‘Circle’ unbroken after 130 years

BLUE EARTH – Mitchell Chautauqua Circle of Blue Earth stepped into the future of education 130 years ago, and is still promoting education, as well as honoring women for their good deeds.

The Chautauqua group in Blue Earth was founded in 1883, following the lead of the original club in Chautauqua, N.Y., as a training ground for Methodist Sunday school teachers. It expanded into a more secular format and caught on nationally.

“Clubs were started everywhere,” said Elloyce Queensland, a longtime member of the local Circle.

“It was begun in Blue Earth by a Mrs. Mitchell, wife of a pastor,” Queensland said. “She started it in the days when women were not going to college. It was a way for women to read a variety of things and get a diploma.”

Queensland and several other members of the group have diplomas, which can be earned after four years of participation.

The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle of Chatauqua, N.Y., picks the books the members read each year. Some works recently read are “Crime and Punishment,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “What Money Can’t Buy,” and “The Cutting Season.”

“There’s usually a science book; always a poetry book,” Queensland said.

And each year has a theme, sometimes a subtle one. This year’s books have some connection to William Shakespeare, although none were authored by the Bard.

“We’re always so pleased when we read them because they’re such good books,” Queensland said. “It stretches us a bit.”

She isn’t sure how many Chautauqua circles are still operating, but “we think we’re the oldest [nationally]. They keep recognizing us. This one has been continuous; it’s amazing.”

The Blue Earth circle has 14 members.

“We have a wonderful group,” Queensland said. “Lots and lots of wonderful people; lots of humor.”

Mitchell Chautauqua Circle meets 2-4 p.m. the first and third Tuesdays of the month from September through May. All ages are welcome and it’s open to everyone.

“We’ve never had a man brave enough, but maybe some day,” Queensland said with a laugh.

A good time to check out the group is the annual luncheon at noon May 6 at Trinity Lutheran Church. It is open to all.

The group will recognize Shelly Greimann as this year’s Woman of Achievement for her multi-faceted work for Blue Earth. Featured speaker will be Deb McDonald, an engineer who is married to John McDonald, Faribault County Engineer.

Reservations may be sent to Carol Soma, P.O. Box 117, Kiester, MN 56051.

Admission is $15 per person. Deadline to register is Monday.