Longtime Chautauquans Tony and Jo Jo Muir are happy when reminiscing about their Chautauqua experience.
“Over the years, we’ve brought many people to Chautauqua,” Jo Jo Muir said. “I think we feel like that’s the biggest contribution we’ve made, and also all of our children and grandchildren have come over the years.”
The Muirs have been visiting Chautauqua for nearly 40 years. They used to spend only one week on the grounds, but have recently begun to stay for the entire season. When they first arrived many years ago, they weren’t sure what to expect.
“We came kind of not knowing anything about it,” Jo Jo Muir said. “It rained every day and it was really cold and (yet) we’ve came back every year since.”
Jo Jo Muir said that it’s the close-knit community and access to the arts that keeps them returning year after year. She appreciates all of the programmatic experiences they have and the range of events that are offered.
“Mainly the community feeling of Chautauqua and of course the learning, the music, dance, … (it) has all meant so much to us and to our children,” she said.
The Muirs are giving back to Chautauqua by becoming Chautauqua Fund volunteers this year, advocating for philanthropic support of the annual fund and the spectrum of activities it makes possible.
“We’re happy to do it,” Tony Muir said. “The thing that makes this place really tick is that people are so generous. I mean, philanthropy is all over the place.”
They were asked to become volunteers while speaking with Tim Renjilian, co-chair of the 2019 Chautauqua Fund. Renjilian said that they happily accepted the offer to join the Chautauqua Fund team of volunteers, and are looking forward to supporting the Fund this year through their outreach and efforts in the community.
“Tony actually reached out to me in the off-season and suggested some areas that could use some improvement and I said, ‘Since we’re talking about all this (investment), would you be interested in being a Chautauqua Fund volunteer?’ and he immediately responded that he and Jo Jo would love to do that,” Renjilian said.
The Muirs’ relationship with Renjilian and his wife and fellow co-chair, Leslie, influenced their decision to become volunteers. After observing the Renjilians’ contributions, the Muirs were encouraged to do the same and contribute both their time and treasure to Chautauqua.
“We’ve gotten to know (Tim and Leslie Renjilian), and I think knowing them and how they’ve contributed, we wanted to give back,” Jo Jo Muir said. “We thought of (volunteering for) the Fund as also a chance to meet some other Chautauquans and talk to them.”
Being a Chautauqua Fund volunteer gives team members the ability to not only become more involved in the community, but to also help sustain the value that Chautauqua holds.
“I think that being a Fund volunteer really adds a lot to your Chautauqua experience because you just become that much more personally invested in it,” Renjilian said.
Renjilian has known the Muirs for many years, and he said that they are ideal volunteers because of their active engagement in the Chautauqua community.
“They are always going to events, helping to organize things; they’re very active and engaged here and just super-friendly, nice, pleasant people to be with,” Renjilian said. “I knew that it would be a good fit for them. I also think they’re perfect people to be Chautauqua Fund volunteers because they are so good at conveying their excitement about this place.”
The Muirs are also new members of the Bestor Society with their personal gift to the 2019 Chautauqua Fund.
This year, the threshold for membership in the Bestor Society increased from $3,500 to $5,000. Renjilian said that there are two main reasons the level increased.
“The level has not increased in quite some time, so part of making the move up to $5,000 was really just keeping up with inflation,” Renjilian said. “Some of it is about keeping pace with the cost of the program that we’re putting on every year.”
The other aspect is to invest in the quality of the overall Chautauqua experience. Keeping up with programming and quality experiences offered at the Institution to patrons of all ages requires financial support.
“As you look forward, it’s really critical for Chautauqua to stay relevant and for Chautauqua to have an impact in our communities,” Renjilian said. “It’s not inexpensive to design this program, to attract the best and brightest speakers, to put the information out there in various ways like we do through the website, through our social media and through our printed publications, so helping to maintain and enhance the program also requires additional investment.”
Aside from the financial support they provide, the Muirs believe that simply introducing people to Chautauqua is one of the best ways to support the community.
“The monetary contribution is important, but to us the most important thing is that we’ve exposed a lot of people to Chautauqua, who in turn probably give their time, talents and contribute, too,” Jo Jo Muir said.
Wholeheartedly supporting Chautauqua is the Muirs’ overall goal. Their love for the community and everything the Institution represents is why they have gone the extra mile in their involvement. Tony Muir said there are an abundance of reasons why they love Chautauqua, but that a quote by Daniel L. Bratton, former president of Chautauqua Institution, said it best.
“President Bratton, back in 1995, gave a talk, and the topic of the speech was ‘everything I value is here,’ and he said, ‘I value family education, beauty, culture, the blending of the sacred and the secular,’ ” Tony Muir said. “ ‘I value the inclusivity of all people as being one in the human race. I value a place which unites everyone as one, as being a Chautauquan.’ That sums up why we love Chautauqua.”
For more information on how to join the Bestor Society or volunteer as an advocate for the Chautauqua Fund, contact Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, at 716.357.6406 or firstname.lastname@example.org