DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The 2013 Florida Chautauqua Assembly is almost here, with former first lady Rosalynn Carter to be this year’s keynote speaker.
The four-day educational program will run Jan. 24-27 and feature performances, workshops and exhibits on the history of DeFuniak Springs.
“This is about self-fulfillment,” said Chris Mitchell, president of Florida Chautauqua Center. “We focus on issues relating on education, religion, art and recreation. There’s something for everybody at this, whether you don’t have any money to spend or you have the money to spend.”
Mitchell said this year‘s assembly is expected to break attendance records, with 10,000 to 15,000 people expected throughout the weekend.
The Chautauqua Assembly began in the late 1800s to bring educational opportunities to children through Sunday school teachers, according to Mitchell. The New York-based summer event added a winter assembly in DeFuniak Springs in 1885.
The assembly was held annually until 1927. During its heyday, Theodore Roosevelt called it “the most American thing in America,” Mitchell said.
The local assembly was revived in 1996 and has featured history exhibits and famous keynote speakers each year. Mitchell said visitors will come from across America and Canada this year.
“This will be the biggest and most historic event we’ve ever had,” he said. “We’re almost sold out of everything, literally.”
The kickoff event Jan. 24 will feature a historic trolley ride and a greeting by an actor portraying Theodore Roosevelt after he returned from Africa. The next day will have exhibits, live performances and former first lady Carter.
Jan. 26 and 27 will have activities for all ages, including an animal exhibit, bird cage-making tent and health expo.
This year’s theme, Journey of the Chautauqua Assembly, will look at the history of the assembly across the country.
“There is something happening nationwide with these events that the public is starting to notice and want to go to, and we’re so proud to have a first lady joining us,” Mitchell said.
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