59 Years of Speaker Highlights


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Miguel Cervantes

Miquel Cervantes, then the lead in Chicago's "Hamilton" (going on to play the role on Broadway) wowed audiences in the sold-out 2019-20 season opener (rescheduled to November 2019) with his personal story and talent.

World-famous singer/songwriter Judy Collins brought goose bumps to the audience as she unexpectedly opened her October 2017 talk saying “I'll get this out of the way,” and sang Both Sides Now a cappella. She closed her presentation by inviting the audience to join her in singing Amazing Grace.

Gene Siskel and
Val Gitlin

Gene Siskel delighted the audience in 1990, giving a ‘thumbs up’ to the Creative Living Series.

Film critic Jeffrey Lyons appeared in 2008.

Poets Maya Angelou and Billy Collins read their magical words to mesmerized audiences.

Jane Hamilton

Novelists Jane Hamilton, Anne Patchett, Scott Simon and Laura Caldwell told us their stories.

Memoir writer Nuala O’Faolain visited from Ireland.

Chefs were always favorites.  Chef Louis Szathmary from The Bakery, Jeff Smith, The Frugal Gourmet, Jacques Pepin, Abby Mandel, the Hearty Boys, Charlie Trotter, Ina Pinkney, Gale Gand and Top Chef Master, Rick Bayless, all left the audience with recipes and dreams of the perfect meal.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart appeared in 1988, flying into the Milwaukee Airport instead of O’Hare.  The brave women from Fine Arts served her lunch after the program.

Colin Cowie helped plan parties and create the perfect setting; B. Smith, Chris Madden, Eddie Ross and Lady Henrietta Spencer Churchill shared creative ideas.

In her sell out February 2015 talk, Dr. Temple Grandin made the case that the world needs people on the autism spectrum: visual, pattern and verbal thinkers, and all kinds of smart, geeky kids.

Leslie Hindman, the first female auctioneer, was a speaker in 1985, returning in 2012 to speak about collecting and appraising.

Richard Hunt spoke of his sculptures. Mortimer Adler discussed his Great Books Program.

Beverly Sills enchanted the audience with her love of Opera.

Kathy O’Malley and Judy Markey, from WGN’s ‘Kathy and Judy’ show, and TV anchor Carol Marin delighted the audience with tales from their personal lives.

Sarah Paretsky

The Chicago mystery writer, Sarah Paretsky, held a skull while she talked about her books.

Val Gitlin and Studs Terkel

The indomitable Studs Terkel captivated the audience in 2002, at the age of 90, in his signature red gingham checked shirt.

Realage’s Dr. Michael Roizen inspired healthy living; Dr. Steve Belinkie provided insights on the medical conditions of several US Presidents.

Travel expert Rick Steves brought Europe to the Woodstock Opera House one suitcase at a time, even explaining the best way to pack for an adventure.

Joan Benny spoke about her famous father, Jack Benny.

And Beatrice Welles remembered her father, Orson Welles, on the same stage where he had acted as a boy while attending Todd School for Boys, a Woodstock boarding school.

Comedian Shelley Berman returned to the Woodstock Opera House, reminiscing about his earlier performances on the stage.

Pianist and expert in American popular song Richard Glazier brought Gershwin to life in two separate appearances.

Author and Chicago bookstore owner Stuart Brent appeared four times.

Reflecting the popularity of astrology in the 70s, Katherine de Jersey and Irene Hughes each appeared twice, explaining the unexplainable – horoscopes.

Maggie Daly and Peg Zwecker, fashion columnists with Chicago newspapers, talked trends.

Joel Daly, John Calloway, Wally Phillips, Rick Kogan, Phil Ponce, Bill Kurtis and Jeanne Morris spoke of broadcasting and their love of Chicago.

Dr. Lester Fisher, director of Lincoln Park Zoo, brought a boa constrictor to the reception after his program, and the paleontologist, Dr. Paul Sereno brought dinosaur bones.