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Solon to turn 175 in 2015

Celebrate Solon’s history, and future, under the big tent next September

By Chris Umscheid
Solon Economist

SOLON– The community of Solon will celebrate its 175th anniversary next year, and plans for the dosquicentennial include a community-wide gathering known as a Chautauqua.
A Chautauqua, according to the University of Iowa Libraries, is a three-to-seven day gathering of lectures, theatre and music, and perhaps even a little proselytizing. The event originated in 1874 when businessman Lewis Miller and Methodist minister John Heyl Vincent held a gathering at Lake Chautauqua, New York, as a way of training Sunday school teachers. However, it quickly grew into summer camps for families promising education and uplift. From there, independent Chautauquas, offering challenging, informational and inspirational stimulation to rural and small-town America popped up across the nation.
Theodore Roosevelt called the Chautauqua “the most American thing in America.” Woodrow Wilson is said to have called it “an integral part of the national defense,” during WWI. William J. Bryan, a noted populist, called the Chautauqua “a potent human factor in molding the mind of the nation.”
While Solon’s event may not mold the mind of a nation, and most assuredly will not play a role in national defense, organizer Sandy Hanson and her committee are striving to provide that “education and uplift,” as well as theatre and music, and maybe even a little old time religion.
Why a Chautauqua? Hanson said it goes back to one of her many day trips with the Solon Senior Advocates group, and a visit to a repertoire theatre in Mount Pleasant with a display about the “Punch and Judy” puppet shows, many of which originated in Iowa. There also was a curtain from one of Solon’s two opera houses (formerly located in Ruzicka’s/CSPS and the St. Mary Fellowship Hall). What really struck Hanson, however, was a mini-Chautauqua tent.
“It rang a bell with me,” she recalled. Back home, she spoke with then-mayor Cami Rasmussen about putting on a Chautauqua in conjunction with the city’s 175th anniversary. The mayor was supportive, and Hanson set about forming a loosely-organized committee with representatives of a number of Solon organizations, including Doug Lindner, Brad Kunkel, Brian Fitzpatrick, Sandy Phillips and Gary Bentrim.
The Solon Chautauqua is set for Friday, Sept. 18, through Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, under a tent at the Solon Recreation and Nature Area.
Friday is to be an evening of fellowship with an all-city alumni banquet, which will be held at Dick Schwab’s Celebration Farm to avoid any possible conflict with Spartan football. Hanson said she’s already begun the arduous task of tracking down a multitude of Solon grads, and it has been particularly tough to find those who’ve moved away.
On Saturday, rather than lectures, attendees can pick four of 10 different guided tours to such locales as the Sutliff Bridge, the Stone Academy, possibly Lake Macbride and a walking tour of downtown Solon. Hanson noted the library’s 60th anniversary will coincide with the dosquicentennial, and Solon Library window dresser Toni Russo will be marking the occasion with a display re-creating a drugstore soda fountain.
The high school vocal and instrumental programs, under the direction of Joel Foreman and Desmond Cervantez, will provide music. Also on tap is a Women’s Club historical fashion parade, which will conclude with a drum line leading a procession of military uniforms, a nod to the many Iowans and Solonites who have served their country in times of need. The Czech Heritage Partnership from Protivin will provide a touch of theatre as they perform traditional skits.
As afternoon becomes evening, a beer tent will be available on the grounds, and Hanson hopes to have local eateries on-hand as well. More music is on the itinerary for Saturday night as The Tornadoes Blues Band blows onto the stage with their mix of classic electric blues, swing and jump. In their wake, Bob Dorr and the Blue Band will keep the party going with original and cover blues, soul, rockabilly and some rhythm and blues grooves. “They’re a very, very popular band around here,” Hanson noted.
On Sunday morning, things get more reverent as Hanson hopes for a community-wide ecumenical service involving all three Solon churches. St. Mary’s annual Fall Festival will run concurrently.
“It’s a three-day festival to celebrate Solon’s history and achievements,” Hanson said. “For those who’ve moved away, it’s a chance to come back and see how their town has grown and changed.”
If you would like to make a contribution, donation or even offer to help, Hanson is eager to answer questions. She can be reached at 319-430-8655 or by email at sandrahanson@southslope.net.
“I would really like to try and put Solon on the map,” she said, “and want to celebrate Solon’s 175th anniversary in a truly unique way.”