Steeped in Tradition

Chautauqua-Wawasee Brings the Community Together

Writer / Matt Keating 
Photography Provided

Mark Knecht with Chautauqua-Wawasee says the well-known community events organization has a rich history.

The goals of Chautauqua-Wawasee, a Syracuse-based nonprofit dedicated to bringing the community together through unique and engaging programming, have remained the same through the years. 

“Chautauqua was a religious and cultural movement begun in the late 1890s that brought culture and entertainment to small and mid-size communities,” Knecht says. “At its peak there were literally thousands of Chautauquas.”

With the advent of automobiles and radio, the need for local Chautauquas peaked in the 1920s and began to decline.  


Through the years the programs offered by Chautauqua organizations evolved to focus on four pillars – arts, education, faith and recreation.  

“Today there are 19 Chautauqua organizations in North America,” Knecht says. “These have survived based on their heritage as a summer church camp. All operate independently as stand-alone organizations, each with similar but different programs, but all focusing on the four Chautauqua pillars.” 

Chautauqua-Wawasee emerged from Oakwood Park, the site of United Methodist summer church camp.  

“Our organization strives to address the void still evident in Syracuse and the northern Indiana region of Chautauqua-type programs – arts, education, faith and recreation,” Knecht says. “Our goal is to fill these voids with programs that make the region a better place to visit, work, live and raise a family.” 

Chautauqua-Wawasee’s mission is to provide valuable and life-enriching experiences. 


“Our program team seeks to identify programs and experiences that are otherwise unavailable locally,” Knecht says. “By providing unique events, we are able to serve the Syracuse area, and attract audiences from larger nearby communities such as Fort Wayne, South Bend, Elkhart, Goshen, Plymouth and even Indianapolis for some programs.”

Chautauqua-Wawasee also engages the public in arts, education, faith and recreation, by greatly enhancing the experiences offered.

“For example, in August of 2019 we organized four individual programs celebrating the women’s suffrage centennial, because we saw a regional void not filled by larger nearby communities,” Knecht says. “In 2018 we started a three-day series of Native American history programs that is now in its fourth year. These programs have leveraged local historians as well as expert speakers from Notre Dame.”

In 2021 the organization created Patriot’s Day, which takes place around July 4. 

“It offers a re-enactment by an American icon, and a community-wide Patriotic Pops concert,” Knecht says. “Another annual program is our Old Fashioned Christmas, which provides a comprehensive family experience that both entertains and keeps Christ in Christmas with a live nativity.”


Chautauqua-Wawasee also has a Bible reading in the chapel, as well as family-oriented activities such as sleigh rides, Santa appearances, caroling, live reindeer and roaming popular characters for pictures.

Respect for America’s heritage is an important element of their programs, according to Knecht.

“For the second year this Memorial Day, we are organizing an event we call ‘Taps Across the Water at Dusk,’” Knecht says. “In conjunction with American Legion Post 223, we recruit as many buglers as possible. We had 23 in 2021. We position them strategically around lakes in Syracuse, Wawasee and Papakeechie.”

Through the Mail-Journal newspaper and social media, Chautauqua-Wawasee asks for one minute of silence at 9:08 p.m., which is followed at 9:09 with a playing of “Taps” by all buglers.  

“This event is attended by people on boats, piers, porches, decks and lake restaurants to honor veterans and all those who have fallen to keep America America,” Knecht says. “That’s on May 29 this year. On Patriot’s Day, June 26, we are bringing a renowned actor to perform ‘An Encounter with Thomas Jefferson,’ which is followed by the annual Fort Wayne Philharmonic Patriotic pops concert at Oakwood Resort.” 

Because 99% of their programs are free to attend through grants, many people take advantage of them. 

“The grants are from the Bremback Foundation, Harkless Foundation, Kosciusko County Community Foundation, Lilly Foundation, Indiana Humanities, and Parent Family Foundation, and funding from the Kosciusko County Convention, Recreation and Visitors Commission and donations from many of our individual patrons,” Knecht says. “We would not exist without the support of all of these who provide our funding.”

For more information on Chautauqua-Wawasee, located at 702 East Lake View Road in Syracuse, call 574-377-7543 or visit 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Welcome Back!

Login to your account below

Retrieve your password

Please enter your username or email address to reset your password.

Send me your media kit!

hbspt.forms.create({ portalId: "6486003", formId: "5ee2abaf-81d9-48a9-a10d-de06becaa6db" });