Every year, the Chautauqua Foundation holds a welcome dinner to celebrate past and present members of its board of directors and the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees, whom current foundation chair Cathy Bonner describes as “the beating heart” of Chautauqua Institution. Members of those groups volunteer their time and resources to aid the longevity of the Chautauqua experience.
This year, the groups gathered on June 22 at the Athenaeum Hotel to look ahead to the 2018 season. Among those recognized were former chair of the foundation Dick Miller, former Institution president Tom Becker, and former vice chair of the foundation vic gelb, who passed away on May 21.
Subsequent speakers at the dinner, including vice chair of the foundation board Karen Goodell, former chair Steve Percy, the foundation’s chief executive officer Geof Follansbee and Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill reflected on gelb’s contributions on and off the grounds.
“I believe those who worked with vic would agree that he was the most elegant and solid voice of reason at every table,” Goodell said. “He backed his thoughts up with substance, and he always made us go back to our mission and think about what we were actually doing in relationship to that.”
At the Institution, gelb served as a director of the Chautauqua Foundation from 1995 to 2011. He also chaired the five-year-long Idea Campaign in the early 2000s that raised $53 million. In his hometown of Cleveland, he was awarded the Charles Eisenman Award in 1997, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s highest civic honor. He also served as national president of Big Brothers of America, board chair of Mount Sinai Healthcare Foundation and in a number of other philanthropic positions.
“He showed us that it’s an honor and a privilege to give back,” Goodell said. “He was passionate about his causes and beliefs, and shared them openly.”
Gelb cared deeply for Chautauqua Institution and its continuation. In honor of his service throughout the years, Hill and Follansbee surprised the audience with a new award in his memory, the vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award, to be given in honor of dedicated volunteerism to Chautauqua and to the larger community.
“It’s my great honor tonight to present the first vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award to a gentleman whose service over truly a lifetime to the Institution follows in vic’s footsteps,” Follansbee said, “and in some cases, actually created footsteps for vic to follow in.”
Follansbee awarded the first Vic Gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award to Jack Connolly.
Connolly has served as president of Chautauqua Golf Club’s Board of Governors, volunteer of the Chautauqua Challenge Campaign, an Institution trustee until 2006, co-chair of the Chautauqua Fund from 2002 to 2006, member of the Idea Campaign cabinet from 2002 to 2007, and continues to serve on the foundation’s board.
He is also known for his philanthropy to Chautauqua’s opera program, including his funding of the Connolly Residence Hall. Because of Connolly’s love for opera, the dinner concluded with three performances from members of the Chautauqua Opera Company.
“I’ve tried to be as philanthropically helpful as I can,” said Connolly, who has been connected to the Institution for the majority of his life and continues to volunteer to maintain the legacy of Chautauqua.
“I’m truly delighted and honored to be named a recipient (of this award),” Connolly said.
Connolly described gelb as someone he admired and saw as a mentor in many ways.
“We’re thrilled to give (this award) to you,” Follansbee said to Connolly. “I couldn’t imagine anyone who deserves it more than you do.”