclear physicist in Buffalo. He now volunteers two days per week at a local hospital. Prezio plays banjo with the Strummers, but also plays piano and tuba.
The band’s lead mandolin player, Bob Ivers, is also a professional painter and has had his own work presented on the grounds. Ivers was once director of design and architecture at Corning Inc.
Ivers’ grandfather, a mandolin teacher and leader of a mandolin orchestra, taught Ivers to play the instrument as a teenager. At the time the Strummers formed, Ivers had not played in about 50 years.
“They organized this band; it gave me the inspiration to pick it up and try it,” Ivers said. “I think there are a lot of people in Chautauqua who informally played instruments, either classical music or in jazz bands, when they were younger, and they now pick it up and they start to play again.”
Ed Paul, the band’s bass player, is on the board of the Methodist House and had a career as a chemical engineer. Paul also plays in a community orchestra in New Jersey.
“Music is fun. People who are interested in various things don’t always concentrate on one thing,” said Ed Harmon, a ukulele player in the group.
Harmon served as coordinator of the Men’s Club and vice president of the Chautauqua Opera Guild in his 22 years of coming to Chautauqua. Once placed in charge of the Opera kiosk by the Amphitheater, Harmon decided to draw cartoons to place in the display. Ever since, he has been drawing cartoons for Chautauqua, many of which can be seen in The Chautauquan Daily.
Harmon has been a ventriloquist since he was 10 years old, and he also taught ballroom dancing for a stint when he was younger and again for a time at Chautauqua. His career was focused around education, working primarily as a principal.
“I like learning something new. I’m not a youngster anymore,” Harmon said. “You gotta keep doing different things.”