SARAH VEST – STAFF WRITER
“I am not a writer. I am a reader,” said Amber Sipior prior to coming to Chautauqua and taking a writing class on a scholarship from the Alumni Association of the CLSC.
This year, the Alumni Association of the CLSC held their auction on Sunday, Aug. 1 in the Hall of Philosophy due to colossal thunderstorms. This year’s auction committee members were: Pat McDonald, Carol Benroth, Carol Collins, Debra Dinnocenzo, Caroline Young, Josette Rolley and Caroline Bissel. Together they worked to raise a record-breaking $12,000 for the Alumni Association of the CLSC scholarship fund.
Last year, the auction moved to an online format, which made the process more difficult for the organizers. Despite all the extra steps, the auction managed to raise $3,000. According to committee members McDonald and Benroth, this year was more successful, partially due to the auction being back in person and because there was “more personal interaction within the committee,” Benroth said.
According to McDonald, the funds raised from the auction sponsor high school students, teachers and librarians from outside of Chautauqua to come to the grounds and take literary arts classes. She views it as a kind of outreach program and as a way to make the surrounding communities feel more welcome on the grounds.
As a part of the scholarship, the teacher or librarian receives a parking and gate pass, has the cost of their classes fully covered, has their Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle membership paid for and receives a $100 gift card to the Chautauqua Bookstore to cover the cost of materials they might need for the class. The Alumni Association is also taking steps to make it so that the classes that the teachers take will count toward their continuing education.
According to McDonald, the money raised will fully fund the program this year and allow it to expand next year, something that the Alumni Association has been wanting to do. They want to work up to having 16 participants each year, and McDonald feels that they can fund a program of that size “into perpetuity.”
Both Benroth and McDonald view this program as a continuation of Chautauqua’s original purpose of educating Sunday School teachers. It has evolved to be more far-reaching, but the idea of helping to educate educators and create a culture of learning continues.
“It made a huge impact on people … who didn’t have access to libraries and didn’t really have access to books in those days,” McDonald said. “So I see it as an important thing to continue, but try to make it fit for modern life. Now, we can have Zoom groups; you could have a (CLSC) circle that you weren’t even in the same town and you could get together.”
Benroth would like to thank the people who made donations to the auction. What it takes to have a successful auction, she said, is “having lovely things that people want to bid on.” Both women felt that people were especially generous this year. One of the items that stood out to them was a wooden, hand-carved, tri-fold screen that ended up going to the Athenaeum Hotel.
Even though the auction this year took a lot of hard work and flexibility to pull off, both women agree that the payoff was worth it. One of the teachers, Betsy Rowe-Baehr, who went through the program called being at Chautauqua and taking classes “transformative.” It is hearing things like that from scholarship recipients, McDonald said, that really makes doing the auction a “heartwarming” experience.