There are many giants at Chautauqua — not measured by physical stature, wealth, size of house or material possessions, but by the contributions they have made to the Chautauqua community. Now in its eighth year, a celebration of five Chautauqua Giants will commence at 3:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ. The presentation is part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.
The event first occurred in 2006 as part of a week themed “Five Giants.” Jon Schmitz, Chautauqua archivist and historian, said that Tom Becker asked him to do a presentation on the “Giants of Chautauqua.” Schmitz, in turn, asked five people to choose five Chautauquans, “living or dead, famous or unknown, people they knew or never met, and to say a few words about why they believe they made a special contribution to Chautauqua.”
Among the Giants celebrated in previous years are Arthur Bestor, Sam Hazlett and Ida Tarbell. Ross Mackenzie, Alfreda Irwin and William Rainey Harper. Elizabeth Lenna, Maritza Morgan and Winnie Llewellyn.
To be chosen as a Giant is, indeed, an honor, but it is just as much of an honor to be asked to choose a Giant. Schmitz said that he contacts people who “get it,” meaning people who have been around the grounds and have themselves played some role in the Institution’s programming and upkeep. Some presenters throughout the years have been later celebrated as Giants themselves, such as Ross Mackenzie and Jack Voelker.
This year, Voelker will honor Don Rapp, a longtime Chautauquan who works as a kinetic arts instructor for the Boys’ and Girls’ Club.
Sherra Babcock, Institution vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, will speak about Joan Brown Campbell. Campbell has led the Department of Religion for the past 14 years, shepherding it through a post-9/11 world. As reported in the May 26, 2013, issue of The Buffalo News, “At the end of this season, she will move on — although those close to her know better than to call it ‘retiring.’ ”
David Zinman, a longtime Chautauquan, will speak about the late Ed Harmon. An article in the June 29, 2013, edition of The Chautauquan Daily remembered Harmon in the following way: “A renaissance man, Ed had a multitude of interests. An educational innovator, he had a lifelong involvement in music both as a performer and aficionado. His sense of humor was clearly illustrated in his decades-long work as a cartoonist.”
Av Posner will remember George Vincent, the son of Chautauqua co-founder John Heyl Vincent, and himself Chautauqua president from 1907 to 1915. As told by Alfreda Irwin in Three Taps of the Gavel, George Vincent was 9 years old in the summer of 1873 and accompanied his father on an investigative visit to Fair Point, assessing its appropriateness for a Sunday School camp that would eventually be called Chautauqua. “As he jumped off the boat first,” Irwin wrote, “he claimed that he founded Chautauqua.”
Finally, David and Jane Miller will be honored by their daughter Margaret. David was a beloved and respected physician and served patients for four decades in New Bethlehem, Pa. Friends say he rarely slept through the night without being summoned for a house call.
An obituary in the Jamestown Post-Journal said of Jane Miller that “her family and friends all agree that Mrs. Miller was fearless.” More importantly, “Mrs. Miller was fearless about taking unpopular stands in the face of injustice. In the late 1950s, for example, she organized busloads of college students to picket a school that refused to accept a black student teacher. Later she ran for and served on the town council to advocate for low-income housing, among other issues.
“The Millers enriched their communities with a passion for justice, music, storytelling and good fun.”