Karen Goodell honored with vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Award at 1st Chautauqua Foundation Board Dinner since 2019


For the first time in two years, the Chautauqua Foundation held its welcome dinner to celebrate past and present members of its board of directors and the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees.

Attendees gathered Friday, June 24, at the Athenaeum Hotel to kick off the 2022 season, as well as reflect on the past few years. Timothy Renjilian, chair of the Chautauqua Foundation Board of Directors, described those years as the most significant existential threat to the life of Chautauqua that it’s seen in generations. 

Speakers at the event included Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, Senior Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer Geof Follansbee, and Chautauqua Foundation Executive Director Debbie Moore. Moore paused in her remarks to remember the lives of Dick Miller, John Anderson and Harold F. Reed Jr., all former foundation directors who, since 2019, have passed.

Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer, discusses gelb’s legacy before awarding Goodell with the award bearing his name.

Follansbee and Hill, in particular, reflected on vic gelb, for whom the vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award is named. 

“He believed in giving of oneself,” Follansbee said. “He didn’t talk about himself. It was always about you.”

gelb came to Chautauqua later in his life, with a long resume of experience at other nonprofit organizations. He served as chair of the board at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, chairman of the Citizens Committee on AIDS and HIV, national president of Big Brothers of America, president of the Ohio United Way, vice chair of the United Israel Appeal, director at Playhouse Square, vice president at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, and twice-chairman of the Cleveland Welfare Fund.

“What you can see is once he got involved, he began to run the organization,” Follansbee said.

At the Institution, gelb served as a director of the Chautauqua Foundation from 1995 to 2011. In his hometown of Cleveland, he was awarded the 1997 Charles Eisenman Award, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s highest civic honor. For Follansbee and Hill, it only made sense to name a service award for gelb after his passing in 2018. 

“He was one of the first Chautauquans that Geof took me to meet when I became president in 2017,” Hill said. “By that time, vic wasn’t able to share all that was on his mind verbally. I was instantly struck by how much he didn’t need verbal communication to introduce himself. His smile and facial expressions told me all I needed to know about this giant of Chautauqua. His heart and his determination told me even more.”

Follansbee awarded longtime foundation director and former Board of Directors Vice Chair Karen Goodell with the vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award. Hill described her as an honoree who knows no limits. 

“I recently was reviewing a public acknowledgment of tonight’s honoree and the lines of leadership positions — not just basic committee membership — took 11 lines of type alone,” Hill said. 

Hill highlighted Goodell’s unwavering leadership as a key part of every major campaign that the Institution has conducted in the past few decades, and already with campaigns yet to be announced.

Goodell has been deeply connected with the dance program, in particular. 

“She has always carried with her an intense love for the place, the people the community,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, senior vice president and chief program officer. “She has shared that with, I think, every single dance student that has come here.”

After receiving the award, an emotional Goodell said that Chautauqua means the world to her. 

Reflecting on the honor, Goodell said it was a “huge, wonderful surprise” to be honored with the award bearing gelb’s name.

“vic was an important mentor to me during my time on the foundation board, and he and his family became lifelong friends,” Goodell said a few days after the event. “Together with fellow board members, we had the opportunity to see vic work his positive, supportive magic of rallying others to join efforts to make Chautauqua Institution more financially secure, sustainable and relevant into the future.”

Goodell described gelb as a “true Chautauqua hero,” in the same vein as Jack Connelly, former co-chair of the Chautauqua Fund and former member of the Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees, and the first winner of the vic gelb Heart of Chautauqua Service Award.

“To even be mentioned in the same sentence as these two legends is an honor on its own,” Goodell said. “I was sincerely touched by the award and the very personal way it was delivered — I will never forget it.”

Dave munch / photo editor Chautauqua School of Dance student Christiana Cecere performs a piece during the Chautauqua Foundation Board Dinner last Friday in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor.

To surprise Goodell, Chautauqua School of Dance students Christiana Cecere, from The Conservatory at Northeast School of Ballet, and Emily Hain, from The Ballet Chicago Studio Company, performed selections in her honor. 

“The belief that everybody has the right to some beauty in the arts is one of the many things that Karen has stood for here,” Moore said. “Karen, I will say, in how you live your life and how you have introduced so many people to Chautauqua, you inspire us. I hope that the School of Dance continues to inspire you for the rest of your life here, and thank you for everything you could give to it.”

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The author Cassidey Kavathas

Cassidey Kavathas, a Buffalo native, is a rising junior journalism student at St. Bonaventure University. This is her first summer at the Daily. She is covering Advancement, Institution administration, the board of trustees, the CPOA and dance. She serves as editor-in-chief at her college’s newspaper, as well as news director at her college’s radio station. Cassidey has previously reported for PolitiFact NY, The Olean Times Herald, TAPInto Greater Olean and St. Bonaventure University’s advancements office.