Chautauqua Institution produces more than 2,200 programs every summer — in the Amphitheater, Hall of Philosophy and the countless other venues around the grounds. But each person who walks through the gates experiences much more than these communal events.
There are individual moments, separate from the crowd, like getting up early to see the sunrise over the lake, listening intently to the final strains of “Largo” at the end of a Sacred Song Service, or the personal victory of finally getting a submitted question asked of the morning lecturer.
Cathy Nowosielski calls these “Chautauqua Moments” and believes they are what make Chautauqua truly special.
Cathy and her husband, Jeff Lutz, are in their first year as co-chairs of the Chautauqua Fund. At the Fund volunteer kick-off event at the Athenaeum Hotel before the season began, Cathy challenged all those in attendance to capture and share their “Chautauqua Moments” this summer, as those moments are what motivate Chautauquans to give back to the community.
Cathy and Jeff have been coming to Chautauqua for 19 years and spending the entire summer for two. But as they retire, they plan to spend half of the year on the grounds.
In 2014, Cathy and Jeff’s godson, Andrew Lengel, announced plans to spend the entire summer on the grounds, as he was selected as counselor-in-training for Boys’ and Girls’ Club — so Cathy and Jeff stayed all summer, too.
It was around this time the couple became serious about making Chautauqua their summer home. They became members of the Bestor Society and volunteered for the Chautauqua Fund.
“We enjoyed getting involved, so we’re delighted — albeit a bit surprised — when asked this past February to co-chair the Chautauqua Fund,” Cathy said.
Cathy and Jeff had two requests: that previous co-chair Jack and Yvonne McCredie stay on board as honorary chairs, and “that the much more experienced team captains not laugh at us when we asked silly question,” Jeff said.
The two are “novices,” Jeff said, but they’ve relied on the McCredies and the combined experiences of past Fund chairs and the group of volunteer team captains they oversee.
“So we’ve jumped right in and are having a blast,” Jeff said. “Heck, where else can two 59-year-olds be considered ‘new blood’?”
Jeff and Cathy grew up in Detroit, attended the University of Michigan and raised their two sons in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan. Andrew, 30, works in the golf industry and lives in Atlanta, and Ryan, 28, is a CPA living in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. Both sons love Chautauqua and try to figure out how to spend a week or two on the grounds every summer. While here, they golf nearly every day and spend time on the water. Cathy and Jeff convinced both their sons to join the Lewis Miller Circle of the NOW Generation this summer.
“[We] hope someday to introduce grandchildren to Chautauqua in the right way,” Cathy said.
Jeff and Cathy are both passionate about Chautauqua and the Fund, but in very different ways. Jeff, a longtime management consultant for Deloitte with significant expertise in not-for-profit organizations, takes an analytic approach to the financial imperative and impacts of the Fund.
A gate pass, he said, only covers about one-third of the total costs of the Institution — 36 percent last season. The rest is covered by other operating costs like parking fees and hotel and restaurant profits, as well as development or fundraising revenues.
“Where other major cultural and educational institutions typically rely on the earnings of large endowments, Chautauqua can’t do that,” he said. “Although the Institution is very well-run financially, the endowment is not very large. Our annual fundraising — the Chautauqua Fund — has to carry the bulk of the development load and bridge the gap between operating revenues and our operating costs.”
Without successful fundraising, Jeff said, Chautauqua wouldn’t be able to provide the breadth of programming it does.
“That was the scariest part of Cathy’s decision for us to take on the Chautauqua Fund chair,” he said. “If we didn’t do our job, Chautauqua could truly suffer.”
Jeff still works, so he commutes to his clients across the country most of the summer. When he is able to spend weekdays in Chautauqua, he said he loves to attend the 10:45 a.m. lectures, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra concerts, and listening to musicians practicing around McKnight Hall in the mid- to late-afternoons.
Cathy, a retired physician and a part-time hospital chaplain, wears her passion for Chautauqua on her sleeve.
“When you truly believe in something, how can you not jump ‘all in’?” she said. “Years ago, a mentor told me that if you are asking [for support] on behalf of something you love, it is easy to ask.”
Simply put, Cathy loves Chautauqua and “everything that happens in this special and sacred place.” That means, she said, Chautauquans need to help raise the money necessary to keep the Institution unique.
“I have no qualms walking up to somebody I have never met and asking them for a donation — Jeff just won’t do that, but I will,” she said. “Because when you really believe in something, and you work hard, good things happen.”
Cathy has numerous ideas for new events and incentives to generate gifts for the Fund. But she said she also realizes the bulk of the funds raised each year are from people digging deep into their reserves to make a donation.
“This is all about committed Chautauquans, whether on the grounds for only one week per summer or longtime homeowners with season passes, making and fulfilling pledges for their individual contributions,” she said.
At Chautauqua, Cathy is active in the Catholic Community and hosts frequent dinner parties and gatherings to bring old and new friends together.
It’s work, in a way, as Cathy and Jeff’s job is to spearhead fundraising. But it doesn’t seem like work to Cathy.
“Again, when you love something, it isn’t really work,” she said. “And more than anything else, our job is to be enthusiastic, and show the faith as the ‘Faces of the Fund.’ ”
Much of the “heavy lifting,” Cathy said, is done by Fund Director Tina Downey and her staff, including Megan Sorenson and Jill Cummiskey. Cathy and Jeff’s role is to motivate more than 100 volunteers to directly communicate with Chautauquans and solicit contributions.
So far, Jeff said, the team is doing well — slightly ahead of last year, in fact. The target is up 4 percent from last year’s contribution amounts, and fundraising is about two-thirds of the way toward the 2015 goal of $3.85 million.
“We have a lot more work to do to wrap up the year successfully, and we need the help of all members of the Chautauqua community,” Jeff said.
Cathy and Jeff leave their fellow Chautauquans with one request as the season ends.
“For all of you who have been able to participate in the Chautauqua experience, as you leave this place in the next week or two, please consider a donation,” they said. “Please do your part to move Chautauqua forward and continue to make those ‘Chautauqua Moments’ that bring us back each summer.”
Gifts may be made online at chautauquafoundation.org or by calling 716-357-6404.