Summer at Chautauqua
Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 7:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 7:37 p.m.
What do the Rev.Joseph Lowery, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, commentator Jim Lehrer and musician Elvis Costello have in common?
IF YOU GO
Chautauqua has served as a conference and retreat center for more than a century. It is located in the southwestern corner of New York state, about 70 miles south of Buffalo.
With lifelong learning as one of its founding principles, Chautauqua offers Elderhostel and 55-Plus programs, in addition to its full summer season.
They'll all be part of the nine-week program at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York this summer.
The institution has been described as a summer camp, a small town, a college campus, an arts colony, a religious retreat and a music festival.
The setting may be Victorian, but the lecture topics featured each week are as up to date as the latest headlines.
Gainesville residents Larry and Bonnye Roose and Ted and Joan Fisher can't imagine spending their summers anywhere else.
Larry Roose, 63, is a financial advisor. He and his wife, Bonnye, have been Gainesville residents since 1973. They've spent summers at Chautauqua for the last decade; they now own a home there as well. The Fischers, both 75, caught the fever five years ago. They rent a cottage for the summer season.
They all confess to being recruiters to the Chautauqua lifestyle.
The Chautauqua Institution, located on 750 acres bordering Lake Chautauqua about 70 miles south of Buffalo, hosts more than 150,000 visitors each summer for its nine-week program with opportunities for reflection, self-expression and spiritual renewal.
It was founded in 1874 as a training camp for Sunday school teachers by Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent and Lewis Miller, an Akron inventor whose daughter married inventor Thomas A. Edison.
The format evolved into a sort of educational summer camp for families. It is a recipe that has worked for more than a century.
It features morning lectures with big-name speakers in the 5,000-seat amphitheater on an array of topics. There also are classical and popular music concerts, operas, ballet, plays, art exhibits and more than 300 special studies classes.
A summer season – this year it runs from June 2 through August 29 – includes about 2,000 events.
Each week has a theme, from exploring the world with National Geographic to the ethics of capitalism, Cuba after Castro to the history of liberty. Don't like a particular offering? There will be something completely different the next hour.
Each afternoon, there's a lecture on a religious theme. The speakers represent a variety of faiths, including Judaism and Islam.
Nine U.S. presidents have taken part in the Chautauqua program. President Theodore Roosevelt described it as "the most American thing in America."
Ted Fischer says it offers an opportunity to meet people who have interests in just about everything. His wife, Joannie, loves seeing hundreds of people out riding bikes to classes, lectures or just down to the community center for a cup of coffee.
Bonnye Roose explains that it's a place where you can walk to everything, and says it's not unusual to spot a member of the symphony orchestra trundling his cello down the center of the street to the auditorium for an evening concert.
"I love the front porch conversations, being able to knit during lectures, and not having to get dressed up for anything," Bonnye says.
"It's a feeling of going back to a simpler time," Larry adds. "You can be exposed to the arts and education at your own choice and on your own time."
The Rooses mention that faces become familiar in the course of a Chautauqua season.
"You'll see the same faces every year in week 4, for instance, even if they don't come for the whole summer," Larry says.
Neighbors are as likely to be from Florida as Ohio or Pennsylvania. The choir director was formerly on the UF music faculty, and residents of the UF retirement community Oak Hammock are among the Chautauqua regulars.
The institution has tried to make the Chautauqua experience accessible to a broad audience, both the Rooses and the Fischers say.
"You can go up there and stay at a church house for a fairly reasonable price, but you can also rent a place for $3,000 a week," Bonnye says. Houses range in price from $100,000 to several million dollars.
Larry adds that some summer visitors who come for a week stay in a bed and breakfast outside the gates of the institution. They purchase a gate pass for daily admission.
Everyone's car stays parked while at Chautauqua.
"It's two miles, end to end, and you'll walk more than that every day," Larry says.
"In our minds, anybody would love it," Larry says of a Chautauqua summer idyll. "Your day can be as full as you want it to be."
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