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One last splash: At summer’s end, Mother Nature sends us home with a show

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  • Charlie Walsh, 4, puddle jumps Tuesday, August 21, 2018 at the intersection of Hedding and Palestine. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Umbrellas, raincoats and galoshes were the accessories of choice for Chautauquans this week, as heavy showers turned the brick walk into a river and routine walks to the Amphitheater and Hall of Philosophy into quick dashes to avoid the raindrops and puddles. Instead of dampening spirits at the close of Chautauqua’s 2018 season, the rain left beauty in its wake as a fitting farewell to the summer: Those who ventured out into the storms were rewarded with stunning views of the sun shining through the clouds, and rainbows spanning the skies over the grounds.

If walls could talk: Three portraits of Chautauqua’s historical homes

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  • Zoe and Ken Barley share lunch in their steel Lustron home Monday, August 20, 2018 at 23 Hurst St. RILEY ROBINSON/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

What makes Chautauqua homes unique is less the snaking porches and froths of gingerbread trim, and more the property deeds proudly displayed in front foyers: a lineage of owners documented like one’s own ancestry.

Steve and Pati Piper, owners of “The Buckeye” at 20 Center, refer to past owners by name as if they were friends, and portraits of the original owners, Mr. and Mrs. Ward, are the largest art on the first-floor walls. Their home was built in the 1870s on a tent platform; Steve Piper said his parents bought the property in 1963 for $3,500, which included not just the house, but dishes, 19th-century furniture and even vintage chamber pots (which, fittingly, now hold the cat litter). When he pokes the ceiling of a second-floor bathroom, it has supple give: He explained that it’s tent canvas at the core, coated with layers upon layers of paint.

“We kept it old Chautauqua,” he said. “It’s as much Chautauqua’s history as it is our own.”

Jane Buch, owner of Park Place at 31 Clark, also takes pride in her house’s 19th-century construction, but has enjoyed mixing old with new, accenting the building’s four apartments with arrangements of vintage wares like lace collars, spoons and cheese graters alongside her own artwork. She describes the style as “Victoriana,” and while most visitors think it’s just very well preserved, Buch said “nothing about it is original,” after all the restorations and repairs.

And in this mix of wood and canvas, the steel walls of 23 Hurst mark another historic era. “Steel Away,” owned by Zoe and Ken Barley, was manufactured by Lustron after World War II, in an attempt to quickly provide housing for returning soldiers. The Barleys now belong to an email group where a dwindling number of Lustron owners swap advice that sounds like caring for a vintage car: how to best combat rust, or find rare metal parts no longer for sale.

Zoe Barley said the upkeep is well worth the effort: “I think if you let one of these go, it would be a mistake.”

At the window on Lenna porch, Luthier Gersh has been helping strings musicians in Chautauqua Institution produce sound for 11 years

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Igor Gersh works Aug. 22 at Potter Violins in Washington D.C. where he is working part-time following his time at Chautauqua this season. JEROME SKISCIM / SUBMITTED PHOTO

Igor Gersh is a professional viola player who has played in orchestras in New Jersey and Chicago after emigrating from Russia. But Gersh, 63, also has an expertise that not every strings player has — being a luthier.

During the seasons at Chautauqua, Gersh works as a luthier to help strings players with their instruments, at the little “violin shop” — as Gersh himself calls it — with a window open on the porch of Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall. During the rest of the year, Gersh practices his craft in his private studio in Baltimore and works part-time at Potter Violins in Washington D.C.

Gersh attended conservatory to study music performance. But all his life, he’s been the “repair person for my house and everything.” Gersh also said that he “really like(s) to work with wood.”

He attended Chicago School of Violin Making for three years, while he was a freelance musician in the city at the time.

“I was sitting in between two chairs: a musician and a luthier, but now I am a full-time luthier,” Gersh said.

Maya Fields, viola student in the Music School Festival Orchestra, needed help with her instrument at the very beginning of July. The weather was very humid, Fields said, and the tuning pegs on her viola were affected by the humidity.

“The C peg was affected to the point that I was unable to turn it,” Fields said.

Fields went to Gersh to ask whether he could put some peg dope on her viola’s C peg, so that she could be able to tune her instrument “with ease.” Fields said Gersh did so gladly.

“I asked him if I owed him anything for the job,” Fields said. “He told me that I didn’t owe him anything for his work, and I thanked him for what he had done for my instrument.”

Yejoo “Esther” Lee, violin student in the MSFO, remembered another instance of Gersh’s help.

“I asked to buy a mute once because I lost mine, and when I mentioned that I would return with money, he just handed me one, free of charge,” Lee said. “I was extremely grateful because I was in desperate need of a mute for all of the pieces we were playing that week.”

Gersh has been coming to the Institution for 11 years, and he described Chautauqua as a “great” and “unbelievable” place, where he has formed deep connections with many strings players in the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and MSFO, and many other Chautauquans.

“I consider myself to be very lucky to be here, because each time, after all the years of coming, it’s like a family,” Gersh said. “Everybody knows me. Everybody likes me. I like everybody. … It’s unbelievable.”

Gersh’s wife, Irene, came to Chautauqua with her husband at the beginning of this season.

“I witnessed how everyone was giving him hugs. He got lots of hugs,” she said. “… It warms your heart.”

Gersh not only fixes the technical aspects of a string instrument, but he also rehairs, repairs and restores the bow, if necessary.

“It’s very important to do the rehair right because it affects the balance. It’s very tricky, (with) many small details involved,” Gersh said.

Gersh works part-time in Washington D.C. for Dalton Potter, who told him that Gersh has “a touch.” Gersh said he finds it difficult to explain in words what it is that he feels he should do with a string instrument.

“I think I have an advantage, because I am a musician, and I feel what the performers need, for bow hair, for adjustment, anything,” Gersh said. “And they like it. … They like how I rehair the bow. Maybe I have a touch, even though I can’t explain what it is.”

What strings musicians do with the bow, Gersh said, “is (how) you produce the sound, and it’s very, very important.”

“The instrument is very important, but so is the bow. I really believe that the bow is even more important than the instrument,” Gersh said. “Because it’s your voice. It’s your tongue. It is what you do with the right hand with the bow, not what you do here, with the left hand.”

Daniel Kaler played Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 as a soloist with MSFO on Aug. 13. Kaler said Gersh’s work “had been super helpful in allowing me to go after all of the musical ideas that I wanted to express more freely.”

“Igor is a really wonderful luthier that the Institution, the music program, and the CSO are all very lucky to have,” Kaler said. “In the several years that I’ve known him and have had issues with my instrument or bow, he has always made time to help me out and has been immensely helpful. He does work of the highest caliber and has my highest recommendation.”

This summer, for instance, Kaler said, he has had many issues with his cello’s sound post, overall playability and string height. He said every time he came to Gersh with his worries and concerns about his equipment — on however short of a notice — Gersh “was always there and was a real lifesaver.”

According to Kaler, Gersh is also starting a company of his own, called My Bow Express.

“(It) would allow me to ship my bow to him for a rehair from wherever I am,” Kaler said. “I’m really happy to be able to use his services not only in the summer, but year-round.”

Lisa Klein to speak about ‘The S Word’ in meet the filmmaker event

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Lisa Klein

There is a stigmatized, misunderstood word that starts with the letter “s”: suicide. Some people are apprehensive to discuss it; but in her documentary “The S Word,” filmmaker Lisa Klein does just that.

“The S Word” will be screened at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at Chautauqua Cinema, and Klein will lead a talkback following the film.

A group of Chautauqua administrators first saw the film at the 42nd Cleveland International Film Festival. Institution leaders attended, promoting this week’s Food & Film Festival and “identifying filmmakers, like Lisa Klein, to come participate” in the festivities, said Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt.

Klein herself lost her father and brother to suicide, and “The S Word” was a way for her to grapple with the “whys” that came along in her grieving and confusion.

“When I was going through this, I thought I was the only one. Things were definitely shrouded in secrecy,” Klein told the Detroit Free Press. “I just feel like there’s so many stories out there.”

“The S Word” tells six different stories of people who were affected by suicide.

Dese’Rae L. Stage attempted suicide when she was 23, after growing up knowing two other people who died by suicide. Stage combined her past and her love for photography to create Live Through This. The interactive website lets people affected by suicide tell their stories.

One story in “The S Word” shows the first time a mother tells her son that she attempted suicide, and another follows parents who lost their son to suicide.

“There is no more highly charged personal issue for me, and for that reason I am driven to document it and open a much needed conversation,” Klein wrote in her director’s statement on “The S Word” website. “It is time for us to boldly talk about suicide because no family should have to experience that which radiates outward for generations to come.”

Stuart Sheer to hold reading of ‘Elephant with a Knot in his Trunk’

Nancy Patz and Stuart Sheer

Stuart Sheer has a lot of wisdom when it comes to teeth, but in his newest children’s book, it’s a schnoz that has an oversized problem.

Sheer, an orthodontist and first-time author, will hold a reading of his book, The Elephant with a Knot in his Trunk, at 12:30 p.m. Fri., Aug. 17, at Smith Memorial Library.

Sheer is a Baltimore native and has been practicing orthodontics for over 20 years. Through organizations such as Operation Smile and Health Volunteers Overseas, Sheer has traveled to countries including the Philippines, China, Bhutan, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cambodia and Tanzania to assist in the treatment of children born with cleft lip and palate.

Sheer said he considers his trips overseas to be “simple acts of helping others.”

“When you help other people, it just makes you feel better,” he said. “No one pays you to go do these things, but the truth of the matter is most of the people who do these trips would say they get more out of it than they give.”

Throughout the years, Sheer has witnessed both the physical and emotional toll facial abnormalities take on children and their families and decided to write a story about it to raise awareness. The book centers around Kofi, a young elephant, who was born with a knot in his trunk.

“His disability from his knot keeps him from eating, drinking and trumpeting as other elephants do. His peers bully him, and Kofi feels isolated and inadequate,” Sheer said. “It is parallel to what I see in real life, and I worked really hard on making it realistic, even though the character is an animal.”

After writing Kofi’s story, a friend of Sheer approached Nancy Patz, a Baltimore-born artist, to ask if she would bring Sheer’s ideas to life.

“A mutual friend approached me to see if I would illustrate Stuart’s story, and I said, ‘No, I can’t, I don’t have time, but sure, I will talk to him,’ ” she said. “That was the start of a beautiful friendship.”

Patz has been an artist her entire life. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and eventually turned her attention to writing children’s books.

“I didn’t know anything about the process when I started, but I decided, in my innocence, that I can write and I can draw and that must be all there is to it,” she said. “So, I took a course and a chance and three years later I had my first book, Pumpernickel Tickle & Mean Green Cheese.”

Together, Sheer and Patz took three years to complete The Elephant with a Knot in his Trunk.

“It always makes me laugh when people tell me they want to start writing their own children’s books the next weekend they are free,” Patz said. “This is a long process, and we don’t do it for anything other than the potential of them reaching the audience who needs it the most.”

Sheer said although there is a lot to learn from Kofi’s journey, the main lesson he wants children and parents to learn from today’s reading is a message of acceptance among all groups of people.

“This is not just a book for kids with disabilities,” he said. “We all feel inadequate at times. We say, ‘My hair is not right, my clothes are not right, I am too dumb, too this and not enough that.’ But Kofi shows that in the end, you will always be OK. Some things just take time.”

The Chautauqua Property Owners Association, board of trustees meetings conclude on a note of continued dedication and potential change

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As Chautauqua Institution prepares to adopt a new strategic plan, the Chautauqua Property Owners Association and the board of trustees are leaning into the change by making developments of their own.

During the second 9 a.m. CPOA general meeting of the season Saturday, Aug. 12, current leadership — including President Barbara Brady, Vice President James Vance, Treasurer Jeff Lutz and Secretary Paul Perry — announced the new CPOA board of directors for the 2019 season and the organization’s newly revised mission and vision statement.

Brady opened with a brief statement and introduced Lutz to discuss the current financial state of the organization, and then Vance to announce the 2019 board. Perry will assume the role of president, John Ford as vice president and Erica Higbie as secretary. Lutz will continue as treasurer.

Afterward, Lutz took the stage again to discuss the revised mission and vision statements. The CPOA sent an online poll to its members last year and received 650 completed surveys, Lutz said, as well as 9,000 written responses.

“One of the things the survey told us was that Chautauqua homeowners are a little confused about our exact relevance and purpose within the Institution,” Lutz said. “So we have really been focused on what we are going to do.”

The condensed CPOA mission statement, that the organization’s mission is to “enhance the Chautauqua experience, quality of life and sense of community of Chautauqua property owners,” remains the same. The explanation of the statement, however, has been revised to more clearly lay out the CPOA’s purpose and goals.

The statement reads that the CPOA “will achieve our mission and vision through three primary courses of action” — building community, facilitating better communication and advocating on behalf of homeowners.

The revised statement also states the organization’s operating philosophy, which is that it will “have a bias toward identifying issues of concern to property owners and then leveraging relationships and resources of other organizations to resolve those issues.”

Lutz said the CPOA’s advocacy for homeowners begins by creating strong relationships with those homeowners and by communicating problems and discussing potential solutions.

“For us to be a good voice for (homeowners), we must be credible,” Lutz said. “As property owners, we have a dedication toward the sustainability of the Institution, and so does, of course, the Institution administration.”

After a brief events report, Perry discussed the most recent CPOA communications, branding and marketing developments.

“One of the things we have been working on is from other responses to the survey,” Perry said. “It seems that some owners feel that we haven’t been communicating enough with them.”

Perry and his constituents have been working to remedy that situation with an online platform at http://www.cpoa.ws, which they use to track community and home problems, as well as generate thoughts and concerns from the homeowners.

Richard Parlato, director of Property Owners Who Rent (POWR), then recapped the season’s meetings and spoke about upcoming speakers.

The meeting was followed by a brief Q-and-A. Questions and suggestions ranged from requiring grounds maintenance, to leaving one day of the week free of noise, to creating a system of communication between homeowners on the grounds during the winter.

Following the CPOA meeting was the annual meeting of the Chautauqua Corporation. Hugh Butler was elected to a second term as Class B trustee, and Sebby Baggiano, the Institution’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, provided an update on the Institution’s finances.

Chair of the board James Pardo Jr. also discussed the financial state of the Institution before. He said that, on average, the Institution spends about $37 million during a fiscal year and receives about $30 million in revenue. The difference, he said, is made up by philanthropy.

“These numbers exist because of your willingness and the willingness of your colleagues to contribute to the Institution,” Pardo said.

The meeting concluded with a strategic planning open forum, similar to the listening sessions held throughout the season in the Hall of Christ. President Michael E. Hill, Pardo, and Laura Currie, chair of the Strategic Planning Working Group, listened to Chautauquans’ concerns and ideas about campus planning, potential expansion and programming.

Thursday Morning Brass to play final concert of 2018 season in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall

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At 4 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 16, in Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Thursday Morning Brass will be performing its final concert of the season. The group was an outgrowth of the Chautauqua Community Band in 1998 and falls under the umbrella of the Chautauqua Amateur Musicians Program. Thursday Morning Brass rehearses every Thursday morning in the Hall of Christ and performs several times throughout the summer.

The group consists of retired musicians and other longtime Chautauquans who have made music their hobby for any number of years. They do not get paid for any of their performances, yet continue to get together every season because of their shared common interest: playing music. For their concert this afternoon, members will perform a variety of music in different genres, according to Charlie Tea, coordinator of C.A.M.P.

“We tend to play a mixture of all kinds of music,” Tea said. “We’ll be doing the Vaughan Williams English folk songs. … We’ll probably be doing about 10 or 11 numbers.”

Larry Katz, music director of Thursday Morning Brass, said the group will dip into jazz, folk and different genres during its concert. He said the members want to play fun songs for the community.

While Thursday Morning Brass consists of musicians who do not perform for a paycheck, the group raises money every season that is donated to the Chautauqua Fund and used as a scholarship for a student in the Music School Festival Orchestra. This year’s recipient of the annual C.A.M.P. scholarship is Zongxi Li, a trombone player from Qingdao, China, who attends the University of Michigan.

“(Thursday Morning Brass) was originally started by Dr. Joe Prezio,” Katz said. “He met some of (the current members) in the Community Band and talked to us about starting a little group. … (There were) maybe five or six of us at the time.”

The group went on to grow to about 15 members, comprised of musicians who play the trumpet, tuba and other instruments. Many participants, like Katz, are also active in the Chautauqua Community Band, as well as in symphony orchestras in their hometowns.

Aside from the Thursday Morning Brass group, C.A.M.P. encompasses three other volunteer music groups: Dixie Lakesiders, Chautauqua Brass Ensemble and Summer Strummers. Last season, all the groups combined raised more than $2,500 to support students in the MSFO.

Katz said he and the other members came together because of their love for music and their love of Chautauqua.

“We feel that we are making a contribution to Chautauqua as a society and as a culture,” he said.

For more information about supporting annual scholarships for talented students at Chautauqua’s Schools of Fine & Performing Arts, contact Leah Stow, assistant director of the Chautauqua Fund, at 716-357-6405 or foundation@chq.org.

A ‘durable, cherished bond’: Chautauqua friendships that endure

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Friendship is central to the idea of Chautauqua. How many of our friends and acquaintances can we count who first discovered the Institution as guests of other friends of theirs, or indeed, of us? And how often do we witness the revival of friendships born of common experiences at Boys’ and Girls’ Club, sometimes after decades, to blossom again as retirement beckons? Certainly, many families come to experience and cherish Chautauqua because there is a family house here on the grounds, but friendship is a key draw for new Chautauquans, and an essential glue for the relationships to others and to the Institution that endure.

Three women — from different backgrounds, born in different eras, at different and dissimilar points in the arcs of their lives and careers — have formed a durable, cherished bond around their common attachment to Chautauqua. They are Pat Bell, a retired airline flight attendant and homemaker; Cheryl Gorelick, a retired international security policy analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense; and Debra Dinnocenzo, a mostly retired human resources executive and consultant. This is their story.

 

Could you each introduce yourselves briefly?

 

Pat: I’m Pat Bell. I grew up in Ohio. I’ve been coming to Chautauqua for about 45 years. I first came when I was 15, and my mother was working for a cafeteria that just opened. The owners were from Buffalo, and they thought that when they opened the cafeteria, everybody would flock to dine with them. There were a lot of restaurants in Chautauqua at that time, and everyone went to places they already knew well. Not many came to our cafeteria. In mid-season, the cafeteria closed, and I found a job sweeping up at a beauty parlor then located in the Athenaeum Hotel.

I didn’t return until after college, when my mother resumed working on the grounds. My brother eventually bought a house here, and we began a tradition of celebrating my mother’s July 4 birthday at Chautauqua. I worked after college as an airline stewardess, but in those days you had to quit when you got married, so I did when I did. I taught elementary school for four years. My first husband worked for DuPont, and when we finally moved to company headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, he said he might not come to Chautauqua in the summer. His job was too busy, he said. Then, after one summer alone, he changed his mind and joined me and our three kids. He died when he was 46, and I continued to bring my children to the grounds.

After 15 years, I remarried and my second husband would tell people, “I not only got Pat, but I got Chautauqua, too.” After he passed, I have been coming from my home in Texas for periods ranging from a couple of weeks to the whole season. Chautauqua has held a unique place in my heart. It is a place like no other.

Debra: I’m Debra Dinnocenzo. My husband I and came here at the invitation of friends about 15 years ago. We and our friends are from Pittsburgh, and our children went to school together. We liked Chautauqua, liked the idea of it and began to visit. We bought our present cottage in 2005. My husband is a fourth-generation Chautauquan whose grandparents actually met here. We checked, and the Daily in those days, nearly 100 years ago, actually announced the arrival of his grandmother, by steamer, on Chautauqua Lake. But (my husband) hadn’t personally been on the grounds before we visited our friends 13 years ago. I had no previous Chautauqua history at all, though I had certainly heard about it.

I have been able to run my business remotely from our cottage in Chautauqua during the summer season, so that has definitely made it easier to spend extended time here.

 

Cheryl: I’m Cheryl Gorelick, and I grew up in the area, in Dunkirk. I knew about Chautauqua. I would come on Sundays sometimes with my mother, my aunt and a girlfriend. It was just an outing. So I moved to Washington, D.C., to pursue my career, and over the years, my husband and I would come up to this area to visit my family. We would try cross-country skiing here when visiting for Christmas and gradually began coming for a lecture during the season. We would stay for a couple of days at the Athenaeum Hotel. We were looking for a community, and especially looking for an intellectually based community.

After a while, we thought maybe we should think about buying a place. We looked around, didn’t see anything we loved, and wound up buying a lot in the Garden District. We stayed for longer periods, and then built a house on our lot. The Garden District was new, and it sometimes seemed like the construction rules changed on us a couple of times. I guess it was like giving birth. I wouldn’t necessarily want to go through it all again, but I do love the house, so it was all well worth it. I did lose my husband, but he was able to see our house completed, and I’m grateful for that.

 

How did you all meet? 

Cheryl: Well, Institution President Tom Becker used to invite new property owners to a soiree at his residence on the grounds. We got name tags, and we introduced ourselves to each other. We all sat on a sofa.

 

This was in 2005?

 

Debra: It might have been 2006.

 

Cheryl: I mentioned that we were looking for a community. In my work at the Defense Department, I worked basically with all men. I wanted to meet women who might not be in my age range but with whom I might have a real intellectual connection.

 

Debra: I remember that the new property owner reception concluded, but we weren’t done. So we arranged to meet the following week. We have been meeting for lunch and for other reasons every season since then. We have been moving around in the area for our luncheons.

Pat: Somehow we all met and liked each other. Everything happens for a reason. When it was time to leave that reception, I thought, “Darn, I haven’t gotten to know these interesting women well enough yet.” I wanted more. Getting together was just so much fun. We never stopped.

 

Debra: We did a field trip to Lily Dale one year.

 

Cheryl: Yes, I was in a particularly spiritual state that summer, as I recall.

 

Did your readings there reveal previously unrecognized common elements between the three of you?

 

All: Not really.

 

Debra: I would say we all come from different spiritual backgrounds, but we did all enjoy that experience at Lily Dale. Much of the pleasure of it might have come just from being together.

 

What is the glue that keeps the three of you together?

 

Pat: I think it’s pretty simple. We really like each other. As we have mentioned, we come from very different backgrounds. Even here, we have different agendas. Cheryl is busy with the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Friends of the Theater, the Opera Guild. Debra is still busy with her business and the  Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2010. I am much quieter. I go to the lectures, I go to the Presbyterian House. I’m busy with family. We love and trust each other.

Debra: I think we can just talk about anything with each other. No subject is off limits.

 

Cheryl: I’ve been thinking. There are some common elements between us. Pat, you and I both lost husbands, for example. Debra and I love to do the Beach Boys together. We’re kids again when they come to the Amp. They should want to meet us.

 

Well, the Beach Boys played part of the soundtrack of your lives.

 

Cheryl: We don’t want to go there.

Debra: We can talk spirituality, love and lust. I don’t care what Pat’s age is, she’s right there with us.

 

Have there been years when it looked like circumstances would threaten your ability to get together?

 

Debra: Cheryl’s schedule. I have to travel for business. So yes, it’s been difficult at times. But Thursday lunch was usually a reliable time. We all tried to keep that free for each other.

 

Cheryl: Pat had some family issues sometimes in Texas. We would send her flowers and stay in touch.

 

Debra: We don’t really see each other in the off-season. We have talked about it, but it hasn’t happened. We would like to go somewhere together for a week. We do try to at least stay in touch during the winter.

 

Cheryl: It occurs to me that since we have different lives here, we don’t spend our time gossiping about Chautauqua. It’s about us as individuals and as a trio of real friends. Our conversations are more intimate,
more interesting.

 

How is Chautauqua as a physical setting for your friendship? Does this place add any element to it?

Pat: I think we all care about Chautauqua, probably in different ways. Debra is the activist; she cares in her own way. Cheryl is into everything. She throws herself into every club and activity that she is interested in. I have been here a long time, so I care about Chautauqua’s history. My kids and grandchildren all went through Club, so history is especially meaningful to me.

 

Cheryl: Where else would you find a community that managed to be of interest to each and all of us?

 

Debra: I think Chautauqua conjures up a lot of introspection. It affords a space to step back from your everyday life. We have managed to leverage that in the way that we share ourselves with each other.

 

Do you involve family in your get-togethers, or is it mostly just the three of you?

Debra: It’s usually just us. We kind of create our own entity that is kind of separate from our families. We don’t try to exclude anyone, but it usually just winds up being us. But we don’t go out of our way to involve each other in family gatherings.

 

Pat: The exception was at our first meeting. My son was there, and I think you all remember meeting him.

 

Cheryl: Yes, and your daughter-in-law, Pat. I think I got her involved in some of my activities. You know, talking this way reminds me for some reason of time I spent on Canandaigua Lake as a kid in the summer. I used to row my boat to stump meetings on the weekend. There wasn’t too much to do there on a Sunday.

 

Is one of you usually the organizer for getting together?

 

Debra: I might be the one that tries to keep us on some kind of schedule so we don’t miss a chance to meet, but we have all done that at times.

 

You don’t get together to discuss a book you have all read. You don’t play cards. You don’t plan a potluck meal. 

 

Cheryl: No, that’s right. We don’t do that. And it’s so nice, and kind of unusual, not to have to worry about any of that. There’s no agenda, and no sport like sailing or anything like that to build around. Given that we have such different pursuits here, I am not sure we’d have ever really gotten together if we hadn’t met coincidentally that evening at the President’s Cottage.

 

Pat: We’re very different people. Different backgrounds.

Was there ever a real emotional crisis for one of you while you were all at Chautauqua? 

 

Cheryl: When my husband died, I came up to Chautauqua not too long after. I didn’t really know how it would feel. I didn’t know how I would feel. Pat was very helpful. She had gone through that. And Debra and I talked a lot about how it would be for me now as a single person at Chautauqua, after sharing so much of it with my husband. How you define yourself here as a single person after the death of a spouse is a big deal. It’s not easy to deal with.

 

How about a crisis in the off-season? Would you reach out as readily to each other?

 

Cheryl: That’s easy for me. Absolutely. Yes.

 

Pat: Yes, for sure.

 

Debra: That goes for me, too.

 

Pat: After my second husband died, it was about two years before I met these two. My blood pressure was going up and down. I worked with a grief therapist for a couple of years. I guess I was ready to welcome new people into my life.

 

Pat, it sounds like you would view sharing trauma with Cheryl and Debra as a burden to them.

Pat: Yes, probably. I would instinctively not want to dump it on them.

 

And Cheryl would instinctively share things?

 

Cheryl: Yes. I mean, after my husband died, I processed on my own, but afterward, yes, I reached out.

 

So from a coincidental meeting, a strong friendship has endured.

 

Debra: Yes. We say that we could have met anywhere. But the fact that we met at Chautauqua, and there is such space for us individually and as a group of three friends here, that has made it easier and richer, for sure.

Forgotten Chautauqua: Remembering those who shaped the community

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An archives photo dated 1934-1957 shows Will Larrymore Smedley standing outside with a paint palette. COURTESY OF CHAUTAUQUA ARCHIVES

Lori Humphreys
Guest Writer

Reporter’s note: This week, Chautauquans will explore “The Forgotten: History and Memory in the 21st Century.” This theme offers the chance to remember three of an army of forgotten Chautauquans whose lives, like unseen rocks in a stream bed, shaped Chautauqua’s current yesterday and today. This week, a three-part series introduces or re-introduces three Chautauquans: Monday, artist Will Larymore Smedley; Wednesday, author and poet Rebecca Richmond; Friday, author, Chautauqua public relations czar and entrepreneur Julius King.

Residents and visitors may not immediately recognize their names, as neither street nor building exist in their honor. Born at the end of the 19th century, they lived most of their lives in the first half of the 20th century, that era of American energy and action. Their lives, talent and character suggest that they shared those national traits leavened by their unique, independent spirits. We remember them not because they were celebrated — we remember them because they seem to be models of lives well lived, an idea that Chautauqua embraces and encourages. Sometimes the glory of lives does not pass, it just hides until called in from the dark.

 


Will Larrymore Smedley

Listed

Who Was Who in American Art, 1999

Artists Blue Book North American Artists, 2005

Davenport Art Reference, 2005

Smithsonian Institution – Library of Artists

Artists in Ohio – 1787-1900 by Mary Sayre Haverstock

Memberships

Society of Artists and Illustrators, the Cleveland Society of Artists, Society of Independent Artists and the National Craftsman

Correspondence

Vassar College Archives, John Burroughs Collection; Yale University, Royal Cortissoz Collection; Mark Twain Archives, University of California

Exhibits

American Miniature Painters Society; The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; The American Watercolor Society; The Albright Gallery


If 21st-century readers and art aficionados do not recognize the name Will Larymore Smedley, they are not alone. His 20th-century neighbors might not have known him either. Smedley sought the shadows and lived unobtrusively with his wife, Adelaide Wilson, and daughter, Rose Thaline, at 11 Morris from 1908 until his death in 1957. If his repute jumped the fence, it was unremarked within the gates.

But it is within the gates, far from the nation’s art centers, that Smedley sought and succeeded to balance a life of utopian ideal and economic reality. His life emerges from the shadows in the memories of Chautauquan Mary Ellen Sheridan, the Daily digital archives, local Jamestown newspaper articles, archives at Vassar College and Cornell University, and Chautauqua’s Oliver Archives Center.

Smedley was a nationally acclaimed artist and illustrator when he moved to Chautauqua permanently in 1908. Yet his first mention in The Chautauquan Daily appeared in 1934. R. Jere Black, a popular mystery writer and neighbor, wrote, “ … I’ve never known a man who so hates praise, or even a just recognition of his genius.”

Robert Holder titled a 1959 article on Smedley as “The Story That Has Never Been Told.”

“It is hard to believe that in this century of the dramatic and in this age of advertising and publicity that a nationally-known master craftsman and artistic genius could have maintained his home so quietly for over 50 years so near to our busy Plaza,” Holder wrote.

With the exception of his 1951 interview, there is more Daily reporting about him after his death than during his lifetime. That may be due to the fact that his wife, Adelaide, lived to be 101 and her many birthdays are reported. There were four Chautauqua posthumous exhibits of Smedley’s work, the last in 2002.

Sheridan inherited the remnants of his work in 1988.

“He left the self-marketing and pursuit of grand venues as a low priority,” she said.

Now in her eighth decade, Sheridan knew Smedley since her childhood. He painted her portrait and sent her birthday cards with four-leaf clovers enclosed. She may be his last witness and her Aug. 11, 2002, Daily interview includes a vivid description:

“He was tall, with long white hair, a bushy mustache, piercing brown eyes and beautiful hook nose. He always wore white in the summer and tennis shoes before anyone wore them. … He could be gruff and sarcastic. Many saw him as a recluse, but I never saw that side.”

Recently, Sheridan said that he was monumental in her growing up.

“Truth and beauty were the two tenets of his life,” she said. “Though he and Adelaide were poor as church mice, they were rich in their intellectual lives and relationship with one another.”

The only Daily interview with the man himself is dated July 6, 1951. Age may have mellowed his attitude toward publicity. Perhaps he saw the interview not as bragging, but a chance to share his ideas on art and reflect on the life he built.

“Art, specifically, must present the ‘illusion’ of reality — that is, it must imitate nature in order to focus man’s vision upon nature in a new and fresh manner,” Smedley told the Daily. “The artist must be constantly on the alert to experience and record fresh impressions if his art is to be worthwhile.”

He saw no conflict between art and science. He was, after all, an 1896 graduate of Case School of Applied Science, Cleveland, Ohio.

“While science attacks the problem of man’s existence from a technical standpoint, art attacks it from an intuitive standpoint,” he said. “ … I’ve lived the natural life and have found it very satisfactory.”

He commented about the technological changes which occurred in his lifetime, and was accepting of them.

“Each generation is separate from the next and thinks in its own way. But there are truths which span even the greatest of technical change,” Smedley said.

The interviewer, John Bailey, wrote that “Mr. Smedley believes that by staying close to nature, by basing his science and artistic interest upon something that is essentially unchanged and unchangeable, a man can get at what is most important in life.”

During the 1951 interview, Smedley said that Mark Twain had one of his paintings and the two corresponded. Two letters from Twain were featured in the 2002 Chautauqua exhibit of Smedley art.

If his personal life is arresting, his artistic life is also.

Smedley’s early career was marked by success and suggests he had confidence in his artistic talent. Though he graduated with a degree in engineering, he became an artist and a self- taught artist at that. askArt, a go-to site for artist biographies, states that he was “primarily self-taught.” This writer could find no mention anywhere that he took classes or studied with another artist.

He exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1903 and 1904. He had a studio in New York and his work is mentioned in articles from 1904 in The New York Times and Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The July 6, 1951, Daily interview with Adelaide Smedley asserts that he drew 300 illustrations for the 1904 first edition of Encyclopedia of Horticulture, written by Liberty Hyde Bailey and published by Cornell University Press.

The Smedley family assertion presents something of an historical dilemma. There is no illustrator acknowledgement in the first issue of the Encyclopedia of Horticulture. A Cornell University archivist did not find any reference to Smedley in Bailey’s archives without intensive research in Bailey’s papers. This does not mean that it is not true, only that the science of history and the history itself are not always in sync.

“I’m annoyed with Bailey that nowhere did he give Will credit. My father-in-law, Laurence Vintage Sheridan, a landscape architect, went through the first edition and only found one picture with Will’s initials,” said Sheridan.

The arc of his professional life changed in 1906 when he was hired as a faculty member of the Los Angeles School of Art and Design. According to Black’s Daily 1934 comments, he “became home-sick, and after one day shook the job and shot back to his beloved Chautauqua.” If there were other reasons, they are unknown.

Though Chautauqua was a refuge where Smedley and his wife could live the simple life they envisioned, he had to heed economic reality. Art was his life and living, and he faced that fact honestly and bluntly. Smedley wrote in a 1912 Fine Arts Journal article, “without sales of their wares neither artist, nor baker nor candlestick maker can do their best.” He was not above soliciting consideration of his skill and offered his services to nature writer John Burroughs in a 1918 letter.

Ironically, it’s the intersection of art and commerce which reveals much of Smedley’s artistic career after his move to Chautauqua County. He had studios at the Colonnade, Room 18. and the old Arcade, and advertised “Smedley Painting Class” in a 1917 issue of The International Studio. The Jamestown art community recognized his quality and in 1910 hired him to teach at the Jamestown Brush and Pencil Club. In 1916, the club exhibited 35 of his oil and watercolors. The Jamestown Evening Journal reported that three to four hundred people viewed the show.

This writer could not find information about his paintings after 1937. Julius King acknowledged him as science consultant for King’s 1934 publication Talking Leaves and 1936 publication of Wild Flowers at a Glance. Sheridan said that Smedley continued to do magazine illustrations, private commissions and magazine articles.

On July 13 at the Patterson Library, Westfield, Sheridan auctioned the Will Larymore Smedley paintings and drawings she had lovingly guarded since 1988. Among the paintings was “Forest Idyll,” the 1903 National Academy painting which the Smedleys had kept all their lives.

“I was relieved,” she said. “It was a lot of responsibility protecting his paintings and reputation.”

After spending time with Smedley in the archives and listening to Sheridan’s memories, there was something bittersweet about watching Smedley’s paintings leave her care, akin to watching a friend’s possessions in stranger’s arms. Smedley would return to the shadows, his art hanging on unknown walls.

But history is capricious and may have another plan. Sheridan reported that Julia Klevin plans to hang the paintings she purchased at the auction on the walls of her future Westfield business.

Campbell Department of Religion Endowment provides for Week 8 Interfaith Lecture Series

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The Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment, a fund held by the Chautauqua Foundation, provides funding for this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series from Monday through Thursday. The lecturers for the week are Bryan Stevenson, Peniel E. Joseph, Ruby Nell Sales and Drew Dellinger.

When the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell announced she would retire at the end of 2013 as director of the Department of Religion, Chautauquans expressed their desire to honor Joan’s work and her contributions to the Chautauqua community and to contribute  resources to help  carry on that work. Barb Mackey, inspired by Joan’s vision, made the largest single gift commitment the Department of Religion has ever received through the combination of annual contributions and ultimately, through a bequest to establish the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment. Additional gifts are continuing to be added honoring Joan’s legacy.

Like many women of her generation, Campbell was first a wife, mother and community volunteer. At age 50, Campbell was ordained. She was already a leader in the ecumenical interfaith movement, where she gave leadership for over 30 years.

Campbell is truly a “first woman.” In every job she held, she was the first woman to carry that responsibility. She was the first woman to be associate executive director of the Greater Cleveland Council of Churches; the first woman to be executive director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches; the first ordained woman to be general secretary of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA; and she was the first woman director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua.

As general secretary of the National Council of Churches and as executive director of the U.S. office of the World Council of Churches, Campbell participated in some of the great historic events of the last century. She led a delegation to present the Catholic edition of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible to Pope John Paul II. She organized volunteers to work for the election of Carl B. Stokes as the first black mayor of a major American city. She worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and brought him to her own congregation, the first white church in Cleveland to receive King. Campbell served as an honorary election monitor with President Kaunda of Zambia in the election of Nelson Mandela as the first African president of South Africa, and she successfully negotiated with Fidel Castro and former President Bill Clinton the return of Elian Gonzalez to his father.

Volker Benkert to deliver final lecture in Lincoln Applied Ethics Series on memory

Benkert

Volker Benkert, assistant professor of history at Arizona State University, grew up in Germany, where he was exposed to the memory of the Nazi and Soviet occupations of the 20th century.

“I think that memory is around us all the time,” Benkert said. “If you go to a German city, of course everything is nicely restored, and the old buildings, many of them, are back up again.”

But the history of these “modern buildings” that were once hit with bombs during World War II has not been erased. Benkert and all German citizens remember this time in history, and it was this aspect of Benkert’s life that first motivated him to focus his research on the history and memory of both totalitarian regimes in Germany.

At 4 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, in the Hall of Philosophy, Benkert will give a lecture as part of the Lincoln Applied Ethics Series. He has studied how Germany has remembered the time of totalitarian rule in the country, in addition to what the German people have chosen to remember, forget and invent regarding that history.

Germany has developed a particular narrative around its history, according to Benkert. He is currently studying how “World War II (is) expressed in contemporary German film.”

“Germany has, of course, acknowledged the Holocaust and depicts German war crimes,” Benkert said. “But my argument is that even though these crimes are acknowledged, they are wrapped into very apologetic narratives that offer an excuse or explanation for why Germans would participate in these crimes.”

Benkert said that Germany is currently acknowledging that it was not just high-ranking Nazis who made these crimes against humanity possible. He said “ordinary Germans” who were draftees in the military participated in these crimes as well, and Germans who were not fighting in the war still benefited from them.

“This acknowledgement that we can no longer deny triggers a response,” Benkert said. “It’s painful; it means everybody’s grandfather somehow was involved.”

The response to this acknowledgment is the apologetic narratives that have been created, according to Benkert.

Benkert’s lecture will be the fourth and final installment of this season’s Lincoln Applied Ethics Series. He said that memory and ethics are “deeply linked,” as people and countries chose what to remember about a historical event.

“In choosing what to remember and what to forget, we make a deeply ethical choice,” Benkert said. “We cannot remember everything, and memory will change over time — that’s perfectly normal. Every generation will have its own take on the past. … However, one thing that is clear is that these choices that are necessary need to be based on some sort of ethical idea.”

He said in the case of the German people, it is “very ethical” to recognize that ordinary Germans had a part in the war crimes that occured during World War II.

“But at the same time, it’s deeply unethical and self-serving to take that idea and cushion it by coming up with these very apologetic and redemptive narrative traits,” Benkert said. “It’s on us to concentrate … (on) what we chose to remember and what we chose to forget.”

Dennis McNair will share knowledge and research on lakeside insects as water quality indicators during Lake Walk

McNair

To understand the quality of any structure, it’s best to start at the base. Regarding the health of a body of water, it’s smart to start near the base of the food chain — the insects. 

A professor emeritus of biology, Dennis McNair, taught at the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown campus for 33 years. He focused a large part of his career’s research studying insects as water quality indicators. McNair will share how these insects and the water they grow in are affected and changing during his Bird, Tree & Garden Club Lake Walk at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13, on the lakeside porch of the Youth Activities Center. 

At a young age, McNair’s favorite pastime was running down to the trout stream that ran through his hometown and turning over rocks to look at the insects. McNair has focused his research on this subject, studying dragonflies and damselflies for the last 15 years or so because he said he liked them, and because they’re beautiful.

“Typically, the insects that are good indicators spend most of their life in the water; it’s just the winged adults that we’re familiar with,” McNair said. “When you’re living in an environment and getting all your resources as energy from that environment, you also pick up any pollutants that are there.”

Early in his research, a good friend of McNair’s bought a farm and received grants from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to create ponds and let the area go back to its natural habitat. While the farm’s owner, an ornithologist, focused more on the birds, McNair focused primarily on dragonflies.

“The hypothesis we were testing was the old phrase, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” McNair said. “And they sure did. It turned back into a thriving wetland, with plants, birds and bugs.”

McNair said he began to notice around 17 different species of dragonflies with a typically more southern distribution. As the climate began to warm the waters in the region, these species were moving northward into areas of the state they have never been documented in before.

“We have good records of the range of various dragonflies and damselflies, and they typically don’t survive unless the water stays so warm over the winter — because that’s where the aquatic part of their life is,” McNair said. “A dragonfly typically found in Virginia and the Carolinas has now been regularly found in Pennsylvania.”

McNair said this is only possible because the water has warmed enough for them to come and survive in the region. In addition to helping identify the changing climate, the presence of certain insect populations can act as a good indicator of the quality of the aquatic environment they rely upon, McNair said.

“It’s a harsh environment,” McNair said. “There’s a few species that can live there and out-compete other insects. “But those are also indicators of pollution. There are also insects that thrive only in clean water, so if there are pollutants, they’re not there.”

Dragonflies and damselflies are predators, McNair said, that help feed on other insects in addition to providing food for fish and other aquatic life themselves. They also provide nutrients in death, releasing these nutrients when they perish and decompose into the lake and surrounding watershed, McNair said.

“The birds that we have around here, such as the purple martins, depend upon the insects for most of their development around the lake,” McNair said.

McNair hopes the Lake Walk can help make people more conscious about everything that goes into and affects the water around them, citing the famous poet, Gary Snyder:

“If you don’t know where your water comes from, you don’t know where you are.”

The Institution, an almost sacred place, McNair said, offers the chance for him and his wife, a couple of former teachers, to continue their own education while having the opportunity to continue to teach others.

Lenna Fund for the Performing Arts funds MSFO performance

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The Lenna Fund for the Performing Arts underwrites tonight’s Music School Festival Orchestra performance with Timothy Muffitt.

Prior to his retirement, Reginald Lenna served as president, CEO and treasurer of Blackstone Corporation of Jamestown, New York. He also was a director of Blackstone, Sweden, A.B., and president of Blackstone Industrial Products, Stratford, Ontario, and of Blackstone Ultrasonics, Sheffield, Pennsylvania. He served as a director of the Business Council of New York State, Unigard Insurance of Seattle, Washington, and KeyBank of Western New York, Jamestown.

In 1976, he was knighted by the king of Sweden, Royal Order of the North Star and received an honorary doctorate in 1981 from St. Bonaventure University. He received a 1975 Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews. He was active in several local organizations, including the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, the United Jewish Appeal and the Jamestown YMCA. He was a former trustee of St. Bonaventure University and a director of the
Lenna Foundation.

Elizabeth “Betty” Lenna was a member of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees. As a trustee, she was chairperson of the nominating and finance committees and a member of the planning and executive committees and the extended programming task force. After her service on the board ended, Betty Lenna continued to serve Chautauqua as a community member of the Development Council. She was a director of the Lenna Foundation and of the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and trustee of the T. James and Hazel C. Clarke Trust. She was a director of Blackstone Corporation and a member of the advisory board for Marine Midland Bank.

Betty Lenna was a president of The Creche of Jamestown and a member of the WCA Hospital Board of Directors in Jamestown. She was on the board and a major benefactor of the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown. Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall, Chautauqua’s renowned recital and rehearsal hall, was a gift from the Lennas, who provided sole funding for the facility and its ongoing maintenance needs. Lenna Hall was completed in 1993 and dedicated in July of that year. The Lennas also provided a generous donation in 1988 to create the Main Gate Welcome Center.

If you would be interested in discussing the possibility of establishing an endowment to support the MSFO or another aspect of Chautauqua’s program, please contact Dustin Nelson, director of gift planning, at 716-357-6409 or email him at dnelson@chq.org.

Hultquist Foundation continues support of Chautauqua Music School Festival Orchestra

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Earle Hultquist was a successful industrialist from Jamestown, New York. His children, Carl Hultquist and Cathy Hultquist-Hall, founded the Hultquist Foundation in his memory in 1965. The Hultquist Foundation provides around $750,000 every year to organizations in the greater Jamestown
community.

The Chautauqua Music School Festival Orchestra has been a recipient of this charitable support every year for more than two decades. At 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater, the MSFO will perform its final concert of the 2018 season thanks to the Hultquist Foundation’s generosity.

“The directors have always been very fond of the (MSFO) program,” said Steven Wright, president of the Hultquist Foundation. “We love the fact that it attracts talented young musicians to Chautauqua County every summer.”

The board of directors will be in attendance to witness and support the MSFO artists performing this evening following their season.

“We’re very pleased and proud to continue to be able to support the fine programs at Chautauqua,” Wright said.

For more information on underwriting opportunities at Chautauqua, please contact Tina Downey, director of the Chautauqua Fund, at 716-357-6404 or tdowney@chq.org.

Six Stars

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  • Cameron Minarovich

In Week Seven, we had Yo-Yo Ma. Ken Burns returns to pack the house and the grounds in Week Nine. Institution planners are wrapping up the 2018 season with a bang. And the grounds have been buzzing with some of the creative, provocative programming across various lecture programs and venues. Reimagination and change continue to pervade the Institution. While everyone is pleased when throngs arrive, they bring pressure and stretch capabilities, particularly for the seasonal staff who are mostly deployed in roles supporting Chautauquans. When the heat is on, the best emerge. Here are six of their stories.

Christa LaKotta

Easygoing but not afraid to enforce the rules, LaKotta has held the same position on the gate staff for a dozen years.

“I’ve almost always been at the entry side of the auto gate house near the Main Gate,” she said.

In discussing efforts to evade paying gate or parking fees, LaKotta smiled.

“I expect that I’ve seen most of the tricks,” she said.

A common stunt designed to evade paying gate or auto pass fees occurs at least once a week, LaKotta said.

“People will drive up to the gate and give me a story,” she said. “Often, this will involve why they should be allowed to park in a driveway or elsewhere on the grounds without a permit. If I tell them I cannot admit them without the proper passes, they will often turn around and appear to head across the street to the main parking lot, where I suggest that they can park. But when I see them turn right or left instead, I know they’re going to try their luck at one of the other gates.”

Sundays can be especially wearisome.

“People know Sunday is a free day on the grounds, but they still need a Sunday pass and a reason to drive onto the grounds,” she said. “If I have to turn them around, they will often go to the ticket office, and I know their story at the ticket window is often quite different from the one I heard.”

Starting 14 years ago as a gates rover, LaKotta spent her entire second season on the South Gate, which enjoys a reputation as the place for the best treats from Chautauquans.

“One person used to bring us brownies made with cream cheese,” LaKotta said. “We’d get chocolate chip cookies and cool drinks on hot days. You really get to know people coming and going if you stay on a gate for a while.”

After that second year, LaKotta volunteered for the main auto gate and has remained there.

“I guess I just continued to be willing to do it, as much as anything,” she said.

LaKotta’s father is Estonian, her mother German/Swedish. They met in Estonia prior to 1939 when Germany and Soviet Russia colluded to divide Eastern Europe into respective spheres of influence. Her mother’s German citizenship permitted her father to escape Estonia as it came under Soviet control. LaKotta was born in Germany, and emigrated to the United States with her family.

She initially lived in the New York City area and married and lived in Connecticut for 34 years. LaKotta worked for Simon & Schuster, specializing in business-themed books. After a divorce, her husband moved to this area, where he had family. A few years apart ensued. LaKotta retired.

“My now ex-husband asked if I would consider joining him here in Chautauqua County,” LaKotta said. “I thought, ‘Why not?’ We have lived together here for 14 years, though we never remarried. Now our three kids and eight grandchildren, aged 1 to 28, live close by. It works.”

Aaron Firster

Firster is back as a member of the Institution’s gardens and landscaping crew after a four-year break to manage his uncle’s farm near the Sherman-Mayville town line. The stretch around that farm is mostly a family compound, as Firster’s uncle owns three almost-contiguous farms that are separated only by houses owned by his brother and sister.

Only one of the three family farms still has dairy cows.

“My uncle has 30 cows on one farm,” Firster said. “We sold the cows on the other farms. Right now we can get $13 per 100 pounds of milk in the marketplace. It costs from $17 to $19 to produce that same 100 pounds of milk. At some point, it makes no more economic sense to keep doing it.”

The nondairy properties are farmed by tenants or given over to hay.

Firster’s uncle works mostly overseas, and is currently in Nigeria.

“He maintains equipment, probably mostly for the military,” Firster said. “He gets home every couple of months or so.”

Firster is a genuine local. He was brought home from the hospital to one of the houses on the current family compound, then attended the old Chautauqua High School across Route 394 after Turner Elementary School. His mother, uncles and grandmother all attended the old high school, too. After graduation, Firster worked for many years at two different enterprises as a welder. One company, Jamestown Advanced Products, is still operating.

For most of his first round at Chautauqua’s gardens department, Firster was a mower for four years under former director Ryan Kiblin. Now he’s back, still astride the large sitting mowers on Tuesday and often pushing a hand mower on other days.

“I like the instant gratification of seeing how the lawn looks after I finish with the mowing,” Firster said. “And I can do some maintenance on the machines. You could call me a shade tree mechanic — maybe not an expert, but good enough for most basic repair jobs.”

Firster now lives with his girlfriend and their combined family of eight kids. He usually works from April to November at the Institution. Deer hunting and family take up the rest of his time. Travel does not. Aside from a summer visit to Florida years ago, he has not strayed far from home. Offered a theoretical trip anywhere, he said he would choose New York City.

“I’ve always been curious about it,” he said.

Zach Stahlsmith

A good trivia question about Chautauqua might ask, “What are the responsibilities of the woods crew?” Stahlsmith, who is currently the crew’s supervisor, knows the answer.

“We are responsible for audio/visual support for every venue on the grounds except the Amphitheater,” he said. “That includes all non-Amp music venues.”

For this large and diverse task, the crew numbers eight full-time and two part-time members this season.

“Luckily, six of the 10 of us returned from last summer, so the pre-season training period was manageable,” Stahlsmith said.

Stahlsmith is accustomed to the Institution. He has been working on the grounds for over a decade, beginning as a bellboy at the Maple Inn and progressing through a couple of years as an Amphitheater sweeper and member of the Amp crew; Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall “chair-man” (i.e., mover of chairs and other heavy furniture); and, since 2014, member and now supervisor of the woods crew.

“We actually love the many different venues we support,” Stahlsmith said. “There is rarely any kind of sense of tedium or routine with our work.”

He said his thorniest situation on the woods crew occurred several years ago.

“A Christian group was appearing, and they wanted to stage a play in the Hall of Philosophy,” he said. “We had some advance notice, but there is no template for that kind of almost-unique request. We wound up moving several benches around or out of the hall altogether. There was also a requirement for extra microphones and spotlights, and scant space to place it all without getting in the way of the performance. We managed, but it wasn’t easy.”

Stahlsmith has lived in Mayville all his life. His two brothers and one sister are all working at the Institution. His father presently owns the Stedman Corners Café and was previously a chef in the Athenaeum Hotel. His mother worked for many years in the youth and recreation office in the Colonnade and is now registrar at Chautauqua Lake Central School.

A future in the United Methodist Church beckons Stahlsmith. After receiving his bachelor’s from West Virginia Wesleyan University, he is now in his second year at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. When he receives his Master of Divinity, he will be ordained in the Methodist Church. While Stahlsmith hopes to focus on youth ministry, his ordination will lead to a pastor position leading a congregation, likely in the church conference that stretches from the Hudson River Valley to Chautauqua County.

Alex Colon

Although he is in his first year at the Institution, Colon has moved right in as the events chef in the Athenaeum Hotel kitchen. Among other responsibilities, this means “I realize the vision of others, especially our weddings director Carrie Gifford,” Colon said. “And we have a group here this week from the Smithsonian Institution. I’m involved in planning for and feeding them. It’s been a busy job.”

It’s been a bit busier than usual this summer because of turnover rates in the hotel kitchen staff.

“You can only do your best,” Colon said.

Colon was born in Oneida, New York. His parents had met in school at nearby SUNY Oswego. Colon soon moved with his family to Houston, but returned to Western New York at age 15 after several years in Texas, where some members of his large family still reside.

“My niece and cousin are coming up to Chautauqua this week to see Yo-Yo Ma,” he said. “It’s their first visit to the grounds. My sister is coming from New York City. My parents and aunt are coming. It’s going to be a special family reunion.”

Family is big for Colon. His father is from Puerto Rico and, with his aunt, is now heavily involved in the Orchard Park Symphony Orchestra.

“I grew up immersed in music, and though I don’t play much anymore, getting out to music venues is my third great passion,” Colon said.

The second passion is cooking, and Colon holds a degree from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. After college, he worked for several years at Orazio’s restaurant in Clarence, New York, northeast of Buffalo.

“The owner was also the top chef there,” Colon said. “He bought all the food himself with his own money. He wouldn’t tolerate any slackness from the staff, and everything was looked at carefully. Every dollar was counted.”

With the large volume of business at the Athenaeum Hotel and its numerous, diverse audiences and customers, life is much different for Colon this summer, and he is able to focus more intensely on his cooking.

But despite his love of music and cooking, Colon’s first passion is fishing.

“I’m never far from water,” he said.

He lives on Chautauqua Lake in Lakewood, is looking to replace his boat after the season and dreams of eventually running his own fishing business on Lake Erie and Chautauqua Lake.

“The summer is great for fishing, but the fish stay deep to find cooler water,” he said. “In the fall and spring, they go up into the tributaries, and fishing from the shore is good. I love to ice fish, too. I hope that’s where my future lies.”

Cameron Minarovich

“I mostly help people get into the world of recreation at Chautauqua,” Minarovich said.

He was talking about what he does at the Institution’s Sports Club on South Lake Drive. Minarovich is now in his third year at Sports Club.

He was born and still lives in Lakewood, where he attended Southwestern High School. Minarovich played baseball all through high school, and this summer, he has been recruited by some friends to join a the Chautauqua softball team Derogatory.

“We don’t have a great record, which is somewhat surprising because we do have a number of good players on our team,” he said. “Maybe when we get used to the softball played here, things will improve.”

Baseball was also central to Minarovich’s internship this summer with the Jamestown Jammers baseball team.

“With the Jammers, I pretty much did whatever they needed,” he said. “I’ve done everything from writing up post-game summaries to working the scoreboard.”

The Jammers, for many years a single A-class professional team affiliated with the Pittsburgh Pirates and other major league teams, is now a team of college players essentially exhibiting their skills for pro scouts in attendance at the games. The former professional franchise was moved to Morgantown, West Virginia, several years ago.

“I love Chautauqua, what it means, what it stands for, the people you meet,” Minarovich said. “I guess here at the Sports Club, we’re kind of in the happiness business. The people we serve want to play, to have fun. They are ready to enjoy games and the lake.”

A favorite memory for Minarovich happened earlier this summer. A mother from Cincinnati brought her 4-year-old son, Elias, to the club and asked if Minarovich could teach Elias to fish. They returned the next day, and tutor and pupil spent 45 minutes together on the Sports Club’s main dock, lines in the water. Later in their single week here, the mother and her son returned and reported that the fishing was “the most special part of our vacation in Chautauqua.”

Melinski is in her second and probably last year at the Brick Walk Cafe gazebo, serving this season as a barista after beginning last year as a cafe cashier.

“This has been a wild season,” she said. “We have sold far more specialty coffee drinks this season, with maybe a few less customers. That’s my impression, anyway.”

Melinski said because the gazebo serves Starbucks coffee, she and the other baristas were all trained by a roving Starbucks representative prior to the start of this season.

“His territory covers from Erie to Buffalo, and his job not only involves training. He also makes unannounced visits to check on the drinks we serve, the time it takes to prepare them and the consistency,” she said. “The visits are sort of quality-control audits.”

The Starbucks rover visited in Week Two, and at least one more unannounced visit is expected before the season ends.

Among Institution plaza cafes, Starbucks coffee is only available at the gazebo. Inside the Brick Walk Cafe and the Afterwords Café, local roaster blends are featured.

Born in Jamestown, Melinski lives in Cherry Creek, in the far northeast corner of Chautauqua County. She earned her bachelor’s degree at SUNY Fredonia in computer information systems and received a master’s degree in human computer interaction from SUNY Oswego.

“The idea of my master’s program is to make technology more usable,” she said.

As this seems to be an especially relevant field of study now, it is not surprising that Melinski has had a lot of job interviews. She will take up a new position in her field in the fall.

“There are basically two facets to my future work,” she said. “First, we test to determine what aspects of technology users struggle with. We do this one-on-one, as well as through focus groups. Then we relay our findings to the software developer. The second facet is to provide what we call front-end experience to the designer. In this case, I am my own focus group.”

Looking ahead to her future, Melinski said she would love to return to this area eventually but wants to “see more of the world first,” having spent most of her life here.

An exception was time spent in Australia in a joint program arranged through the connections of one of her professors. But for the near future, Melinski sees Boston, Seattle and North Carolina as the most likely locations for her next job.

Mary Ann McCabe turns strangers into friends through her life work and passions

Mary Ann McCabe Obituary
Mary Ann McCabe

Mary Ann McCabe, a longtime Chautauquan and speech pathologist, lived by the William Butler Yeats quote, “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”

“She loved to sit on the porch on 14 Simpson, and she would talk and say hi to anyone and everyone who came by,” said her son, Michael McCabe.

The McCabe family has been coming to Chautauqua Institution for more than four decades. McCabe was heavily involved in the Chautauqua Women’s Club and Chautauqua Property Owners Association, while her husband of 58 years, John McCabe, worked with Visual Arts at Chautauqua Institution. The couple brought their children, who then brought their children, and continued to create memories at the Institution.

McCabe, who passed away on June 23, had a passion for helping people communicate, according to Michael McCabe. He said that as a speech pathologist in Rochester, New York, his mother worked with children who had speech impediments to help them learn how to communicate effectively. McCabe also loved facilitating a better understanding between people of different cultures, which led her to create the International Volunteer Interpreter Program in 1980, among other programs.

She attended Nazareth College and studied speech pathology, where she met Nancy Shadd, former president of the CWC. From there, Shadd said the two worked together in the field for many years in Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, where McCabe helped children with special needs in various school districts.

The two had a long lasting friendship, beginning with their time together in college. Throughout their years at the Institution, Shadd said McCabe was instrumental in her decision to become president of the CWC.

“Honestly, I was always indebted to Mary Ann McCabe because she kept encouraging me to consider applying for the position (of president),” Shadd said. “The Women’s Club was Mary Ann’s total dedication.”

A Chautauquan since 1977, McCabe was always on the grounds learning new things and sharing them with her family, inspiring her children and grandchildren to have an “inquisitive mind,” according to Michael McCabe. Shadd said McCabe had been involved with the CWC since the 1980s, holding a plethora of positions, including interim president from 2004 to 2005.

Like Michael McCabe, Shadd reiterated McCabe’s love for contemporary issues, leading her to work with the Institution to develop the Contemporary Issues Forum in 1992.

“(The CIF) has been the CWC’s landmark contribution to the Chautauqua community,” Shadd said.

The Institution does not have speakers on Saturdays as part of the general programming for the summer, and one of McCabe’s goals through establishing the CIF was to bring a quality speaker to the grounds every Saturday.

The CIF, along with all other aspects of the CWC’s programming, is put together by the program committee. The group works a year in advance to assure there is a speaker each Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy.

Michael McCabe said his mother had a passion for discussing world issues and current events. She recognized a divide between community members and “felt that there had to be more civil dialogue,” he said.

“What always impressed me about my mom was her compassion, ability to listen and to get people talking and dialoguing,” Michael McCabe said. “I think that’s why she cared about the Women’s Club (and) contemporary issues.”

A reception to honor McCabe will take place after the 2 p.m. Contemporary Issues Forum lecture Saturday, August 11, in the Hall of Philosophy.

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