By selling custom-made candles, Nelson supports annual Chautauqua Fund


Candles have a variety of uses. They were first made out of beeswax by ancient Egyptians in 3,000 B.C., and for thousands of years were “rulers of the night,” as the sole source of light when the sun went down, according to candle supplier Nature’s Garden. Since their development, this simple commodity has been utilized for occasions like religious services, home decor, odor elimination and gift-giving.

When owner of Chautauqua Wearhouse and Chautauqua Fund volunteer Ruth Nelson decided to start selling a product to support the Chautauqua Fund, she recognized the versatility and general appeal of candles.

“I wanted to develop something as a hostess gift or small item for people to buy when they come in,” Nelson said.

For the 2018 season, she developed Chautauqua Fund candles with custom logos through MADE Custom Goods in Jamestown, New York.

Originally from Jamestown, Nelson has been coming to Chautauqua since 1987 when her mother opened the women’s clothing boutique Pat’s At Chautauqua. Nelson grew up learning about retail, and in 2005, the two opened Chautauqua Wearhouse, a boutique in the ground floor of the Colonnade that sells men’s and women’s clothing items along with shoes, accessories and other commodities.

Like many Chautauquans, Nelson has enjoyed coming to the Institution with her family every summer.

“There’s a lot of memories,” Nelson said. “I think some of my favorite memories are seeing my kids experience what I experienced when I was younger … for them to have the freedom to go to Club (and) play with their friends, hang out on (Bestor) Plaza.”

Nelson’s memories of celebrating Independence Day at the Institution with her loved ones are what inspired her to become involved with philanthropy.

Nelson is currently an 1874 Society member, which recognizes donors who give between $1,874 and $3,499 annually to the Chautauqua Fund. The Chautauqua Foundation operates the annual fund for the Institution.

“I was a $500-level donor for three or four years, and then my goal for myself was to hit the 1874 (level),” Nelson said. “So last year, I joined the 1874 Society, and I like being at that level, but now in years to come (I hope) to build and grow and be able to do more philanthropically for Chautauqua.”

All of the profits from the candles will go to the fund. There are two different scents, lavender and espresso, and each has a 30- to 35-hour burning time. The candles will be available in the Wearhouse throughout the season.

“I like the idea of doing something I can sell here in the shop that would help support the (Chautauqua Fund),” Nelson said. “And this is something that anyone can come in and buy.”

Selling the candles with the fund logo is a new project for Nelson, and she hopes to continue experimenting with different ways to support the Chautauqua Fund through her business.

“It’s a totally new concept, and maybe next year it would be a T-shirt or a bag with the (Chautauqua Fund) logo on it,” Nelson said. “I would like to continue doing some sort of a product I can sell that would raise money for the fund.”

Nelson said it gives her “a sense of pride” to do her part in contributing to the Chautauqua Fund.

“Any way that I can be an ambassador for Chautauqua, I’m happy to do it,” Nelson said.

After incident, CTC screens ‘Mother’s Milk’ in step toward healing


For the past week, Chautauqua Theater Company’s An Octoroon has been asking audience members to step into the skin of someone who may not look like them.

“I think that is something every single person can do regardless of if they see the play,” said CTC Managing Director Sarah Clare Corporandy.

Now, CTC is asking the same from all Chautauquans, both on the grounds and in Chautauqua County. To facilitate further conversation, there will be a film screening of “Mother’s Milk: A Film Quilt” at noon today at Chautauqua Cinema.

Originally written as a play by CTC guest artist Larry Powell, the film consists of several shorts that tell the story of a young black boy named Sparrow on a journey to find his mother and his home. Scenes were shot across the country and were each filmed by a different director with a different actor in the lead role.

“I call it a quilt because it’s a collection of short films stitched together,” Powell said. “It’s not just a film, it’s an immersive theater experience.”

“Mother’s Milk” is free with a gate pass on a firstcome, first-served basis and will be followed by a talkback with Powell.

Powell said the film is a response to oppression and injustice that aims to educate why violence doesn’t work and why worthiness and self-love does. He said he asked it to be screened at Chautauqua after a traumatic event last weekend.

“It is really for us to step up, for us to come together, take the actions of love against fear,” Powell said.

Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, July 1, Powell and three other actors of color were signaled to pull over by a Chautauqua County police officer while they were on the way home from a party to celebrate the opening of An Octoroon.

After both cars were let inside Chautauqua’s main gate, Powell stopped the car and said he told the actors in the backseat to remain calm. The white officer approached Powell’s window and asked to see his driver’s license before saying that the car’s taillight was out. Powell said he was unfamiliar with the company car, but demonstrated that the lights were in working condition.

Powell, the designated driver, said the office repeatedly asked him if he had been drinking. Each time, he replied that he was sober.

Powell was asked to step out of the car. At this point, another car full of white company members arrived at the scene, including CTC Artistic Director Andrew Borba. Borba said he stepped out of his car and tried to intervene, but was told by the officer to move along. From a distance, Borba said he took a picture on his phone that showed Powell’s taillight was working.

Powell said he explained to the officer that he was the lead of An Octoroon, an award-winning artist only in town for the summer and that he was not a problem.

“It is really, really messed up that I have to shuffle through a learned survival mechanism as an ‘exceptional negro,’ ” he said. “He wasn’t even mean, either, but the actual actions were awful.”

Powell and the company members were let go without a ticket. The car continued to Jewett House, where the actors were met and comforted by other conservatory members.

Borba said the incident was not related to An Octoroon.

“We could have been producing any play that happened to be employing actors. They were pulled over because they were black,” he said. “We happen to be doing a play that addresses racial issues in America.”

At noon on Sunday, July 1, CTC company members gathered for a private meeting to discuss the encounter. They were joined by Chautauqua President Michael E. Hill, Vice President of Visual and Performing Arts Deborah Sunya Moore, Vice President of Religion and Senior Pastor the Rt. Rev. V Gene Robinson, and Robert Franklin Jr., Robinson’s predecessor, who happened to be on the grounds at the time.

For over two hours, company members shared their feelings and asked what CTC and Chautauqua would do to address what happened. Powell later suggested to Hill and Moore via email that Chautauqua hold a screening of “Mother’s Milk” as another step toward healing.

“(Powell) was such a pillar of graciousness,” Moore said. “I’m really full of gratitude for how he’s leading.”

Corporandy said that last weekend’s events do not exist in a vacuum.

“It has been brought to our attention not only by these larger incidents, which we have at least one of every year, but smaller moments that when you come into a place where you are the minority in a significant way that people look at you differently and approach you differently and talk to you differently,” Corporandy said. “Those things on a daily basis can really add up to feel very hurtful and isolating.”

Corporandy said that CTC has made a more conscious effort to inform conservatory members about the lack of diversity at Chautauqua before they arrive on the grounds. She said that in response, conservatory members have asked to be connected to a local NAACP chapter or another network of allies.

“We are making it clear that we are (allies), but if we are not the right people for them, we will find them the right people,” Corporandy said.

Corporandy said CTC appreciates the cards and support from Chautauquans, but would like to see kind words translate into activism.

“Really, what we need to see is that this community is acting in a place of advocacy,” Corporandy said. “We don’t necessarily need hugs and cookies.”

Corporandy said that advocacy can take many forms, including awkward one-on-one conversations.

“Those conversations do not have to be with the actors that were in the show,” she said. “They need to be with each other. Even though Chautauqua is a gated community, that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect.”

Hill and Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said they will meet this afternoon to discuss what happened and how the officer’s actions were received. Hill said he is also in talks with County Executive George Borrello about broader inclusion in the county.

Gerace declined to comment on Sunday’s incident until after meeting with Hill, but said that “all police deputies and officers go through diversity training, which is a state mandate.”

In the spring, Chautauqua Institution hired the diversity consulting firm Cook Ross to help adjust internal policies and develop a comprehensive inclusion plan with short-term and long-term benchmarks for the next decade. The team from Cook Ross includes Johnnetta Cole, president of the nation’s two historically black women’s colleges, who will address Chautauqua at 12:30 p.m. on July 14 in the Hall of Philosophy as part of a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative.

“We’re investing significant resources into trying to make this a model community. We’re willing to really tackle moments of injustice and to look underneath, whether there are systematic things we can do to erase those,” Hill said. “The rest will be, sadly, a gradual long change,

Texas Civil Rights Project president Marziani to discuss work on the Texas border


For president of Texas Civil Rights Project and longtime Chautauquan Mimi Marziani, family is very important, and visiting Chautauqua Institution reminds her of that.

“Thinking back to the bundles of things that have led me to do this kind of work, I do think Chautauqua has absolutely played a role in that,” Marziani said. “I think there are several strands of this community that have very much stayed with me. The importance of family, I think, that’s a huge one.”

At 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 5 in the Hall of Philosophy, Jordan Steves, Chautauqua’s director of strategic communications and community relations, will interview Marziani about her work with TCRP, a nonprofit group of attorneys currently representing 381 families in Texas who have been separated at the Mexican border. Members of the legal advocacy organization, including Marziani, see firsthand the turmoil hundreds of families are facing.

“This presented a rare opportunity for us to be a little more nimble in our programming,” said Institution Chief of Staff Matt Ewalt, “recognizing the incredible leader on the grounds who can speak to news of the day that is changing by the hour, and being able to share the work she and TCRP are doing.”

The Department of Homeland Security has reported that 2,342 children have been separated from their families at the southern border since May, hundreds of them at the Texas border, according to NPR. What happens after is rather ambiguous, since there are no clear answers about how the children are treated after being taken.

“I think this issue has been probably the hardest I’ve personally ever worked on in my 10-year career,” Marziani said.

After moving to Austin in 2014 to serve as legal director of Wendy Davis’ gubernatorial campaign, Marziani heard and saw what many Latin-American immigrants went through if they were denied entry to the United States.

“The separation of families who are seeking asylum in this country or fleeing extraordinary violence and asking us for safety,” Marziani said, “the idea of separating them for punishment, I don’t believe that squares with any sort of American values, regardless of political party.”

In addition to representing families who have been separated at the border, TCRP has attempted to educate the public on the matter.

“That was also one of the things my team and I felt a deep responsibility on this issue,” Marziani said. “When we started going to the courthouse in mid-May, nobody was talking about this. … With the clients’ permission, we started telling their stories to members of the press and the public directly, and as we’ve seen, people have really responded in mass.”

This week, Chautauquans are asking themselves what it means to be American, along with the difficult question “What are true American values?” For Marziani, family is “part of who we are as Americans,” and ending the separation of immigrant families on the southern border is critical to upholding those values.

Furthermore, TCRP also has three specific program areas in Texas: protecting voting rights, advancing racial and economic justice and criminal justice reform. The nonprofit is dedicated to “stand up for the underdog” in Texas and focused on “advancing equality and justice” in its own backyard.

The organization’s efforts have been recognized nationally. In 2016, TCRP successfully sued the state of Texas for not providing birth certificates to children from undocumented mothers, making national headlines.

Steves said TCRP’s work is important in a much broader context. He is excited to have Marziani come to the grounds to talk about how TCRP is working to help make a difference in the lives of those who are affected by an issue that is changing every day.

“I think this presentation will open Chautauquans’ eyes to what’s really happening on the ground at the (southern) border this moment,” Steves said, “and also what underrepresented populations face on a daily basis as they seek to establish their own American identities.”

Life & Love: Young Artists explore universal themes in recital

  • Ian Murrell, baritone, performs at the Annual Sing-In at Norton Hall on Tuesday, June 19, 2018. HALDAN KIRSCH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Patrick Dean Shelton likes to share his passion for singing through recitals, but an added bonus is getting to show his love for poetry.

“For me, recitals are something I’m really passionate about, especially as they become less popular in the classical music world,” said Shelton, a tenor and Chautauqua Opera Company Young Artist. “It’s nice when someone champions it because there are thousands of songs the audience wouldn’t get to hear if places didn’t champion recitals.”

Shelton will join soprano Natalie Trumm and baritone Ian Murrell at 3:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 5, in the Athenaeum Hotel Parlor for an Afternoon of Song featuring four different languages: French, German, Spanish and English. Coach Jorge Parodi will accompany the Young Artists on piano.

The multilingual sets revolve around universal themes of life, love and longing.

“We’re bringing perspectives of cultures from all over the world,” Shelton said. “It’s kind of interesting to see how the French or the British or the Spanish experience these things through their poetry.”

Trumm will perform two songs from French-language composer Franz Liszt with the lyrics from works by Victor Hugo. “Enfant, si j’étais roi” is playful and expresses adoration toward someone, and “Oh! quand je dors” is a more intimate piece about a strong desire for someone, Trumm said.

“They’re both very beautiful, and stylistically, there is so much you can do with the interpretation of the piece,” Trumm said. “There’s all these ranges of color we can use because the setting of a recital is very intimate. You can sort of play around with your voice and certain things you can’t get with opera, whereas with song, it’s sweet and intimate.”

Trumm will also sing three pieces in Spanish from composer Joaquín Turina with text by Ramón de Campoamor.

The relationship between composer and poet is an aspect of art song the artists will display at the recital. Most of the composers formed an attachment to a certain poet and would set their words to music. Sometimes, the writer and composer are the same person. In those cases, the relationship between the writer and composer is “even stronger,” Parodi said.

That is the case with Shelton’s selections of “The Cage,” music and text by Charles Ives, and Ernest Charles’ “When I have sung my songs to you.”

Shelton’s other arrangement includes English texts from Thomas Hardy composed by Gerald Finzi, who often journaled about feeling a kinship with the poet whom he had never met, Shelton said.

“I think when a composer finds a poet that speaks to them, it unlocks something in their brain,” Shelton said.

Murrell will open the recital with Maurice Ravel’s “Cinq mélodies populaires grecques” with the French text by Michel-Dimitri Calvocoressi. The pieces all contrast in style, but they showcase aspects of Greek life through a French lens, Murrell said.

Murrell will also sing three art songs from Austrian composer Hugo Wolf. In 1888, Wolf set 53 poems by Eduard Mörike to music. Though some people may not have heard any of the German pieces, Murrell finds recitals to be well-received no matter what the artist is performing.

“I always find that giving recitals, you’re going to find an appreciative audience no matter where you go because you’re not only introducing new music to them, you’re just performing,” Murrell said. “I’ve done recitals in retirement communities where you could sing ‘Mary had a Little Lamb,’ and people would be really appreciative of it because you’re taking time to present who you are as an artist to these people who otherwise don’t get to hear that style all too often.”

Trumm said foreign languages can often express feelings better than a person’s native language, which makes this recital special.

“It’s put in words that you don’t necessarily have on your palette, so you get to connect to these pieces and say, ‘Those are the words I wish I could say to someone or this grand way of expressing my feelings,’ ” Trumm said. “That’s how you sort of connect your soul to it.”

Carlson, Freyd sponsor annual CSO 4th of July pops celebration


Diane Carlson and Bill Freyd both grew up enjoying classical music and symphonies. Carlson’s first exposure to classical music was to Carmen when she saw it performed by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

Carlson and Freyd currently reside in Las Vegas, Nevada. Carlson is the chair of Catapult Fundraising, which specializes in fundraising for universities, medical centers and other organizations. Freyd founded SFS Entertainment, and produces musicals such as Annie, Cabaret and others.

They stay at Chautauqua for the majority of the nineweek season and have been sponsoring the CSO for several years. The CSO will be performing at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4 in the Amphitheater for its annual Independence Day Pops Celebration.

“I grew up in Jamestown and went to Chautauqua as a child,” Carlson said. “It means a lot to me personally to be able to (sponsor) this concert.”

She said the concert is “wonderfully patriotic, and a family concert, and that’s what we love about it.”

The CSO was founded in 1929 and continues to be the Institution’s resident orchestra, pulling members from professional orchestras across the United States, including the Pops Celebration conductor Stuart Chafetz.

Chafetz makes Chautauqua his home in the summer and has been conducting pops concert for the CSO for 11 years. He is currently the principal pops conductor of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and works with orchestras in Phoenix, Seattle and other cities across North America.

Carlson and Freyd sponsor the orchestra because of its talented musicians,  but they also enjoy their summer home in Bemus Point and value the Institution as a whole.

(Chautauqua’s) like nothing else,” Carlson said. “It’s so special and I feel so privileged to have Chautauqua in my life.”

Zeger to lead master class on multi-layered singing


Brian Zeger hopes to bring an appreciation of how multi-layered singing is to Chautauqua.

Zeger, artistic director of the vocal arts program at The Juilliard School, will hold a master class for voice students and the public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 4 in McKnight Hall.

Zeger helps select the operas that Juilliard will perform each year, and he leads the charge in casting, and selecting the conductors, directors and designers for those operas. Zeger, who has been at Juilliard for 18 years, has also come to Chautauqua to teach for many years.

Based on Zeger’s own experience teaching master classes, he finds “that people that come watch singers being taught come away with an appreciation for how multi-layered vocal education is.”

Zeger himself is a leading collaborative pianist who has performed with many of the world’s greatest singers, so he’s aware of the multi-layered challenges that are exclusive to singers, including text and acting.

“Unlike an instrumentalist, who of course is dealing with playing their instruments and all the musical challenges, singers are also dealing with text, very often dealing with foreign languages, which they did not grow up speaking,” Zeger said. “And they’re dealing with an acting dimension, which is extra for singers on top of what instrumentalists have to do. So it’s very multi-layered.”

And for Zeger, these layers reinforce one another.

“I find that the acting encourages the vocalism, and the music-making encourages the examination of texts, et cetera,” he said. “So you go from one point of view to another, and each of them strengthens the other as they improve.”

Zeger also finds it “a huge pleasure” to meet singers who are new to him, especially those in Chautauqua, where Marlena Malas is chair of the Voice Program. Zeger and Malas teach together at The Juilliard School.

“Marlena has a fantastic nose for finding new talent from all around the country and all around the world, so Chautauqua has always been a very fertile place for me to come meet new talent,” Zeger said. “Some … may audition for Juilliard. Some won’t. But in any case, it’s just wonderful to meet talented young people who are new to me from all over the place.”

During the master class, Zeger will be teaching art songs and working with voice students at the piano. Zeger picked art songs because they are primarily written for voice and piano, whereas opera songs may require additional instruments.

“Song is a wonderful place for singers to learn their skills because they are working with first-class poetry and first-class music at the same time,” Zeger said. “So it gives them a wonderful place to negotiate that fascinating intersection of of words and music that make great singing.”

In terms of teaching, Zeger hopes to give the voice students a few more tools to put in their toolkit.

“It’s the work that a singer does in the practice room, working hard on the music, which we do for our entire career,” Zeger said. “So we have to always be sharpening our tools, and adding tools to our toolkit for how we approach songs, … because (of) this multi-layered nature of singing. There are many, many aspects to consider. So, young people are constantly learning new strategies for how to work on music.”

CSO, N’Kenge bring diverse pops program for annual Fourth of July celebration


When N’Kenge was just 17, she found herself in New York City’s Russian Tea Room — an icon of celebrity and opulence — about to perform a Mozart aria and an African-American spiritual, a rather unusual pairing. It was a “pinch yourself” moment. The young singer had won a scholarship awarded by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, the composers of rock ’n’ roll classics such as “Hound Dog” and “Jailhouse Rock,” and they were in the audience.

Nobody knew then what N’Kenge’s career would look like, but the music she chose would turn out to be a prescient hint. Now, she’s one of the most versatile singers anywhere, performing lead roles in opera houses all over the world, starring on Broadway, recording studio albums, and more.

Simpson-Hoffman will join the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and conductor Stuart Chafetz at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4, in the Amphitheater for a program of patriotic classics, film scores, pop tunes, Broadway numbers and classical music.

When Chafetz puts together a program with a soloist, he customizes it specifically for his or her talents. Because N’Kenge has such broad abilities, Chafetz has put together an eclectic variety of music for tonight’s concert.

Stuart Chafetz

For Chafetz, the selection represents the best American music has to offer from different genres and time periods. He’s programmed Carole King’s “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”, for the ’70s, “Funkytown” for the ’80s, “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story for Broadway and the theme from “Skyfall” for film scores, to name a few.

“It’s about being multi-generational. The concert’s programmed so that grandparents, grandkids and parents can all sit together and enjoy the entire experience,” Chafetz said. “I’m always excited to get the Chautauqua Symphony groovin’ — as well as the audience.”

N’Kenge is well-equipped to sing the program in part because her musical diversity started early. A native of New York City, she attended both Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and the Harlem School of the Arts, two of the city’s most renowned music institutions. She was raised on pop, Motown and rhythm and blues, but a vocal teacher saw the operatic potential in her voice and encouraged her to pursue classical music.

That exposure to opera was a turning point for N’Kenge. When she was still in high school, the young singer had an offer for a record contract, and she could have begun her performing career without attending college.

But because she was interested in opera as well, N’Kenge enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music. She would later attend The Juilliard School to earn a master’s degree.

While she was developing her operatic career, she never let go of the pop, Motown and R&B on which she was raised. In an industry that tends to typecast, that confused lots of people, according to Simpson-Hoffman.

“They couldn’t understand how someone could sing “Deh Vieni” from Le Nozze di Figaro and then turn around and sing “Proud Mary” from Tina Turner,” she said. “Because they didn’t understand it.”

These days, N’Kenge said that being versatile and having a diverse repertoire is growing in importance across the music industry. People are beginning to understand it more and more, she said, because performers must be able to capture the attention of many different audience groups.

“I think it’s because the times have changed,” she said. “Everyone is trying to get a younger audience, and they want to be able to keep the love of classical music alive.”

For N’Kenge, a concert like tonight’s — where music from a James Bond movie is on the same program as Leonard Bernstein and Carole King — is the perfect way to do that.

Chautauqua Conversations: Lakeside Chautauqua’s President Sibbring discusses visitor count, finances

Chautauqua Lakeside’s waterfront pavilion, left, and the Lakeside Hotel, shown June 7, sit on the shores of Lake Erie. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Lakeside, Ohio — Chautauquans are familiar with the popular mix of religion and education that made the name “Chautauqua” familiar across this country and in many foreign lands. Fewer may be aware that there currently exists an organization called the Chautauqua Trail, consisting of 17 member “Chautauquas,” from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Boulder, Colorado, and from Defuniak Springs in the Florida Panhandle to Petoskey in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Institution staff members generally participate in the organization’s meetings, which have sometimes been held on the grounds.

While the Institution is the mother ship, it is generally acknowledged that the “Chautauqua” in second place is Lakeside Chautauqua, located on the Marblehead Peninsula on Lake Erie in north central Ohio. As the crow flies, it’s not very far from Cedar Point, and you can sometimes see Kelleys Island from the Lakeside shoreline.

The Daily spoke recently with Kevin Sibbring, who has served as Lakeside Chautauqua’s president for 14 years. Chautauquans may recognize many familiar issues as they arose in our discussion. We talked in Sibbring’s office and in a small nearby pizza parlor.

Tell me about your path to the presidency of Lakeside Chautauqua.

I’m in my 14th year as president and CEO of Lakeside. I’ve been coming here for 35 years, introduced by my wife who is a lifelong Lakesider. Prior to this job, I was vice president of global marketing for a large software firm that was Dallas-based, part of Sterling Commerce Software. We were the largest provider of electronic data interchange services and a dominant player in the internet commerce business-to-business arena. I led a global marketing team that spanned 60 countries. We were based in Dublin, Ohio.

I honestly thought nothing could hold a candle to that job. We were in a hugely competitive part of the economy, were growing by 40 percent a year through mergers and acquisitions. We took the company public four years later and wound up selling it to AT&T for $4 billion. It was the largest acquisition in Columbus-area history. I remained at the company for a year; AT&T didn’t really know how to integrate their new company. Then I took a year off and we bought a house at Lakeside. I was 45 years old.

I got involved in some volunteer activity at Lakeside, fixed up our new house and got to know some people. After a while, I was encouraged to think about the presidency. I reflected on my life and began to think about substituting service to others for chasing the bottom line. My predecessor retired around this time, and since I had become fascinated with the Chautauqua Movement and Lakeside in particular, I thought, why not?

Talk about your senior staff and boards.

I had pretty good latitude to hire the people I could recruit whom I wanted around me. We had a focused, deliberate search for, especially, our program and development chiefs and our CFO/COO. The great thing about the people we brought in is they already had a heart connection to Lakeside.

Over the past seven to 10 years, we have grown our middle management. We have added a lot of needed energy in the process. When I took over, we were old school. We had a board of 45 members. At that time, the multibillion dollar operation known as The Ohio State University had just increased their board size from 12 to 15.

I used the opportunity to position myself as a change agent. We reduced our board size to 25 board members. We have also witnessed an evolution of the board. When I took over, it was the old guys’ club. It was almost a ceremonial thing. So when I took over, I concentrated on staff first, then board evolution. Our board can serve two three-year terms, and most do.

We have about 40 year-round staff, and hire about 200 more for the summer.

When I took over in 2005, I established the Lakeside Chautauqua Foundation. Prior to becoming president, I worked with our development team, and I found there was a lot of talk and little action. I thought my leadership could be stronger with a culture of philanthropy supporting the foundation board. We cannot match the Institution in terms of endowment, but during my tenure, we have moved from an endowment of $1.8 million to around $7 million now. I think we are on a great trajectory now. We’ve had around four million individual gifts in the past dozen or so years.

We have seven foundation board members, but I’m going to grow that to 10. The foundation is set up as a supporting organization, and there is a path from that board to the board of trustees if individuals wish to continue serving. We saw our boards in action with our recent capital campaign to build our outdoor pool, recreation and wellness center complex.

Tell me about that.

In 2015, we were doing a community assessment. We were very intentional about engaging the community on the question of ‘What does the future of Lakeside look like?’ 2015 was also when Lake Erie had a record algal bloom. Lakeside had talked about a pool for decades. In fact, when I took over I found a 1954 fundraising brochure to support a pool then. Lakesiders had said, ‘Why build a pool? Our front door is a pool.’ And we do have a lot of water-based recreation. But that algal bloom — you may recall it closed the Toledo water intake for several days and the story made The New York Times — scared a lot of people.

Things here had moved glacially for most of Lakeside’s history. But this particular case was a community-driven process. From the start of raising $4 million to completion of the process, it took us 15 months. This project dovetailed nicely into our Lakeside Chautauqua Master Plan, which we’ll talk about later.

So when we did our community assessment, what topped the list was a swimming pool. But Lakesiders went further: They said if we are going to have a pool, let’s have a program around it. Enhanced wellness programming was most often mentioned. I see wellness as central to the historical Chautauqua tenets of mind, body, spirit. Our wellness center will be a year-round operation, helping to draw in outside community members.

As I understand that President Michael Hill is doing at the Institution, we are moving to open our campus more to the local community outside our gates. There are so many myths about us outside our property. People think you have to be a Methodist to enter, for example. (The large Methodist synods of Ohio do hold their annual conclaves before the Lakeside season begins. This brings 12,000 and 10,000 visitors, respectively, to the Lakeside grounds.) Someone from the local Marblehead Peninsula told me recently that he thought all our programming was just for the homeowners.

We have done some analysis and found that we generate about $80 million annually for the local economy. This supports the equivalent of 668 full-time jobs, including maintenance and repair of our 1,000-plus homes and 60 buildings owned by Lakeside. We will play that narrative back to local and state political leaders.

Lakeside is the second Chautauqua, after the Institution?

There’s no question about it. I’ve been to them all, and we’re clearly next after Chautauqua Institution.

How about after Lakeside?

I’d say probably Bay View Chautauqua near Petoskey, Michigan, but they are owned by the Methodist Church and claim their tax exemption through that church. Next is probably Chautauqua Colorado, located on city-owned land in the city of Boulder. They have about 100 cottages, but they outsource their program planning

What is your year-round profile?

We have groups in here every month. We are definitely a year-round operation, though obviously our summer season leads the way. September and October are the best weather months here, and we host numerous events then, including conclaves under the Methodist and Lutheran banners.

There is nearly a century’s worth of tradition with some of these events.

While Lakeside remains staunchly and openly ecumenical, we do retain ties to the Methodist Church. There are always some Methodist ministers or lay persons on our board of trustees, for example.

We do have an 11-week season this year, but some of the weeks are fairly spare in terms of programming.

What is your summer visitor count?

Again, bearing in mind that our season is 10-12 weeks long depending on how the calendar breaks in a particular year, we get upwards of 125,000 visitors. I would say that the vast majority of those visitors spend at least one night on our grounds.

How does your accommodations base hold up?

We’re actually slipping a bit here. Last year, only eight new homes were built in Lakeside. We have relatively few remaining building lots. As for existing homes, we are seeing a trend toward new homeowners paying well above regional prices and then pouring some serious money into the property. Last year, we had 58 projects that required review by our historical preservation and design review board. Most construction projects require what we call a certificate of appropriateness. We will have a few more than that this year.

This means we are losing beds. When people make that kind of investment, the effect is usually to take those properties off the rental market. We have not expanded our hotel base. We have not expanded our group housing. We have a campground here on the grounds with about 90 sites. We have not expanded that. As part of our new master plan process, we created an ad hoc group to concentrate solely on housing.

Unlike the Institution, we don’t have hotel accommodations reasonably close to our gates. No one wants to spend a week in a hotel in Port Clinton and commute over here every day. When visitors get on the grounds, they really don’t want to leave for the duration of their stay. There is a grocery store just outside the gates.

You have some undeveloped property inside your gates. Does this feature in your master plan?

Yes, absolutely. We want to look at each parcel of what we call ‘opportunity spaces.’ Should it be developed for group housing? For cluster housing? We have identified around 15 spaces where we can expand housing. These spaces are not on the commercial real estate market. They are for institutional development, if we feel that is the way to go.

We tend to be very rigid here in Lakeside on demolition. It is a very last resort. We are direct with our property owners from the start. They should not come here and expect to tear down what they have just purchased. At the moment, we have fewer than a dozen lots where individuals could come in and build a home.

You have a campground and trailer park inside the gates.

We are going to keep them. They are a significant profit center for us, and we think they diversify our housing options by offering the broadest range of accommodations. We have some cabins, which we may take down, but we will replace them with updated similar substitutes. We actually get a lot of volunteers from the campground. They view themselves as a neighborhood and refer to themselves as Lakeside Heights.

How about vehicles on the grounds?

Every property owner here is required to have two parking spots on their lot. For new construction, no more than 55 percent of the lot can be covered. If you are adding on to an existing structure, it’s a little tighter. A parking pass is required. Lakesiders are very concerned about the number of vehicles inside the gates. We have pedestrians, automobiles, golf carts, bicycles, power chairs and buses on our streets.

We in the administration are getting a lot of feedback from property owners on the subject of reducing vehicular traffic on our grounds. We’re in active partnership with our neighboring Danbury school system to partner with them on use of their newly expanded parking lot in conjunction with a planned enhancement of our own bus shuttle system. Property owners will still have their two asses, but beyond that, we want to get as many vehicles as is feasible off the grounds.

We do allow property owners to license and operate electric golf carts on the grounds. They must pass a safety inspection by our maintenance staff, including checks of horn, headlights, turn signal, tail lights, brakes, seatbelts and proof of insurance. A season license costs $175.

We have had one accident involving a vehicle (it was a bicycle) in my tenure as president. The incident involved an older lady with a hearing problem and a nine-year-old boy with his new bicycle. We imposed some restrictions we thought were appropriate after that.

I’ll tell you one thing we are going to try that should alleviate some traffic issues. We receive deliveries from outside regularly. Some arrive on 18-wheel rigs. Most of these involve food and retail supplies. We are looking at setting up a staging warehouse just outside the gates where the big trucks could unload and smaller vehicles could complete the deliveries on the grounds.

You mentioned issues with the health of Lake Erie.

It’s vitally important to our well-being. The Lake Erie Foundation is headquartered here in Lakeside. Our congress member, Marcy Kaptur, is on its board with me. We have gotten great support on lake health issues generally from U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman. The current governor (John Kasich) doesn’t seem engaged with Lake Erie. We have brought him up here to discuss lake issues, but he hasn’t been helpful. We do lobbying in Columbus and in Washington, D.C., some of it related to lake issues. We are watching things like hog farming in Indiana and automobile plants in southern Detroit suburbs and big agriculture in western Ohio because all of it affects the health of western Lake Erie. We take our drinking water out of Lake Erie. Overall, we do aspire to be a model of green development and sustenance.

Where do your property owners and visitors come from?

They come from all over the map, but with a concentration in the Midwest states. There are many from Cleveland, especially the western suburbs, but also from the east side; from Toledo and southern Michigan; from Columbus and central Ohio; Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington and Louisville. I’d say that our largest base of homeowners is from Columbus, now Ohio’s largest city. It’s also certainly the most significant in terms of guests.

We are finding that our seven-day pass, long established as our leading product, is being supplanted by three- and four-day passes. We tend to have a lot of capacity in the middle of the week, and there is a real concentration on the weekends.

How many homes do you have on the grounds at Lakeside? Are you expanding?

We have about 1,000 homes here. Our footprint is basically one square mile.

We are expanding. You’ve seen Chautauqua Park? This was a 15-acre collection of parcels outside the gates. We had a chance to acquire that and moved quickly to do so. Also, we have had a wooded area since the 1950s that was rarely if ever used by our homeowners. Together, these two areas comprised a substantial green buffer for us.

After some study, we decided to use a part of this new territory to support the four pillars. We have set up a memorial garden on part of this land. It’s called Chautauqua Park. Around 50 of our families have loved ones laid to rest there. Strategically, that represents what will likely be a connection to Lakeside for many generations. In terms of space management, the process is cremains (cremated remains) to earth. Any container must be biodegradable.

There are limited other possibilities for expansion. I mentioned the parking collaboration with our local school. And we have a lot of boaters here. In fact, Ottawa County, where we are located, has more boat slips than San Diego County, California. Anyway, we are exploring a partnership with a nearby marina, and we will see where that leads us.

The Institution has been gradually liberalizing its alcohol policies on the grounds. How about Lakeside?

We are the only Chautauqua that does not allow any alcohol in public spaces on our grounds. The major pushback so far is inquiries about when can we enjoy wine with our meal at the Lakeside Hotel.

But this policy also clearly hurts our wedding business. We do a lot of weddings here at Lakeside, but rarely get the reception. There are some pretty well-established folks here who are resistant to change in this area. In connection with our surveying Lakesiders about a major renovation of the Lakeside Hotel into a four-season property, the alcohol question arose. We’ll doubtless return to this issue.

By the way, the Lakeside Hotel has 78 rooms, and the nearby and more modern Fountain Inn has 48 rooms.

I’m sure you are feeling revenue pressure.

All the time. We need to be creative but intentional in our evolution so we respect our traditions as we evolve and grow, especially outside our summer season. We need to take Lakeside to the next level, to make it a world-class center. Our Lakeside Master Plan will hopefully help guide us there.

Are you comfortable with the financial basis at Lakeside?

Yes. We have a growing endowment, very little debt. We’ve only drawn on a line of credit once in my years as president, and we paid that back very quickly. The annual fund is continuing to grow.

Where does your revenue come from?

We get about 39 percent from gate revenue. Philanthropy accounts for 22 percent, and food and lodging around 17 percent. Services and real estate fees make up most of the rest.

You’ve had a long run at the helm here. Do you still feel the fire in your belly?

Absolutely. I have what I call a heart connection to this place. I think it transforms lives. It is a quiet place of healing for many people. There’s a passion for me here that I frankly didn’t feel in the private sector, despite the material advantages. But — and I think this is important — skills that I picked up in the private sector are applicable also here.

Most of my predecessors were clergy. While they bring certain strengths, fundraising was rarely one of them. And there was little recognition that Lakeside is involved in multiple businesses. We are in the property management business. We are in the business of religion. We are in the business of the other three pillars. We have a downtown business district.

No matter what part of our operation you look at, there are best practices that can be applied.

You have a dual role. You’re the CEO of Lakeside while also serving essentially as the mayor of a village. Is there any conflict between these roles?

We have a de facto resident historian here who has known eight of my predecessors. He told me the typical pattern is for the person in my position to be the mayor in the first year, out and about, shaking hands. In the second year, maybe there is a little less visibility. By the third year, the person is hiding in this office. I was determined to change that pattern. I have had an open-door policy from day one. I do feel good about that.

I will say this, though. My family quit walking with me on the grounds because I am stopped every 10 feet or so with a question or a comment.

What are you proudest of?

It has a lot to do with the Chautauqua name. When I took over, this place was called Lakeside by almost everyone. You didn’t really hear the name Chautauqua that much. Now it is everywhere, as are references to the four pillars of Chautauqua.

Tallman Tracker Organ recital to commemorate American spirit, sacrifice


To continue the Fourth of July festivities this week, the Tallman Tracker Organ recital will deliver an upbeat performance to keep up with the bustling celebration.

At 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3 in the Hall of Christ, Jared Jacobsen will present “Yankee Doodle Comes to Town,” a performance that celebrates American progress and Chautauquan spirit.

“It’s as far as you can imagine from the Baptist Church music that little organ in the Hall of Christ was meant to reproduce,” said Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music. “But the magic of it is the two brothers that built it had no idea they were building an instrument that could play just about anything, including Yankee Doodle variations.”

The set includes George Gershwin’s “Novelette in Fourths,” which Jacobsen deems an “important piece in music history.” Gershwin, a famous American composer, is known for his musical arrangements “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris.” In 1925, the young composer spent a summer at Chautauqua writing Piano Concerto in F in one of the practice shacks. Years later, when Jacobsen first learned to play the piano, he practiced in the very shack where Gershwin composed.

The recital also includes “Chautauqua, I Love You,” an ode to the grounds written by Chautauquan Mary Ritts. Ritts was a late friend of Jacobsen and spent many seasons at the Institution, finding her niche in the Chautauqua Women’s Club.

“It’s an important piece to Chautauqua,” Jacobsen said. “She wrote in response to having grown up here, burying a husband here and seeing her grandson born here.”

As an ode to Americans who have fought for freedom, the concert will conclude with an “Armed Forces Salute.” Jacobsen finds it vital to commemorate the American spirit, which he said encompasses citizens both living and dead who have sacrificed for their country.

“There will be people in the audience who represent, either directly or by family, all five of the branches of military,” he said. “This will celebrate who these people are. It’s not just the fighters, it’s the mess cooks and the nurses and doctors, and the people who welcomed them home, and the people who tied ribbons around their trees.”

Honoring Michael: Pender Memorial Fund underwrites Cirque Montage


Michael Pender, who passed away in 1991 from a failed heart and lung transplant at the age of 19, used to go out on weekend nights like every teenage boy.

“I can recall sitting at home on a Saturday night, and Kathy and I started wondering, ‘Well, where is he now?,’ ” Jim Pender said of his son. “A car would pull in the driveway with all his friends, (and) one of his friends would run out, come inside with an oxygen tank and say, ‘Where’s the con- centrator?’ (He) filled it up, (and) said, ‘Bye!,’ ” and their adventures would continue.

Michael was an adventurous and energetic person. In his memory, Jim and Kathy Pender created the Michael Pender Memorial Fund of the Cleveland Foundation and have been sponsoring performances as part of Chautauqua’s Family Entertainment Series for the last two decades.

This season, the Penders are underwriting Cirque Montage at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 3  in the Amphitheater. They are also underwriting the Peking Acrobats at 7:30 p.m. on July 25, and Theatre of Varieties at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 7, both in the Amp.

Because of boating accident when he was eight years old, Michael suffered from severe physical complications until he passed away, yet he never lost his venturesome spirit, according to Kathy Pender. As a young child, Michael had always been incredibly athletic, and even though his accident left him physically incapable of running, he never stopped trying.

“He would do things like decide he was going to run, and then collapse,” Kathy Pender said. “But he was constantly determined to do these things … He was determined to be normal.”

Even though he struggled with his limited abilities, Michael continued to impress his parents and others with his creativity, intelligence and courage. He had such an impact on his senior classmates that half of them wrote their college essays about him.

Although Michael always valued sports and athleticism, he grew to love entertainment and theater during his teens, as he watched movies like “Stripes” and would recreate scenes for his parents. He also participated in theater at his high school and performed in school productions.

His love of entertainment inspired Jim and Kathy Pender to sponsor productions at Chautauqua Institution. They are specifically drawn to the Family Entertainment Series because the performances are open to all community members, including families with younger children.

“It’s a real pleasure to see families come on the grounds that normally wouldn’t,” Jim Pender said. “And come together and enjoy this place … it’s just a real pleasure and a thrill to see families there having a good time.”

The Penders take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with their own family and friends every year at the Family Entertainment Series as well, attending performances with many of their neighbors.

“We’ve been here 25 years,” Kathy Pender said. “When we moved in, it was an area that young families were beginning to move in (to). … When we have these programs, all the families go with us.”

The group of around 20 sits together and has been dubbed “The Miller Park Gang.”

Jim and Kathy Pender know that Michael would have enjoyed seeing his own family and other families together at the performances.

“We wanted to do these programs in his memory because this is something that (Michael) would’ve loved.”

-Kathy Pender

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

Wicker to give Brown Bag on ‘politics of me,’ poetry as protest


Marcus Wicker’s poetry is political. In many ways, it’s a form of social protest.

In his Brown Bag at 12:15 p.m. on Tuesday, July 3 on the front porch of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall, Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s Week Two poet-in-residence Wicker will discuss “The Politics of Me: Borrowed & Bullied Tools for Writing the Political Poem.”

Wicker is a professor at the University of Memphis and poetry editor of Southern Indiana Review. His first book, Maybe the Saddest Thing, explored masculinity and pop culture and was a 2011 National Poetry Series winner. His second book, Silencer, looked at race in America and received the 2017 Society of Midland Authors Award and the Arnold Adoff Poetry Award for New Voices. His work has appeared in The Nation, Oxford American and Boston Review.

Wicker’s poems engage deeply with current events, often drawing from viral videos, lyrics and TV shows, according to Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts.

“It will be exciting to hear about everything from Wicker’s philosophy to his practical tools for situating the self in relation to the world,” Atkinson said.

After his first book, Wicker shifted his area of focus. In an interview with The Paris Review, Wicker said he wrote Silencer in response to gun violence and police brutality against African-Americans in the United States, specifically in the case of Trayvon Martin.

“I decided I needed to be using my voice and art for social protest and to mark the other gun deaths that case brought to light in the media,” he said.

Wicker’s writing, while keeping its political stance, centers around sonics. He said he approaches poetry with a “musical curiosity,” sometimes thinking of lines like choruses and arguments like pianissimo.

“I grew up with my parents’ ’60s soul and post-bop jazz and had an infatuation with nineties hip-hop,” Wicker told The Paris Review. “Those sounds and techniques inform my work.”

In that interview, Wicker said the musicality of his poems and the subject areas he draws from make his work accessible. No matter their poetic training, readers will recognize popular punchlines, metaphors or patterns and, perhaps, learn simultaneously.

“Teaching poetry means I’m always immersed in the business of language,” Wicker told The Paris Review. “I never have to worry about losing inspiration because I’m grappling with poetry daily, even when I’m not writing, and therefore always thinking about this thing that I love, that teaches me to live better.”

Conroe begins ‘Monarch Moments & More’ program with lake discussion


If asked to picture a butterfly, most people would imagine the orange and black wings of a monarch. For the Bird, Tree & Garden Club, the monarch has become a programming staple, nowhere more so than in the Monday series, Monarch Moments & More.

However, the program will kick off today with a larger emphasis on the “more.”

Jane Conroe, a conservationist and founding member of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, and chair of the Jamestown Audubon Society, will open the series at 12:15 p.m. on Monday, July 2 at Smith Wilkes Hall. Conroe will discuss the ecological past and present of Chautauqua Lake while also giving a glimpse into what the future of lake looks like.

“I’m going to do the very best I can to present the absolute truth and not just as I know it, but as multiple scientists and multiple community members perceive it to be true,” Conroe said.

Conroe said there is new pressure for herbicide use that has emerged. She said the practice was used and abandoned in the past for many reasons; today, she will explain past methods.

“I’m hoping the look backward will be as little as a quarter of what’s represented (at the event) so we can focus on what’s ahead,” Conroe said.

Conroe said she was asked to discuss this topic and that she was happy to do so because the community has been heavily concerned with the lake’s health.

“Go look at the rain gardens, what some people would call very small things,” Conroe said. “But if everyone does these small things, that’s huge.”

Conroe said with the lake, or anything in nature, you grow to understand it, then you love it, then you fight to protect it. Conroe said protecting the lake is everyone’s responsibility now. Therefore, she’s going to do her best to present, with as much evidence and data as possible.

“Do I have magic answers to make this all work tomorrow?” Conroe said. “The answer is, of course not. It’s going to take a lot of people. I’m going to present a lot of small suggestions.”

BTG launched the Monarch Moments series a few years ago and has since expanded the program to include the habitats these butterflies reside in, said BTG President Angela James.

“(Conroe’s) long history with the lake, her observation of the lake and its evolution and her championing of this body of water make her an ideal speaker for the first Monarch Moment lecture,” James said.

Conroe worked with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy as a paid conservationist for five years, but has recently moved to a volunteer role with the organization. She said she wants to help the general public better understand the ecology of the lake.

“The science is needed to help understand,” Conroe said. “You protect what you understand.”

Ward to discuss muskies, their history in BTG Lake Walk


His great-grandfather piloted steamboats around Chautauqua Lake. A fifth-generation resident of Bemus Point and self-described “lake rat,” Fletcher “Ned” Ward grew up across the street from the L-S Aero Marine supply store. Surrounded by fishing and boating, he fell in love with the lake and its history.

“It’s hard not to like,” Ward said.

Ward has written four books about the local history of the lake and community, co-authoring two others. His latest work, Saving Chautauqua’s Muskies, and its material will be the focus of the 6:30 p.m. lake walk on Monday, July 2, at the lakeside porch of the Youth Activities Center near Heinz Beach.

The depletion of the lake’s muskellunge, or muskie, population has been a hot-button issue in recent years. Ward will provide information, as well as data, from a local fish hatchery. His 2013 book highlights the few men who are helping bring the fish back from endangerment.

“The very early residents here didn’t have a way to make a living,” Ward said. “Timber in the winter, outside of that, some farming. They turned to catching fish for the hotels around the lake, food for the tourists.”

Muskellunge, known then as “Chautauqua pickerel,” was a commodity that soon became a rarity, Ward wrote in his book. Records showed over 200,000 pounds of the fish were taken from the lake some years, leading to local fishermen introducing other species such as bullhead and salmon trout to counteract the depletion. The Chautauqua County Legislature eventually introduced laws prohibiting the hunting of these fish with spears and nets.

Through better-developed processes, local hatcheries are helping to stabilize the muskellunge population in the lake. Currently, around 14,000 muskies are released a year, or about one per acre. Ward will present statistics from this year’s rearing and netting at his presentation. He will also address the lake’s health and its management.

Ward wrote to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation during an open comment period to express concerns about the timing of the herbicide application on the lake. Ward had concerns with the original timing of the application, planned for early May, an important time for the muskellunge spawning.

“We need to work toward addressing the causes, and I hope that’s the way various groups around the lake will go,” Ward said. “It seems to be a very short-sighted solution to the issue.”

Ward said he believes there have been short-term fixes over the years and that the county needs to think more deeply about the lake, which remains a nationally ranked fishing lake.

The Lake Walks are provided by the Bird, Tree & Garden Club in partnership with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. The conservancy manages selecting the various presenters.

“We wanted to do more about fishing in the lake,” said BTG President Angela James. “What’s greater than the muskie? With the decline in recent years, there’s a real effort to manage that, and who greater to speak about that than Fletcher Ward?”

Ward currently serves as president of the Bemus Point Historical Society and holds membership in the Fenton Historical Society and Chautauqua County Historical Society. Some of his other works include Chautauqua Lake’s Great Race and Chautauqua Lake’s Ice Industry (1865-1935).

Dempsey, featured artist in 61st Annual, cultivates own ‘Chautauqua-esque’ place

Folk singer Be‎verlie Robertson, performing arts student Tori Wines, artist and Founder Gayle Dempsey, and Executive Director and Founder Gary Froude are shown at partner resort Clevelands House in front of a community mural painting of the original Muskoka Chautauqua site on Lake Rosseau. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Before they met, Gayle Dempsey lived above a coach house on Lake Muskoka and her now-husband, Gary Froude, lived in a treehouse in Costa Rica. A festival organized by his friend brought them together in Dempsey’s native Canada, and they quickly realized they shared a goal: to establish what Dempsey described as a “Chautauqua- esque community.”

The couple searched for a place “based on arts and lifelong learning,” Dempsey said, that could serve as a model for their own community. They struck out everywhere — including northern Scotland — until they found Chautauqua Institution 10 years ago.

“That’s when we said, ‘Oh my god, this is it,’ ” Dempsey said. “‘This is utopia. And this is the model we’ve been dreaming about.”

Initially, they did not know anything about the Institution or similar communities in the United States and Canada. Dempsey and Froude simply had a strong desire to develop a community in Muskoka that was centered around education and the arts.

A couple years after visiting the Institution for the first time, Dempsey and Froude attended their first Meeting of the Trails. North American Chautauquan communities convene at the meeting once a year, and the couple’s first happened to be at the Institution. There, Dempsey said, she was embraced as a “longlost Canadian daughter.”

Dempsey estimated she’s now been to the original Chautauqua Institution eight times. Most recently, she attended the 61st Annual Exhibition of Contemporary Art at Fowler-Kellogg Art Center, where her painting of a wintry scene outside her studio’s window, part of a series called “Winter Totem,” is featured.

“It’s very exciting coming back,” she said. “In a way, it feels like home.”

Back in 1997, even before the couple decided that the Institution would serve as the model for their own community, Dempsey and Froude put together a classical music festival in Muskoka. They wanted to know if it was feasible to try to establish their own Chautauqua community and were pleased with the results.

“Over the course of the next 10 years, we evolved into Muskoka Chautauqua,” Dempsey said, then corrected herself. “We evolved back into Muskoka Chautauqua.”

Although it had been “dormant,” Dempsey said, for 80 years, she and Froude soon learned that Muskoka had, indeed, once been home to a Chautauqua-esque community. Originally called Canada’s Literary Summer Capital, the area hosted conferences in 1916 and 1917 “to provide study, sport and spiritual uplift,” according to Muskoka Chautauqua’s website.

Dempsey and Froude were determined to revitalize the community and took the initiative “one baby step at a time,” Dempsey said. They expanded their music festival, then incorporated different arts and united with other arts organizations in the area, like theater companies and choirs. The couple has also worked with a board of directors to achieve their dream.

Now, Muskoka Chautauqua, located about five hours north of the Institution, operates based on four pillars: arts, recreation, education and spirituality.

Dempsey is a fourth-generation Muskokan. Although not particularly arts- or music- oriented, she said the environment in which she was raised was still “very creative.”

“If we wanted something, we just made it,” Dempsey said.

That includes the family’s houses, one of which she and Froude are still living in today. When their grandkids — sixth-generation Muskokans — visit them, the first thing they want to do is get out their sketchbooks and paint.

Dempsey said she “immersed (herself) intensely” at the start of her own painting career. She began studying with Muskoka-based artist Pat Fairhead in the late 1990s and wanted to learn “everything (she) could about the art world.”

Five years ago, Froude was stricken with a virus and became almost fully paralyzed. Because he could initially only blink, and was unable to speak for a year, Dempsey hung a new painting of hers for Froude to look at each week. Their grandchildren and friends visited often, bringing along musical instruments like the violin and cello.

Once Froude regained the ability to speak, he and Dempsey memorized and recited poems together. Dempsey said they probably spent the most time working on “Our Lady of the Snows” by Rudyard Kipling. Dempsey said they liked that particular poem because, while Kipling was American, that particular poem is about her home country.

After five years in the hospital, two of which were spent in the intensive care unit, Froude is now home. He uses a power chair he controls with his thumb and a computer that allows him to text, write and make phone calls. Froude hasn’t stopped working with Dempsey.

“I think that was one of the key things, as well as the paintings and everything else, that got us through that time, was our commitment to Muskoka Chautauqua,” Dempsey said. “As much as we fed it, it fed us, and it got us through a tough five years.”

Dempsey said some aspects of their lives are still difficult, but they are “more used to living and working this way now.”

Dempsey and Froude hope the Muskoka community ultimately resembles the “Mother of Chautauquas.”

“It may not look exactly like that because our geography is so different,” Dempsey said. “But our essence and our heart are the same.”

New Hesse Business Center dedicated to honor legacy of past Institution president

  • Dustin Nelson, director of gift planning watches as Jane Fortune and President Michael E. Hill cut the ribbon during the Hesse Business Center dedication, Monday, June 25, 2018. BRIAN HAYES/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Although Chautauqua Institution is a community with a rich history, Chautauquans do not live in the past. Various community members have kept the Institution modern with the changing times, especially through the late 20th century when Robert R. Hesse became president. As the Institution navigates through the 21st century, the innovative spirit he brought to the community lives on.

Last Monday, Chautauquans gathered at the Main Gate Welcome Center for the official opening of the Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center, an initiative to accommodate young professionals and others who visit Chautauqua with a need for a dedicated space to work remotely. The center was dedicated to Hesse in honor of his contributions to the community during his term as president from 1977 to 1983.

Hesse began his presidency at Chautauqua during a time when the Institution was struggling financially. He helped get the Institution back on its feet, fixing the crumbling infrastructure, improving transportation on the grounds, restoring the Amphitheater and carrying out a number of other innovations that earned him the nickname “The Turnaround Expert.”

“Bob transformed (Chautauqua Institution),” said President Michael E. Hill. “It’s unbelievably fitting that we have a permanent space on the grounds to honor his legacy.”

In honor of his innovative spirit, members of the administration, with input from NOW Generation, thought it appropriate to use a donation from his partner of 26 years, Jane Fortune, to reconfigure space in the Welcome Center into a modern business center for adults in the workforce. Fortune said Hesse was “ahead of his time,” always thinking about what is best for the future.

“Bob certainly experienced some tough times when he was here,” said former board of trustees member Miriam Reading.

She described Hesse as a courageous leader who was not afraid to make unpopular decisions in order to better the community.

“(Hesse) was visionary, decisive and had a great sense of humor,” said Richard R. Redington, former vice president of education and planning. “He made decisions quickly … (and) he was welcoming to the outside community.”

In response to changing needs in the community, Hill and the current administration opened the business center for Chautauquans.

“Whether you’re an occasional guest that needs a place to plug in and stay connected to the world, or you’re someone who wants to be here for nine weeks or longer, this is an incredible resource,” Hill said. “And I think it speaks to the legacy of Bob, who asked that question: ‘What do audiences need? … What do community members need, and how can I deliver it at a level that will delight them?’ ”

The business center is equipped with a number of professional amenities, such as nine public desks with their own charging stations. It also has office services such as copy, printing, fax and lamination services through a partnership with Xerox Corporation. In addition, the business center has four suites available for rental at hourly rates, with available resources like desks, computer monitors, wall-mounted smart TVs and office supply baskets.

“It’s really a nod to what people need to do to go on vacation,” said Karen Williams, director of guest experience. “You don’t just go on vacation anymore, you work while you’re on vacation and finding the balance between (vacation and work) has to happen.”

Feedback, concerns, questions to fuel strategic planning process, Hill shares in porch discussion


President Michael E. Hill led the first Chautauqua Institution Leadership Porch Discussion Wednesday at the Hultquist Center, where he offered an opportunity for Chautauquans to voice questions, concerns and general feedback for the first of many times this season. In his talk on “Strategic Planning Process & Opportunities for Engagement,” Hill provided a comprehensive Q-and-A forum that is a key component of the new planning strategy.

Feedback offered by residents and visitors at the Wednesday meeting will be added to the questions and concerns gathered thus far from gatherings hosted by members of the board of trustees in intellectual hubs around the country such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Atlanta, North Carolina and Florida, as well as information gathered by the Institution’s online survey and portal Hill said this gathering of information, both from within the gates of the Institution and without, is the first step in determining the rest of the strategic plan, which will conclude at the sesquicentennial in 2024.

“If just a few of us sit in the Colonade and write up a strategic plan, it will fail,” Hill said. “Your participation is a key aspect of our decision- making.”

In addition to the Wednesday meetings, Hill, Chautauqua Institution Board of Trustees Chairman James Pardo and Laura Currie, chair of the Strategic Planning Working Group, will host feedback sessions at 3:30 p.m. every Thursday in the Hall of Christ, where members of the community will be encouraged to voice concerns as well as answer questions about their experiences at and visions of Chautauqua.

The recently embarked upon strategic plan includes a campus master plan, involves a golf course master plan and a waterfront management plan; a security assessment and plan; a diversity and inclusion plan; a strategic financial plan; and positioning research.

On Wednesday, Hill jockeyed questions ranging from comprehensive ticket pricing to potential housing development across NY 394, to expanding the speakers and conversations within the Institution politically. Additionally, Hill spoke about his hope to eventually expand the length of the season in order to increase revenue needed to develop and increase the amount of jobs offered in Chautauqua County.

“If Chautauqua changed from a three-month season to a six-month season, it could potentially cut poverty in the county by 40 percent,” he said. “We have $1 billion in assets, over 750 acres that lay fallow for a quarter of the fiscal year, and we are looking to change that.”

Hill said that he would love to see an expanded season that would allow for extended workforce development, particularly in the area of food service, instead of having to retrain employees every year and then have many of them leave to return to college before the end of the season, which can cause staffing shortages.

One of the most important pieces of the strategic plan is gathering ideas on how to expand the name of Chautauqua.

“A lot of people say that once we get people here, they get hooked. But it’s the getting them here that is the problem,” Hill said.

He hopes to expand the knowledge of Chautauqua across the nation through a few different avenues: speakers providing original lectures that will draw national media coverage, selling recordings of interfaith lectures to places of worship looking to become more inclusive, and constantly creating forums in which current, controversial issues can be discussed.

Through the conversations and feedback gathered during the strategic planning, Hill hopes to lift Chautauqua to the national stage by continuing to challenge status quo thinking and promote discourse surrounding differences.

“We want to both delight and infuriate every person here,” Hill said. “That is one of my chief concerns.”

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