Video by: Caitie McMekin | Multimedia Editor
Reporters’ Note: This is the first in a four-part series about individuals who have found love on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. The idyllic setting of Chautauqua Lake and the quaint streets with generations of tradition paints the perfect background for love, young and old. We aimed to bring together stories of love that were fostered by nights spent in the College Club, performances in the Amphitheater, evenings on porches and walks on the dock — love fostered by the mix and magic of Chautauqua.
On June 24, 1964 in Chautauqua, Bill Ingram had made a bet with his two other brothers: Whomever was the first to pick up a girl at the College Club mixer could have free rein of their mother’s car for the night. Earlier that same day, Joan Bailey had just finished her shift at the Athenaeum Hotel and was planning on spending the night out with her coworkers.
“I was at Chautauqua to work in the Athenaeum as a waitress, and a bunch of girls said, ‘The College Club is open this evening. Why don’t we go along?’ ” Joan said. “So I went along to the College Club — it had been the first time I had been.”
Bill noticed Joan at the mixer. As Bill said, it was “nearly love at first sight.”
But Joan described Bill as rather skinny and not so tall (but with beautiful hands); there was nothing in particular that stuck out about him.
“Aside from his nose?” Joan said. “No, he was a generally a nice person, easy to talk to [with] lots of opinions [and] lots of ideas. He’s a great talker, and I’m not a great talker — I’m a better listener — so that worked out well. Maybe [it was love] at fourth or fifth or sixth sight. I was only 18 at the time, and it’s easy to fall in love when you’re 18, and you really go in the deep end when you’re that young.”
Bill approached Joan, but didn’t carry the characteristics of the physically awkward teenager she described as he approached her.
“I danced with a couple of girls and danced with Joan,” Bill said. “It was a straightforward pickup. We were talking, and we found out we had enough mutual interest that we thought about going out for a drink at Smokey Joe’s in Mayville. As I had a car available to me, and I had beaten my brothers to the draw as it were, off Joan and I went to Joe’s, and we haven’t looked back.”
After summers spent working and spending time among their coworkers and colleagues in Chautauqua (“Dating in the 1960s in Chautauqua wasn’t what you did,” Bill said. “You ran in packs with your friends.”), Bill eventually proposed to Joan at a food hangout near the University of Pennsylvania.
“And on Sunday we went to the Greasy Greek down the street, and I think I said something like, ‘Let’s get married,’ ” Bill said. “[And she said], ‘Oh, OK.’ That was the long and short of it. I’m not a romantic to start with, so it’s not that big a part of [our relationship]. We’re not lovey-dovey. If I were to hold her hand, she would wonder what I was up to.”
Yet, Bill struggles to grasp at words to describe how their relationship has formed, his eyes misting with emotion at certain moments when he knew, almost certainly, that he would not lose sight of Joan no matter the circumstances.
Bill, who did not produce an engagement ring when he proposed, married Joan two-and-a-half months later at the Western Reserve Academy Chapel in Hudson, Ohio.
“It was quick,” Joan said. “I went over to Cleveland to help my mother with some of the arrangements, and very close to the day we were talking about the cake — we did all that traditional stuff. My mother, my father and I were all talking about how big the cake would be and what it would look like, and my mother said, ‘Well, what should we put on top of the cake?’ And my father said, ‘A statue of the Virgin Mary.’ ”
Bill and Joan would have their first child 17 years after they were married, and two more after that.
After nearly 50 years of marriage, Bill and Joan still return to Chautauqua, a place that they say has helped foster their relationship.
“[It’s an] informal atmosphere, where there’s no structure as such to things that you do,” Bill said. “It’s easygoing and you’re continuously together for the full season.”
Bill and Joan, who both have shared interests in jazz music — especially Lambert, Hendricks and Ross — and sailing, both describe their marriage as a “mutual respect,” evidenced by their bluntness with each other and the way they describe each other.
“I would say my mother pinned it when she said, ‘She’s very, very proud,’ ” Bill said. “She’s very proud and determined in her views. Intellectually, she will yield if you finally prove her inextricably to bring her around to your argument.”
The two attend lectures and musical events on a daily basis while at Chautauqua and discuss the content and their personal reactions to them. Their relationship is void of rift, even when they get heated in a debate, which, in recent times, has tended to gravitate toward climate change.
“I think this is an everyday occurrence,” Bill said. “There’s nothing special about it. I say one thing, she says another, and then I’ll say, ‘I’ll demonstrate it.’ [I’ll] bring in the proof, and sometimes she’ll accept it and sometimes not.”
The two used to have disagreements on the high seas as sailors, either near their home in a small village north of London or in Chautauqua. That, though, was eventually resolved.
“We started sailing together. He was the helm, and I was the crew,” Joan said. “I was way too small, and we ever had disagreements, it was on the water about which way to go. That’s why we decided to get two boats instead of one. On our 25th anniversary, I wrote him a poem, and the conclusion of the poem was looking forward to the next 25 years, and it said something like, ‘And we need to get another boat.’ ”
Like rising tides, conflict has come and gone. Bill and Joan will celebrate their anniversary in mid-November and plan on returning to Chautauqua next summer. Like Chautauqua, there is something in their love that surpasses description.
“It’s an extremely pleasant relationship, but you can’t put your finger on anything particular to describe it,” Joan said. “It’s complicated, but very satisfying, rewarding, supporting — all of those things.”
Daily multimedia editor Caitie McMekin produced a video supplement to this story. View it at our website, chqdaily.com.