There was no porch big enough for this conversation. Jennifer DeLancey has spent much less time on the grounds than she would like this summer, and was in Charleston, South Carolina, when we finally connected with each other. She is visiting her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren there, while on a brief hiatus from a very busy year-round job in Annapolis, Maryland. As she prepares to leave the board of trustees after serving as a member for eight years, we talked about her rather charmed life, Chautauqua and what lies ahead.
How are things going for you as a new grandmother?
It’s great to be down here with the next generation. Austin is 10 months old and Braden is 1 month. It’s one of these situations where my son and daughter-in-law adopted a baby and then, nine months later, had one of their own. It’s been wonderful.
You got a big award recently. Tell me about that.
Three years ago, I started working for a company in Annapolis called Watermark Tours and Cruises. We have a lot of the inner harbor cruises in Baltimore and Annapolis. We do colonial attire guides that do historic walking tours in Annapolis. I went through a divorce, and I needed something to do. I started out working by the hour, then became the group sales manager and then moved on to special events like charters.
I got this award from the state of Maryland. The award is given to the best newcomer to the tourism business for the entire state. It goes to someone who has been in the business three years or less. The woman who owns Watermark made sure my kids knew I had received this award, and my daughter Danielle called me and said, “Are you the oldest person who’s ever won this newcomer award?” I said I sure am, and I’m proud of it.
Had you been in the hospitality business previously?
No. I was a physical education teacher. When I was young, we moved around the U.S. a fair amount. I was born in California. My dad was a Navy doctor, an orthopedist, and eventually we wound up in Annapolis, where he was the doctor for the football team. Joe Bellino was on the team then.
After my father retired from the Navy, we moved to Alabama, where my parents are both from, and that’s where I say that I’m from. I went to middle and high school in Alabama and then went to Auburn as an undergraduate and also got a master’s in physical education there.
Did you go for your master’s degree right after college?
No, I wanted to see some other parts of the country. I actually got my first teaching job in Key West, Florida. Back then, in 1970, they were recruiting people to go down there to teach. It was not the most desirable place to go. The housing was even quite affordable, with all the little houses they called conch houses. It was nothing like it is now. Key West was intriguing to me because my mom was a Navy nurse, my dad a Navy doctor, and they had met in Key West. I had always heard about the place.
So anyway, I got down there to take up my first teaching job, and it turned out this recruiter had recruited all women teachers just out of college. Also, we all had blonde hair. No one thought this was a coincidence. It was pretty comical when we all got there, just looking around at the group of us recruits. I have to say, we did have a good time.
So I stayed in Key West for a year, then went back to Auburn to get my master’s, and when I went back down to Key West I met Dave Webb, my former husband. Dave was the one who introduced me to Chautauqua. He was in the Navy, but did not make that his career.
What came next for you?
When Dave finished up in the military, we wound up moving to North East, Pennsylvania, outside Erie. His family had a business there called Ridg-U-Rak, which is now one of the largest makers of industrial storage pallet rack in North America. Dave’s grandfather had started the company. His family was from Erie, and they couldn’t afford to come just to visit or vacation so they started a restaurant on the brick walk called the Galley. That started the family history in Chautauqua. When Dave’s grandfather died, his grandmother wanted to live here but didn’t want friends to have to pay to visit her so she bought a place in Wahmeda. It is still in the family.
Dave’s parents lived in Lakewood, New York, and he went to Southwestern High School there. Dave eventually took over the family business and we lived in North East for 15 years, spending summers in Lakewood and later Chautauqua. His mom bought a house on Wiley, which is where we make our Chautauqua home now.
So you were in North East for 15 years? Until when?
Until we sold the company in 1990. Our kids were, I guess, 5, 7 and 9 years old at the time. Then we moved full-time to Annapolis, continuing to return to Chautauqua in the summer. The kids spent all their summers in Chautauqua. They did the whole thing: Children’s School, Boys’ and Girls’ Club, counselors. They swept the Amp. They had every job you can imagine on the grounds.
How strong is their commitment to Chautauqua?
My daughter is 35. She lives in San Francisco and has a dream job, preparing for Super Bowl 50. My older son is 33. He’s the one I’m visiting now in Charleston. He’s a government contractor. My younger son is 31, living in Washington, D.C., has had government jobs and is getting married next year. What I found is that, for them, growing up in Chautauqua, they went through phases.
For a while, they didn’t come as much because of jobs and getting established and everything. But they have always had a very deep connection with Chautauqua. Dave and I always wanted this place to be, and to feel like, their home. I can see now that grandchildren are starting to come, my kids will start coming back here to their roots. This is their stable home base right now. My divorce was amicable, and we have always agreed that Chautauqua needs to be there for the kids. We have worked this out for them. We are renting out our house for now, but are committed to making it available for the kids and grandchildren when they are ready to start coming back.
Sailing has been a big part of your life.
Dave and I actually lived on a boat for 12 years. We had the hull built, and Dave and a friend of his finished the whole inside. I decorated it. We had a lot of fun with it. Two of our kids finished high school, and the youngest spent half his senior living on the boat. The boat was 65 feet long. After all the kids had graduated from high school we took it up and down the Intracoastal Waterway along the east coast. We sailed around the [Bahamas] islands, in the Exumas especially.
The whole sailing community is fascinating to me. People sail down there in the islands, and they set up their own radio network and there are announcements every morning. There is a great information exchange. Lots of people go down there from Maine and New England.
You have lived several dreams many people fantasize about.
Well, you know each phase is different, and I have loved all the things I’ve done. Now, with the grandkids, there’s a new phase coming. And I’m back working again. I get four weeks off each year in my current job. I want to stay at the same company, but I want to re-order things so I get more time off. Part of that is to be in Chautauqua, because my children will be coming there more now.
Do you have a favorite Chautauqua story?
Well, there is softball. At one time, Dave, myself, and the three kids were all on different teams. Dave was on the Arthritics. I was one of the original Moms. Donna Zellers and I played before there were women’s teams, so we joined a men’s team at first. We started the Moms team. And the kids each played on a different team. Between that and the sailing and everything, sports and recreation was a big part of our family life in Chautauqua.