News & Announcements

Chautauqua Establishes Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center

Named After Institution’s 14th President, Facility to Serve as Important New Community Resource

A gift from Jane Fortune in honor of her late partner, Robert Hesse, the 14th Chautauqua Institution president, will make possible a new business center on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution in time for the organization’s 2018 summer season. The Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center transforms a substantial portion of the Institution’s existing Main Gate Welcome Center into a modern, adaptable workspace that will allow those on vacation at Chautauqua to stay remotely connected to their offices.

“It is a great privilege to honor Bob’s memory and support Chautauqua Institution with a gift that is in keeping with his life and work,” Fortune said. “While incredibly dedicated to and accomplished in his professional life, Bob put family above all. He was forever grateful for the many gifts Chautauqua introduced into his life, and would be thrilled to have his name identified with an initiative and space that makes it possible for young families to spend more time at Chautauqua, together.”

Work is currently underway on the Hesse Center, which will also serve as a year-round resource for Chautauqua County residents, organizations and businesses. Guests will have access to modern amenities including private office space, meeting and conference spaces of several sizes with large displays for videoconferencing, and an open area of flexible workspace for individuals or groups, all supported by state-of-the-art IT infrastructure with available printing, copying and scanning services. The private spaces and services will be provided at competitive rates.

“The Hesse Welcome and Business Center is a game-changer for us as we seek to provide all the amenities young families and working couples need to extend a Chautauqua stay, while continuing to provide valuable, needed services to our surrounding community,” said Michael E. Hill, president of Chautauqua Institution. “We are grateful to Jane Fortune for recognizing this need, and to Bob Hesse, whose transformative tenure as the Institution’s president is fittingly honored in a space that will serve the professional needs of an emerging generation of Chautauqua community leaders.”

Hesse came to Chautauqua following service in the administration at the State University of New York at Fredonia and as president of Medaille College in Buffalo, New York. Returning to his love of the arts and his entrepreneurial management, he joined the Institution as president from 1977 to 1983. Repairing a crumbling infrastructure and enhancing an arts and education program to bring the renowned entertainers, teachers and religious leaders while balancing the budget — his efforts were featured in Forbes magazine — Hesse quickly earned a national reputation as “The Turnaround Expert.”

“Bob Hesse was the right president at the right time for Chautauqua,” said Geof Follansbee, CEO of the Chautauqua Foundation. In his capacity as an Institution trustee at the time, Follansbee served on the search committee that recommended Hesse’s appointment. “His contributions and clarity of vision, particularly in the arts, helped set in motion much of the success we enjoy as an organization today.” 

From Chautauqua, Hesse became executive director of the Joffrey Ballet, still in New York City at the time, and went on to serve as chief fundraiser for UNICEF. This depth of experience led him to start his own firm consulting with nonprofits. He completed his career in Fortune’s native city of Indianapolis, where the pair launched the Indianapolis City Ballet, the nonprofit organization Advancing Women Artists, and a Tuscan restaurant called Bella Fortuna, later creating a winery of the same name in Michigan.In recognition of their support for the arts in Indianapolis, Hesse and Fortune were honored by the Indiana Historical Society as 2014 Living Legends. Hesse received Chautauqua’s highest honor, the President’s Medal, in 2015; in 2016 he was further honored as a “Giant of Chautauqua.”

A public dedication ceremony will be held at the new Dr. Robert R. Hesse Welcome and Business Center at 5 p.m. Monday, June 25, at the beginning of Chautauqua Institution’s 2018 season.