WFAA announces lineup for 54th season of popular speaker series

Renowned ’60s singer/songwriter Judy Collins will kick off the 54th season of the Woodstock Fine Arts Association Creative Living Series. Beyond her music, Collins is an accomplished painter, filmmaker, social activist and author; she will present “Judy Collins: Conversation with a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman,” at 10 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 19.

The presentation is the first in a series of six speakers who will share their stories with audiences at the Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St. The six monthly programs each offer inspiration and entertainment, followed by a question-and-answer period and an opportunity for a face-to-face reception following each lecture.

“Judy Collins was on our wish list,” said Marsha Portnoy, co-chairman of the Creative Living Series committee. “Every once in a while we get a nationally known speaker.”

Other speakers in the 2017-18 series include: Nov. 16 – Annie Polland, Ph.D., “Common Ground, Immigrant Tales, Lower East Side Tenement Museum”; Jan. 18 – Richard Cahan and Michael Williams, “Richard Nickel, Dangerous Lives, Architectural Preservation in Chicago”; Feb. 15 – Lindsay Mican Moran, “Art Institute’s Thorne Rooms, Tiny Grandeur”; March 15 – Mary Skinner, “Irena Sendler – In the Names of Their Mothers, World War II Polish Resistance”; and April 19 – Melissa Hannon, “Peace & Paws Rescue, Accent on the Smiles.”

The committee begins gathering ideas for potential speakers a year in advance, assembling an unedited list of possibilities, not excluding anything.

“Our audience is always what we have in mind,” said Portnoy. “We use ourselves as guidelines.”

She said this year’s final speaker in the series of six is one of the quirkier guests they’ve booked.  Melissa Hannon has a very unique take on running a dog rescue, using social media posts with comments in the voice of her dogs to get her name out and attract adopters for her pets. Growing her page to a half-million followers, she successfully placed 3,000 dogs in her first year of operation. Her story will include a business aspect as well as outlining some of the joys and challenges of running a dog rescue.

“Our goal is to find people with interesting topics who can share a piece of their lives with our audiences,” said WFAA President Paulette Gitlin.

“We’re all volunteers and we consider community service as a vital part of our mission at WFAA,” said Gitlin, who has been involved with the organization for 23 years and is serving her third term as president.

The Creative Living Series holds the distinction of being the nation’s oldest non-university-sponsored lecture series. Something has to be unique for the WFAA-sponsored series to captivate audiences for this many years.

Portnoy believes the success can be traced back to the early days of the organization that was originally formed for the purpose of saving the Woodstock Opera House. “There were a lot of determined women who started this,” she said, “and that spirit comes through today. We take risks.”

Series tickets are still available for $115, and individual program ticket cost is $25. For information, call the Woodstock Opera House, 815-338-5300, or visit

The Woodstock Fine Arts Association is a not-for-profit, volunteer organization devoted to promoting the arts and the Woodstock Opera House. The group also sponsors scholarships for high school seniors who are gifted in the arts.

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