Although Chautauqua Institution is a community with a rich history, Chautauquans do not live in the past. Various community members have kept the Institution modern with the changing times, especially through the late 20th century when Robert R. Hesse became president. As the Institution navigates through the 21st century, the innovative spirit he brought to the community lives on.
Last Monday, Chautauquans gathered at the Main Gate Welcome Center for the official opening of the Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center, an initiative to accommodate young professionals and others who visit Chautauqua with a need for a dedicated space to work remotely. The center was dedicated to Hesse in honor of his contributions to the community during his term as president from 1977 to 1983.
Hesse began his presidency at Chautauqua during a time when the Institution was struggling financially. He helped get the Institution back on its feet, fixing the crumbling infrastructure, improving transportation on the grounds, restoring the Amphitheater and carrying out a number of other innovations that earned him the nickname “The Turnaround Expert.”
“Bob transformed (Chautauqua Institution),” said President Michael E. Hill. “It’s unbelievably fitting that we have a permanent space on the grounds to honor his legacy.”
In honor of his innovative spirit, members of the administration, with input from NOW Generation, thought it appropriate to use a donation from his partner of 26 years, Jane Fortune, to reconfigure space in the Welcome Center into a modern business center for adults in the workforce. Fortune said Hesse was “ahead of his time,” always thinking about what is best for the future.
“Bob certainly experienced some tough times when he was here,” said former board of trustees member Miriam Reading.
She described Hesse as a courageous leader who was not afraid to make unpopular decisions in order to better the community.
“(Hesse) was visionary, decisive and had a great sense of humor,” said Richard R. Redington, former vice president of education and planning. “He made decisions quickly … (and) he was welcoming to the outside community.”
In response to changing needs in the community, Hill and the current administration opened the business center for Chautauquans.
“Whether you’re an occasional guest that needs a place to plug in and stay connected to the world, or you’re someone who wants to be here for nine weeks or longer, this is an incredible resource,” Hill said. “And I think it speaks to the legacy of Bob, who asked that question: ‘What do audiences need? … What do community members need, and how can I deliver it at a level that will delight them?’ ”
The business center is equipped with a number of professional amenities, such as nine public desks with their own charging stations. It also has office services such as copy, printing, fax and lamination services through a partnership with Xerox Corporation. In addition, the business center has four suites available for rental at hourly rates, with available resources like desks, computer monitors, wall-mounted smart TVs and office supply baskets.
“It’s really a nod to what people need to do to go on vacation,” said Karen Williams, director of guest experience. “You don’t just go on vacation anymore, you work while you’re on vacation and finding the balance between (vacation and work) has to happen.”