Around the semi-circle of reminiscence, the planners sort through particular memories, echoes of childhood and the annual Chautauqua celebrations.
Kate Chrisman grew up in Gallatin, Missouri, and remembered the festival as a chance to see friends and indulge in the carnival. Ayron Wilson, from nearby Jamesport, recalled the food booths, the cotton candy and the kettle corn.
“We always got to pick out one thing from the vendors, a little toy or something,” Wilson said. “But it was always so much fun as a family activity.”
Lance Rains, born and raised and now the city administrator in Gallatin, cited his days marching with the high school band in the Chautauqua parade and, later, as a member of the town’s Men’s Club, cooking and serving “many thousands of pork chops” for hungry festival goers.
They enjoy now that other vision, the one of experience to go with the one of youth. All have a hand, as do dozens of other volunteers, in putting on the 34th annual Chautauqua in Gallatin, the events beginning Friday and ending on Sunday.
And with both perspectives, they hold close the traditions of the past, the ones they want their children to embrace as they did, while looking for ways to attract folks with streaming services and social media at their fingertips.
Thus, Friday evening will bring the time-honored “Baby Show” (this year’s theme, “Wild Wild West”) and, a couple of hours later, a newer activity, “Glowga,” or glow-in-the-dark yoga.
Not so many years ago, the Chautauqua had gotten ... well, a little stale.
“It was fading away,” said Chrisman, in her fifth year as chair of the event. She and others went about trying to piece together the next generation of the festival.
“What things do we keep that are a tradition, that we want our kids to experience, but what new things do we add for our changing society to continue to draw people?” she said.
In an earlier day, the Chautauqua at Gallatin might not have stirred such introspection.
Part of a rural tradition that began in the late 19th century, its indigenous name coming from the village of its origin in New York state, Chautauquas began solely as a religious program but evolved into a general source of education, recreation and entertainment.
A native son of Gallatin, Alexander Monroe Dockery served in the U.S. House for 16 years and as Missouri’s governor beginning in 1901. Farther down his resume, a listing would note his presidency of the Daviess County Chautauqua Association upon its establishment in 1909.
Those first Chautauqua events, like several throughout the region, would be major draws.
“There wasn’t any other form of entertainment, and people would come from miles around in their buggies,” said Elaine Bohannon.
Bohannon, long a volunteer at the event, serves this year as director of the 150th anniversary reenactment of the James Gang robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association.
Long involved in the Gallatin Theater League, Bohannon, her husband and her 6-year-old son took part during the last such re-enactment in 1991. This time, her son plays Jesse James.
“All the guys who are on horses have grown up with a rope in their hand,” she said. “They’re very comfortable with it.”
The re-enactment takes place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21.
Money raised from the festival does not go into some festival account (“It’s almost like starting over every year,” Chrisman said) but gets used throughout the community for various civic and educational purposes.
Volunteers say the real purpose of their months of work resides in perpetuating the Chautauqua, in leaving a legacy.
Marcy Gay, who did not grow up in Gallatin but “married into the town,” said her husband, Wes, remembers fun days at the festival in his youth.
“That was one of our goals, to get it back to where it used to be when they were children,” she said. “I have two little kids, and this is our home. I want (Chautauqua) to still be around when they’re my age. Whatever I have to do to be a part of it, I’ll do it.”
Chrisman values those nights of the festival, the feeling of community that bathes the event. She begins to see her children experience it the way she did as a youngster. Gallatin, its population about 1,800, can not vanish from the wider world, but she can look around the courthouse square and see a safe space.
“It’s not just one parent. It’s a whole community of parents,” Chrisman said of that feeling. “It’s not just a location. It’s home.”