In their second season, Lake Wawasee’s summer Chautauqua cultural gatherings are expanding – despite a setback for one of their settings, the lakeside Oakwood Inn & Conference Center.
Last year, it was hoped that the inn would have reopened this summer, after having been closed since 2008 because of a complicated bankruptcy and lawsuit.
But the prospective new owner, Buckingham Properties, backed out in April, citing difficulties with developing the project, including opposition by area residents to plans to develop a marina-like use of the property, according to Ian Rolland of Fort Wayne.
Rolland, the property’s court-ordered receiver, last week announced that a tentative deal to buy the property had been struck with Dr. J. Rex Parent, a Fort Wayne ophthalmologist and longtime Lake Wawasee property owner.
Parent and his two sons, J.R. and Jason Parent, partners in Yellow Retirement LLC senior communities, hope to reopen the hotel and its restaurant, Rolland says. The deal must be court approved and closing is not expected until September, he says.
In the meantime, Chautauqua-related events will still be allowed on the inn property this year and the prospective owners have indicated they are supportive of the idea, says Rolland, who owns property at Lake Wawasee and is retired chairman and CEO of Lincoln National Corp. in Fort Wayne.
“They know the lake and appreciate the traditions,” he says. “I think they are in tune that those programs will be an asset to the quality of life and a plus to operating a successful hotel and restaurant at Oakwood, and we’re delighted to have the Parents as buyers.”
Ann Strong of Indianapolis, a part-time Lake Wawasee resident and a coordinator of the Chautauqua, says interest has been so great that event venues are expanding beyond the lake.
“There’s been incredible interest in the Chautauqua,” she says. “It’s gone from four events over two weekends to 20 events over five weekends.”
Among the new attractions is a second concert by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. The group will perform its traditional Patriotic Pops lawn chair concert outdoors at Oakwood’s gazebo at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. But the orchestra will also perform at 2 p.m. July 8 during “The Barbecue of Seville,” a community-wide picnic.
Among the events taking place offsite include Saturday’s Art Blast, a day-long art festival at Creative Fish Art Gallery and ArtZie Workshop at 200 E. Pickwick Drive in Syracuse. Other programs will be at the Syracuse Community Center, 1013 N. Long Drive.
Programs include: Artistic Evenings, talks by regional artists, at 7:30 p.m. July 5, 12, 19 and 26; From the Ground Up, talks about Lake Wawasee history, at 10:30 a.m. July 14, 21 and 28; Hobby Shop, art experiences for children, at 10:30 a.m. July 14, 21 and 28; and Neighbors in Our World, talks about the Mennonite, Quaker and Amish religious traditions, respectively, at 12:30 p.m. July 15, 22 and 29.
Other Chautauqua-related events are the Flotilla Road Race running event in Lakeside Park at 8 a.m. July 4, a lake cruise on the S.S. Lilypad at 8:30 p.m. July 7 followed by fireworks (advance tickets required and available at The Frog Tavern, 1116 S. Harkless Drive) and the Liberty Ride, a 25-, 50- or 100-kilometer bicycle ride at 8 a.m. July 14 followed by a picnic in the park from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
As in past years, Boat-In Worship – Christian church services on board the S.S. Lilypad broadcast to worshippers in boats or on shore at Oakwood beach, will continue at 8:30 a.m. Sundays through Labor Day weekend.
Strong says she sees the continuation of the Chautauqua, based on gatherings started in the 19th century that aimed to bring the arts, religion, recreation and education to summer resorts, as a sign of hope amidst the turmoil surrounding the lake’s premier property. The inn dates to around the turn of the 20th century.
“I thought the property would be so well suited to Chautauqua, but now I’m finding the lake people and Chautauqua fit together so well,” she says.
“My vision has changed from being property centered to being people-centered.”