Chautauquans give back to the Institution in different ways — whether it’s financially, spiritually, emotionally or physically — and each season, five “great Chautauquans” are recognized for their positive impact on the community.
“I think it’s a nice thing to recognize the people who have made a contribution, but also to have a wide range of people who do that recognizing,” said Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua Institution’s archivist and historian. “The people chosen can be living or dead, they can be well-known or unknown — they just have to be perceived by someone to have been making a significant contribution to Chautauqua.”
At 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy, Schmitz will lead the presentation of “Five More Giants of Chautauqua,” to close out the 2019 season of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.
The presentation, now a Chautauqua tradition, started in 2006 when five Chautauquans were each asked to talk about someone they felt made a positive impact on the community.
This year’s outstanding Chautauquans are: Jeffrey Simpson, presented by Sylvia Faust; Norman and Nancy Karp, presented by Suzanne Aldrich; Anna Shaw, presented by Joana Leamon; Mark Russell, presented by Bill Bates; and Bob and Carole Reeder, presented by Robert Selke.
Simpson, who passed away in August 2018, spent every summer of his life in Chautauqua. He was the author of several books, including his memoir, An American Elegy, a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selection in 1997, and Chautauqua: An American Utopia, a CLSC selection in 1999.
“Many people buy (Chautauqua: An American Utopia) as an introduction to Chautauqua,” Schmitz said. “(Simpson) represents a period of Chautauqua’s history, so when he died, it was significant. It was like a passing of an era for many of us, so I think it’s important that we remember him.”
Simpson’s involvement in Chautauqua ranged from being a member of the CLSC Class of 1974, an honoree of the CLSC Class of 2009; serving on the Institution’s board of trustees; the program committee; education and youth recreation committee; and the marketing and planning committee.
“I hope the attendees will come away with an appreciation of his influence in reporting the history of Chautauqua,” Faust said.
Nancy and Norman Karp have been very active in the Chautauqua community through the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, PFLAG and CLSC. The Karps are year-round Chautauquans who have also been instrumental in maintaining a year-round readers program.
“I think there are a lot of individuals who quietly contribute to Chautauqua; (the Karps) do it quietly without a lot of fanfare, but are definitely a real core of the success to Chautauqua,” Aldrich said. “We know about the important folks, but the day-to-day, year-to-year works sometimes don’t show.”
The Karps donated furniture to the Smith Memorial Library, a place in which they spend lots of time through the year, as they thought Chautauquans could benefit from more seating and created a space to make people feel more welcome when they get there.
Shaw was a leader in the women’s suffrage movement and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States.
Schmitz believes that Shaw is the most important suffragette at Chautauqua, even though she is often forgotten, and emphasized the importance of remembering her — especially with the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment approaching next year.
“Shaw’s exceptional oratory has endeared her to us as a teaching institution,” Leamon said. “Her regular visits to the several Chautauquas around the nation was an important part of the Suffrage Movement and should be celebrated.”
Russell, American political satirist and comedian, who is best known for his parody music, concluded his 60-year career in 2010 with a performance at “one of his favorite venues”: the Chautauqua Amphitheater.
Schmitz, whose family loves Russell, said the star has been “extremely involved” in Chautauqua over the years, and while Russell has been featured in the Heritage Lecture Series before, Schmitz said his contributions made him well worth another highlight.
Both Bob and Carole Reeder have been involved in various Chautauqua-based organizations, with their main focus being the PFLAG group; though Bob passed away in July 2018, Carole remains active in the Chautauqua community. More than their physical involvement on the grounds, Schmitz said the couple will be remembered for being “genuinely kind” people. Schmitz recalled Bob’s generosity in particular, such as when he framed archival material for Schmitz to assist in preserving it for future Chautauquans.
“(Bob) always insisted on doing it for free, even though I tried to convince him to at least let us buy supplies or materials,” Schmitz said. “He did an excellent job framing things in a way that they would be protected.”
Schmitz experienced the couple’s collective generosity himself before he even became an Institution employee. Schmitz said the Reeders opened their home for him during his Chautauqua interview process.
Selke, who has worked with the Reeders within PFLAG, is excited to pay tribute to some “wonderful Chautauquans,” who he feels lucky to be able to call his friends.
“There are people that really put their heart and soul into this Institution — either financially or emotionally or work-wise,” Selke said. “For the Reeders, it was work. They always had their door open. Carole has this thing, if you go by (her house) she bakes chocolate chip cookies every day and leaves her door open. So I lived in a house in Wahmeda and we would walk by her house every day.”
According to Selke, these “five giants” embody some of the best ways to give back to the Chautauqua community and create friendships with the people one will, hopefully, spend summers with for the “rest of their lives.” And Schmitz said that is exactly why the presentation is a perfect fit for the end of the season.
“It’s nice to be able to thank everybody, recognize a few people, and I know a lot of people appreciate it,” Schmitz said. “I think it’s a good way of ending it.”