By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
But 100 years ago everyone knew a chautauqua was the big community event of the year. This was especially true for rural locations such as Lewiston and Orofino, where the chautauqua once visited regularly. July 31 – Aug. 2 the chautauqua is returning to Orofino after a nearly 100-year absence.
Paul Magid, founder and tour coordinator for the New Old Time Chautauqua, describes the significance the event once had.
“Imagine it’s 1914,” he says. “You’re in this rural area and they would bring the most famous people to town — famous opera singers, just about anybody who was a star at the time.”
But that was just the beginning. There would be educators, inventors, politicians and performers who gathered in one place for a six-day cultural and educational festival. There were workshops, lectures and performances that Magid says would contribute to an individual becoming “politically informed and culturally well-rounded.”
“The idea was that chautauqua would bring things that those in rural areas would otherwise never get,” Magid says.
Families placed high priority on the event and would save money all year to be able to attend.
“The biggest event in America was the chautauqua,” Magid says.
Back in the day, around 1,000 chautauqua groups entertained 40 million people, he says. The movement died off with the rise of radio and film, and also the Great Depression.
Today, Magid says the New Old Time Chautauqua is the only remaining circuit group performing. The all-volunteer group of around 60 educators, performers, doctors and historians travels three to five weeks each summer to rural areas in the Northwest. They’re coming to Orofino this year to honor a longtime chautauqua member, Faith Petric, who was raised in the area and died last year.
The group maintains the original spirit of the chautauqua, providing entertainment and education for those who attend. The group, however, has a three-day cycle rather than the historic six-day one.
The festival begins today with a community covered-dish meal at 6 p.m. at Orofino City Park, where those attending are asked by organizers to bring a side dish. The chautauqua begins with this event as a way to connect with community members and familiarize people with who they are and what they’re doing. A memorial ceremony for Petric will take place following the meal.
The second day of the festival is devoted to community shows, where the group visits those who are underserved or shut-in. The group will visit State Hospital North, the Idaho Correctional Institution and the Teweepuu Community Center.
Saturday is a full day of events that are open to the community, beginning with a parade at 11 a.m. in downtown Orofino. Those from the community who read sheet music and play a standard band instrument can join the marching band. The marching band contact is Kathleen Tetweiler at (208) 827-6061.
Afternoon workshops are free and cover a wide range of topics beginning at 12:30 p.m. in Orofino City Park. The chautauqua provides about 30 workshops, including juggling, the lymphatic system, mask-making, samba dance, the history of chautauqua, the Japanese internment in the 1940s and more. Later in the afternoon, locals will give presentations on topics such as painting, composting and playing bridge. Those interested in putting on a workshop can contact Kathy Pence at (208) 476-9428. Food vendors will be on site.
The festival ends with a family variety show at Orofino High School that will include music, juggling, comedy, dance, magic, acrobatics and more. This is the only festival event that requires tickets, which can be purchased in advance at the Real Estaters, the Orofino Chamber of Commerce, AmericanWest Bank and Lewis Clark Credit Union. Tickets will also be available at the door, though seating is limited.
Who was Faith Petric?
It seems unlikely that a girl born in 1915 in a log cabin near Orofino would reach any sort of national music fame, but that’s what Petric did.
Growing up in the home of a circuit preacher immersed her in music from an early age, Magid says. She moved out of the area during her teens and eventually worked in San Francisco for state government. Her music career began later in her life.
“In the ’60s and ’70s she was playing her guitar and got swept up in the folk music scene,” Magid says. She became fairly famous playing with the likes of Pete Seeger and Frankie Armstrong. She ran the San Francisco Folk Music Club for many years and was considered a central figure of the folk music scene there.
Petric attended the chautauqua as a young girl in Orofino and when she heard about the New Old Time Chautauqua in 1982, she joined. She traveled with the group until last year and passed away in October at the age of 98.
“She was always our opener,” Magid says. “She was an amazing entertainer.”
Not only did audiences adore her, but she was well-loved by chautauqua volunteers. Magid describes her as having been “tireless” and recalls her sitting around the campfire, singing until well after midnight.
“She was the Fort Knox of folk music,” Magid says, because she had more than 1,000 songs stored in her mind, ready to play at a moment’s notice.
With the chautauqua’s visit to Orofino, memories of Petric will return to the area where she was born.
“Where she came from was so important to her,” Magid says.
More about Petric and the history of chautauqua is featured in an exhibit at the Clearwater Historical Museum now through the end of August. The exhibit includes photos, articles and movies of Petric, along with information about the origins of the chautauqua, its history in the area and more. The museum is open 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and is located at 315 College Ave. in Orofino.
if you go:
Thursday, July 31
Chautauqua covered-dish meal and memorial for Faith Petric
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Orofino City Park
Cost: Bring a dish to share; pulled pork and beef provided by donation.
Saturday, Aug. 2
When: 11 a.m.
Where: downtown Orofino
Chautauqua Festival and workshops
When: 12:30 to 5 p.m.
Where: Orofino City Park
Chautauqua Family Show
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Orofino High School, 300 Dunlap Road.
Cost: $10/adult, $5/ages 11-18, free for children 10 and younger
Schmidt can be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 305-4578.