Picnicking for a good cause: Annual CLSC Alumni Association event benefits county students

Video by Caitie McMekin | Multimedia Editor – Words by Ryan Pait | Staff Writer

The Great American Picnic is exactly what it sounds like: a glimpse of true-blue Americana.

The event features a live brass band, hot dogs, numerous games and a silent auction.

For Matthew Rogers, chairman of the Great American Picnic, it “really is a true Chautauquan experience.”

The annual event, which is hosted and sponsored by the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Alumni Association, is from noon to 2:30 p.m. Sunday outside of the Literary Arts Center at Alumni Hall.

The picnic is the CLSC Alumni Association’s biggest fundraising event, with 80 percent of the proceeds going to sponsor two local high school students from Chautauqua County. These students are invited to the Institution grounds to take writing courses, attend lectures and meet authors.

It’s an opportunity they might not get otherwise, which is part of the beauty of the Great American Picnic for Dick Karslake, president of the CLSC Alumni Association.

“I think that’s the kind of thing that helps connect ‘inside of the fence’ with ‘outside of the fence,’ ” he said.

Karslake said seeing the two sponsored students from last year take in everything the Institution has to offer was heartwarming for him.

“They ate up every minute that they were here at Chautauqua,” Karslake said. “I’ve never seen two people as excited to keep going from venue to venue to venue to soak up as much as they could and really get the most out of it.”

Much of the money raised from the picnic comes from food sales — traditional picnic foods such as hot dogs, potato salad and watermelon — and from the silent auction, which includes a variety of items.

Rogers and Karslake were particularly excited about the Edison Victrola that’s part of this year’s catalog. While some of the items can get expensive, Karslake said the point of the auction is that the money goes toward supporting students.

“There’s something for everybody and in everybody’s price range,” Karslake said.

The event is run completely by volunteers. Most are members of last year’s CLSC graduating class. Other CLSC alumni are encouraged to participate as well.

Karslake said not much changes about the picnic from year to year, but that’s what makes it so special, a sentiment that Rogers agreed with.

“I can’t think of a more wholesome event than the Great American Picnic,” he said.