Almost 20 years ago, a tourism brochure arrived in Jo-Ann Winnik’s mailbox. A lover of travel who has been across the globe — volunteering in Vietnam and Romania — her attention was snagged by a little corner of New York State. Only a few months later, and without knowing a soul, Jo-Ann arrived at Chautauqua.
“The minute I got there,” she said, “it was like stepping into a world of peace. Here I am, alone, anonymous, sitting on a bench or in the Amphitheater watching a rehearsal. Nobody knows me, I don’t know anyone, and yet, it was my world — it was mine. It was like I was a part of this. … I never, ever felt like I was not.”
Several years ago, Jo-Ann committed to supporting the Chautauqua Fund as a member of the Bell Tower Society, giving back to the place she has “never taken for granted.” When she was unable to visit in 2020, Jo-Ann called the Institution to increase her monthly support. It was in her conversation with Jenny Stitely, Director of Gift Planning, that she suddenly burst into tears with the thought of not being able to return or see the friends she had come to consider as family. “You can’t imagine how much a part of my life Chautauqua is and how much I miss it,” she said.
“And then I realized I’m retired, I don’t have much family, I don’t have a well of money, I live on a pension, but this world has given so much to me … and how do I give back? I knew I needed to give back to Chautauqua as it has given to me.” Jo-Ann decided to name the Chautauqua Foundation as a beneficiary of a planned gift.
Having grown up Jewish in the Bronx and spending most of her career as a school district employee in Los Angeles, Jo-Ann reflected that she could have found Chautauqua’s Christian roots and rural setting a bit foreign, but she always felt at home. Jo-Ann credits that feeling of belonging with inspiring her to give back: “Here is this kindness, never wavering, always there for me. … No matter where I roamed the world — and I did a lot of roaming — there was nothing like coming home.”