New leaders bring energy and spirit to Women’s Club

Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

So where is the portrait of Anna Pennybacker, the iconic president of the Chautauqua Women’s Club, who last served in 1937?

Is the portrait’s absence and the possibility that it may not return to its prominent position over the fireplace mantle of the Women’s Club living room a symbol of today’s members’ 21st century energy and spirit?

That energy and spirit have led to a recent redo of the Women’s Club bylaws creating a board of directors with a chairwoman and a $500,000 clubhouse renovation.

Paula Mason, first chairman of the board, the organization’s head leadership role, said the new bylaws and renovation have released club members’ energy and talents.

“I see the club moving in a new direction,” Mason said. “We will be guided by our membership, and we will keep our eye on the future.”

That conversation began at the June 24 board retreat. The vitality and creativity is not a rejection of the past; rather, it embraces the past as a guide to the future — but not a blueprint.

“We are standing on the shoulders of remarkable women,” Mason said.

A five-year Women’s Club member, Mason served as program chair and co-chair of the Special Summer Gatherings fundraiser. She is a master’s degree-prepared nurse with 15 years of administrative experience.

Marilyn Rhoads Mock will serve as the 23rd Women’s Club president, which also is a Chautauqua Institution position. A resident of Austin, Texas, Mock has served as vice president of University Relations at Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas; headed MRM Consulting; and is managing director of public relations and strategic planning for GDA Integrated Services in Old Saybrook, Conn. She obtained her bachelor’s degree from North Texas State University and masters degree from Goddard College in Vermont.

Both women greet their mutual challenge—the establishment of an enduring model of governance—with enthusiasm and a shared perspective. Both see their roles as facilitating and moving the organization forward though from different stools.

“Paula’s role will encompass big governance issues,” Mock said. “My side will be management and operations.”

Both agreed the Women’s Club’s deep commitment to Chautauqua is the touchstone of the organization.

As for the renovation, from South Lake Drive, the white-pillared Women’s Club looks as it always has. However, when you open the door, it has an invigorated Chautauqua Women’s Club interior. The wonderful antique furniture and oriental rugs remain. However, neutral is banished and joyous wall colors enliven a traditional space.

The renovation includes a handicapped accessible entrance to the living room, new kitchen, renovated second floor bedroom suites with baths and upgrading of plumbing and electricity. No longer will the kitchen run out of ice or the electricity cease because of overloaded circuits.

Also new this year are the Sunday Soirees, membership/guest socials that will occur from 4–5:30 p.m. on July 3 and 17 and Aug. 7 and 14.

On July 31, there will be a silent auction of originally decorated bell tower models by Chautauquans including Cynthia Norton, Helen Gilbert, Audrey Dowling and Jane Nelson.

The Women’s Club continues its strong lecture platform, which includes the Contemporary Issues Forum, Chautauqua Speaks and the Chautauqua Professional Women’s Network. The popular July 9 Flea Market, Artists at the Market, Flea Boutique and Strawberry Festival continue.

As for the portrait of Anna Pennybacker, it was safely stored in the Women’s Clubhouse along with all the other Women’s Club paintings during the renovation. The Art Committee will decide where the Women’s Club’s paintings will hang.