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Arts & Culture

Chautauqua Institution: The President's Club

It's the final week of the 2012 season at the Chautauqua Institution.  This week's theme is The President's Club.  And as WBFO and AM 970's Mark Scott reports, several big name national acts will be featured in the Amphitheater this week.

It's the world's most exclusive club.  At any time, it consists of four to five members.  If one dies, a new member could take his place as soon as the next presidential election.  It's The President's Club.  Journalists Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy are co-authors of "The President's Club: Inside the World's Most Exclusive Fraternity," a book that reveals the secrets and scars of presidents from Hoover to Obama.  Both will be speaking at the Amphitheater this week.  Chautauqua's Education Director Sherra Babcock says it was Harry Truman who first brought attention to a former president by asking Herbert Hoover to help oversee the reconstruction of Europe following World War II.

"The origin of the real President's Club was when Truman recognized that the only person who could make the Marshall Plan happen was Herbert Hoover," Babcock said.  "Hoover had been shuttled to the side by (Franklin D.) Roosevelt.  So, Truman made the overtures to bring Hoover back and pretty much rehabilitated his image."

One of the highlights of the week comes Wednesday morning when former first daughters Lynda Johnson Robb and Susan Ford Bales talk about their respective White House experiences while their fathers were in power.  Both will participate in that morning's 10:45 lecture at the Amphitheater. 

Also this week, the afternoon discussions at the Hall of Philosophy will also touch on the presidency, specifically how presidents past and present have dealt with ethical and moral issues.  Chautauqua's Religion Director Joan Brown Campbell says there's no greater example of this than the moral dilemma Truman faced in making the decision to drop the first atomic bombs on Japan.

"How was it decided?  How did (Truman) ask for guidance?  How did he make a decision like that?  Of course, we know more about it know than he did then.  But it was a terribly hard decision," Brown Campbell said.

Among the afternoon speakers is former Nixon counsel John Dean, who speaks at the Hall of Philosophy Thursday at 2pm. 

Most of Chautauqua's in-house arts groups have wrapped up their summer productions.  There's just one more concert by the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra Tuesday evening at the Amphitheater.  For the most part, Chautauqua's Vice President of Programming Marty Merkley says the week will feature several national acts.

"We have people such as Roger Hodgson, who is the voice of Supertramp from the 1970s," Merkley said.  "He is touring the US for the first time in 30 years."

Hodgson performs Saturday night at 8:15 at the Amphitheatre. 

Taking the stage Monday night is a group marking more than 50 years together -- the New Christy Minstrels under the direction of its founder Randy Sparks.  And then Wednesday, The Capitol Steps, together since the early 1980s, will bring their timely political humor to the Amphitheater stage.

On Thursday, another group dating to the '60s, The Lettermen, will entertain while on Friday the a cappella group Straight No Chaser returns to the Amphitheater stage.