A Week at Chautauqua-Wawasee

Posted on July 03, 2014

When Ann Strong walked through Oakwood in Syracuse, Indiana, it reminded her of a Chautauqua, particularly the Chautauqua Institution in New York.

Oakwood, located on Lake Wawasee, Indiana’s largest natural lake, was originally founded in 1893 as a permanent camp meeting ground for “spiritual edification and physical recreation,” similar to Lakeside.

In more recent years, the area was known as Oakwood Inn, Conference Center and Retreat, but closed in 2008 and remained vacant for five years.

Oakwood includes a hotel, two convention halls, vacation homes, spacious cabins, a pier and a park.

At the time Strong visited the grounds, the site was still for sale. She contacted Ian Rolland, who had the “receivership” role of finding potential buyers, to express her desire for the land to become a Chautauqua.

In the meantime, Dave Thomas was also working towards creating a Chautauqua. Marlies Selent-West, the former program manager at the Oakwood Inn and Conference Center, contacted Thomas, who connected her with Strong and Rolland to join in the effort of bringing a Chautauqua to their community.

In 2011, Chautauqua-Wawasee was born. The “Prologue Season” included one event for each Chautauqua pillar, and invited community members to present suggestions and questions for the future.

By 2013, Oakwood was purchased and reopened as Oakwood Resort. The space continued to be the main venue for Chautauqua-Wawasee programming.

For the first time, Chautauqua-Wawasee will have a consecutive five-day program from Monday, July 7 to Friday, July 11 this year.

Highlights for this year’s arts and entertainment programming include a performance by Sons of Bill, whose album Sirens made the Billboard charts in 2012, a dynamic duo piano recital by Anita Cast and Marianne Tobias, All That Jazz with Kevin Piekarski featuring Dave Latchaw, and fiddling and yodeling with Schmidts & First Love.  

Arts and Crafts this year include creating your own garden Peace Pole, Knitting 101, Felted Flowers and Needle Felting.

Lectures will feature global scholars, focusing on the theme “Peace on Earth.” R. Scott Appleby, director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, is the keynote speaker. The week will end with an Interfaith Panel discussing religious scientific dialogue in How to Debate Ideas.

For the first time, a combined environmental and historical cruise aboard the SS Lillypad will take place during Chautauqua week. The presentation and cruise on Lake Wawasee is jointly sponsored by the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation and the Syracuse Historical Museum.

“There’s truly something for everyone,” said Selent-West, program director. “My favorite part is seeing the community become a part of the Chautauqua and enjoy the variety of programs.”

Chautauqua-Wawasee is “committed to the communication and implementation of the Chautauqua concept” and their programming includes the four Chautauqua pillars—arts, religion, education and recreation.

“We hope to continuously improve each year and bring people from all over the world to share in the Chautauqua experience,” said Selent-West.

The full, printable brochure of Chautauqua-Wawasee week events can be downloaded here.  

For more information about Chautauqua Week at Chautauqua-Wawasee, visit www.chqw.org, and visit www.chautauquatrail.com to explore other Chautauquas along the trail.

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