Groffs ensure others have their own Chautauqua experience

Fredrika and Kent Groff pose on the front porch of their Foster Avenue Chautauqua home. Photo by Demetrius Freeman.

Sarah Gelfand | Staff Writer

When Kent and Fredrika “Freddy” Groff first visited Chautauqua in the summer of 1976, they were so taken with the place that they settled here almost immediately.

“We came on a Sunday and bought a house on Friday,” Kent said.

Their attraction to the Institution remains unwavering after 35 years, and they are committed to help facilitate other families’ visits to Chautauqua, particularly those who are less able financially.

Their house on Foster Avenue is a testament to their lives both inside and outside of Chautauqua: the walls are decorated with a map of Freddy’s alma mater, Vassar College, vintage copies of The Saturday Evening Post and little reminders of the years they’ve spent at the Institution, such as a postcard from former Chautauqua President Daniel Bratton. In 1985, the Groffs raised the roof of their house, which now has a writing nook for Kent, who often visited in the off-season from their former home in Camp Hill, Pa., to spend some time writing in the quiet of Chautauqua winters.

As a retired Presbyterian minister, Kent also spent time teaching at the Lancaster Theological Seminary, as well as at the Pittsburgh, Princeton and Austin theological seminaries. He bridges the gap between his teaching career and Chautauqua by leading several special studies courses. His enjoyment lies not just in teaching but also in how his courses inspire others to teach.

Many summers ago, Kent taught his first Special Studies course on John Cheever and Flannery O’Connor’s stories; two of his students were Mark Altschuler and Jeff Miller.

“Both of them have gone on to do such wonderful things at Chautauqua, but I see this in other classes that I teach, where students in other classes have gone on to teach themselves,” Kent said. “That’s a real feel-good experience, where someone is nurtured in some way through me, and I can see that it’s like a chain reaction.”

Freddy is involved in the Presbyterian Association of Chautauqua; she served on the board of trustees from the 1980s through the early 2000s. She is also a regular attendee of the morning worship services at the Amphitheater. More than a minister’s wife, she spent years volunteering in Pennsylvania with organizations such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and as a moderator for Presbyterian Women and the Presbytery of Carlisle.

The Groff house doesn’t just reflect the Groffs’ own activities but the many ways they give back to Chautauqua. Several years ago, Freddy lent a sweater to a woman who turned out to be the founder of the organization One Dozen Who Care. This summer, they’ll open their home to that same woman.

The Groffs have opened their home and the Chautauqua experience itself for those who may not otherwise be able to afford to come. In 1984, a year after both their parents had died, Kent and Freddy created the Groff-Simpson Family Scholarship with the Chautauqua Foundation, to both honor their families and give back to Chautauqua. The fund enables families to spend time at Chautauqua. The Groffs recently updated their will in order to add to their fund through a bequest, which will allow for a greater and more lasting impact.

“Chautauqua is such a treasure that we would like to share that with people who ordinarily might not be able to come, financially,” Kent said. “Part of that could create a little more cultural diversity, and we hope that that would be another goal.”

Kent said when he and his wife came to Chautauqua, they didn’t want a place to vegetate; they were looking for a meaningful and unique place to spend the summer. The Groffs found an intellectually and spiritually fulfilling community in Chautauqua, and they are extending that experience to many others. Though they moved to Denver in 2005 to be closer to their family, they return for the first four weeks of every season with their three children and grandchildren.

“I like to say Chautauqua is a holistic experience, which enriches a person in so many different ways: intellectually, physically and spiritually,” Kent said.

By making a provision in their will for Chautauqua Foundation, the Groffs became members of the Eleanor B. Daugherty Society, a group of individuals who have included the Chautauqua in their estate plans through a life-income gift, retirement plan, trust or by bequest.

If you would like to learn more about including Chautauqua in your estate plans, please contact Karen Blozie, director of gift planning, Chautauqua Foundation, at 716-357-6244 or email