Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer
Ed Kurtz’s portrait hangs on the wall of his room.
Although the painting was created a few years ago, it still captures his vibrant personality, the connection he has to Chautauqua and his fashion sense, as it shows him standing among the jars of jam, flowers and piles of vegetables at the Farmers Market.
After his 22-year career with the National Wildlife Park, Kurtz decided he “wasn’t going to sit around and rot,” and he eventually began coming to Chautauqua every day of the week to sell vegetables and the hot pepper jelly his wife made.
“In actuality, I never grew a stinkin’ thing,” Kurtz said. “I bought them from farmers and retailers, marked them up and resold them.”
He began making a four-figure profit on a weekly basis at the market, and he decided he wanted to give some money back to Chautauqua. After he discovered Chautauqua Theater Company was struggling, he donated one day’s income per week to the program.
He also made an impression on Chautauquans by having a little fun with his appearance — he would wear a Hawaiian shirt every day of the week, and he had so many that he never repeated them throughout an entire season.
He still wears those trademark flowered tops, but instead of being on the grounds, Kurtz spends most of his time in his room at Absolut Care in Westfield, N.Y. He is a quadriplegic after having suffered repeated strokes.
“I’m not supposed to be here,” he said. “I mean, how many people do you know that have survived seven strokes? I had a ‘Do not resuscitate’ order after my third stroke. They pulled the plug, and I didn’t die.”
When Kurtz’s wife died three years ago, he decided to move into the care facility, where he primarily watched television — until Chautauqua came back into his life.
Carole Reeder, a longtime Chautauquan, frequents the facility to visit her mother, and Kurtz would always ask how her mother was doing. From there, they formed a friendship.
Reeder began bringing books on tape for Kurtz to listen to, for which he is very grateful, and some were Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections.
Kurtz’s wife graduated from the CLSC in 2006, and the couple read some of her books at the same time.
“Back then, I could hold a book and turn the pages, but I’ve had so many strokes on my right and left side,” Kurtz said. “But, I figured I could finish.”
He read and/or listened to the 12 required books, and he will graduate today with the CLSC Class of 2012.
“I think with both the humor and the courage that he maintains with his condition is just amazing — and the fact that he’s willing to make this effort,” said Jeff Miller, coordinator of CLSC activities. “He’s a man of good spirit, with a good sense of humor.”
Reeder said Kurtz can have difficulty expressing himself and talking but that he is incredibly sweet — and a jokester. Sometimes he will have his hair dyed different colors. Last year, he dyed it red, white and blue for the Fourth of July.
When Reeder told Kurtz everything was arranged for him to accept his certificate in the Hall of Philosophy, he was thrilled, and he told Reeder she and her husband had changed his life.
Kurtz didn’t graduate from high school or college — he earned his GED and went straight into the workforce, so Recognition Day is the first opportunity in his life where he will be honored for his achievements.