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Volume 37 Issue 11 • July 5 - 11, 2007
now in our 37th season

Geschke Lectures

The Nantucket Atheneum has a long history of bringing distinguished people to Nantucket Island to speak.   Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Horace Greeley, Lucretia Mott, and Frederick Douglass are among those who lectured in the Great Hall of the Atheneum during years long past.

Of late, fewer speakers of note have been brought to the island by the Atheneum.  So four or five years ago, according to Trustee Emerita Nan Geschke, “several of us {board members} looked into how we could reincarnate that for the Atheneum.”  To address issues of budget they applied to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a grant and were awarded one.  “We were one of only two public libraries in the U.S. to receive a grant,” Geschke explained.  “It was a matching grant, so we had to go out and find funding to bring up the total to about $1.2 million, which does endow the series.” 

The Geschke Foundation, founded by Charles and Nan Geschke was the largest donor to the matching grant; hence the name of the lecture series.  “It was a complete surprise, but we feel very honored to have our name associated with the series,” commented Charles Geschke.

The Geschkes first came to Nantucket for a weekend in 1991 so their daughter could see the historic architecture.  “We looked on the globe and saw how small Nantucket was and thought ‘we can do this in one weekend,’” Nan Geschke chuckled.  “We had a blast: we rented bikes, walked the town, visited the Whaling Museum, and did all the touristy things...at the end of the weekend, I said ‘I want to come back and stay for a month.’”  Part way through that second stay, they began to look for property to purchase.  The Geschkes had “gotten sand in their shoes.” 

Charles and Nan Geschke love Nantucket, and they enjoy getting involved in endeavors that make the island “even more special.”  Though they serve the community in a number of ways, they are quick to forgo credit:  “The Atheneum does a wonderful job; my husband and I don’t do any of the work,” said Nan Geschke.

As Library Director Molly Anderson explains, the thrust of the Geschke Lecture Series “is to bring together speakers to examine current issues of the day…it’s part of our mission and part of our tradition.  We like to stimulate people’s thinking and bring substantive issues before the community.”

Annual topics and speakers for the lecture series are decided well in advance:  “We’re already thinking about next year,” said Anderson.  “It’s a collaborative discussion… We follow what current issues are out there, and we try to select speakers who will present different views of the topic.”  Towards the end of the summer, the Geschkes meet with Anderson “to brainstorm,” but according to Charles Geschke, Anderson does all the work.  “We’re interested and involved, but Molly makes the final decision...It’s a big job, and she’s very good at it,” he explained.

The 2007 series topic—Leadership in the Global Age—was the suggestion of the Geschkes.  Anderson thinks it is timely subject: “We’re in a challenging period of history when effective leadership seems particularly critical.” Nan Geschke concurs:  “I think there is a hunger for leadership in this country now.”

The six speakers represent a variety of perspectives from the arenas of politics, environment, business, education, health and science and will address issues concerning leadership on the individual and group level and offer their visions as to how to move forward in the global age.

The series begins on Wednesday,  July 11 with Charles Kolb, president of the Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan organization of 250 business and education leaders dedicated to social policy research and its implementation.  This lecture will be held in the Unitarian Church, 11 Orange Street.

On Saturday, July 20 Dr. Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, takes on the issues of leadership in education and science.

Environmental leadership issues will be the subject of a talk by Frances Beinecke on Monday, July 23.  Beinecke is the president of the national advocacy group, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Advisor to presidents, author and Harvard University Kennedy School of Government professor David Gergen takes on leadership in politics in his lecture on Wednesday, August 1. 

Dr. John Howe III, president and CEO of the humanitarian relief organization Project HOPE, will speak on Wednesday, August 8.

The series concludes on Wednesday, August 15 with Jack and Suzy Welch, whose syndicated columns and books address issues in business.  Suzy Welch will facilitate this Q&A style talk with Jack Welch, former board chair of General Electric.

All lectures begin at 8 p.m. and will be held in a variety of venues.  Tickets for each cost $25 and the entire lecture series can be purchased for $125.  The Atheneum Box Office is located in the Atheneum Garden and is open Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm.  All lectures begin at 8 p.m. and will be held in a variety of island venues.  The lecture series is an annual event made possible by the Geschke Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and generous donations.

—   Suzanne Daub

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