In Chautauqua, Gottfrieds find a ‘treasure chest,’ a perfect place to spend retirement

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Ellen and Bob Gottfried are going to be retiring soon, and it’s not because they’ll be turning 65 — it’s because they want to be able to spend their summers enjoying Chautauqua Institution.

“Finding Chautauqua has made a profound influence on our lives,” said Bob, who is a lawyer and a partner of Hodgson Russ, the largest law firm in western New York.

It didn’t take this Long Island couple much time to fall in love with Chautauqua. Their first visit to the Institution was in 2005 after they had attended Bob’s 30th college reunion and a good friend had told them all about Chautauqua.

“All of it sounded too good to be true,” said Ellen, who works as a hospital social worker and a lawyer. “We were very hesitant, but we came for a week and we’ve been hooked.”

“We’ve come two weeks ever since,” she continued, “and next year, we’ll be coming the whole summer.”

The Gottfrieds are fervent in their support of the Institution. They’ve been donating to Chautauqua for the past few years, and they increased their contributions substantially this year at Old First Night, becoming members of the 1874 Society.

“We love Chautauqua so much, we get so much out of it, that it became our top charity,” Ellen said. “You can’t duplicate this experience anywhere. After our family, this is the most important part of our life.”

The Gottfrieds especially enjoy attending the Institution’s morning, afternoon and special lectures, so they focus most of their philanthropy on supporting the lecture platforms.

“It’s like a treasure chest,” Ellen said. “Every day I learn something new about something I never even knew I wanted to know anything about. I love the lectures because they’re so intellectually stimulating, and yet they’re gentle; no one’s forcing information into your head.”

But the lectures aren’t the only thing Chautauqua has to offer the Gottfrieds. They also engage with many other activities at the Institution.

“I take advantage of tennis, playing every morning,” Bob said. “Theater is another thing we’ve taken advantage of, as well as the ballet and the opera and orchestra performances.”

Bob also appreciates the inclusivity of the community and the chances it provides him to connect with interesting new people.

“Even though we’re a religious minority — we’re both Jewish — we feel perfectly accepted here,” Bob said. “And last time I was at the discussion for attendees of the 2 p.m. lectures, I met someone from Mississippi for the first time in my life.”

“And Chautauqua is a completely safe place,” Ellen added. “I never feel uncomfortable walking here at night by myself. People smile and say hello. No one ever does that where I am, where I live. The community is polite.”

The Gottfrieds understand well that without the support of Chautauquans, the Institution would not be able to provide the level of quality programs and services that they have come to love so much.

“I think it’s clear that the money raised by the gate passes doesn’t cover all the expenses,” Bob said. “And the Institution couldn’t charge enough for the gate passes, because then there would be a diminishing return — people wouldn’t come. So if there’s something that you think is very worthwhile to your life that wouldn’t exist without your help, then you ought to support it financially to the ability that you can.”

Anyone interested in learning more about philanthropy or becoming a member of the 1874 Society should contact Tina Downey, the director of the Chautauqua Fund, at 716-357-6406 or at