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Jayni and Chevy Chase with a portrait of Belle Baruch painted by his grandfather.
Nonprofits: She’s Jayni Chase, and he’s not
By Emily Topper
As might have been said of Belle Baruch in her time, Jayni Chase is a force of nature.
That’s what Ben Zeigler, chair of the Belle W. Baruch Foundation, said last week as he presented Chase with the inaugural Hugh C. Lane Jr. Award for Excellence in Education.
“After getting to know Jayni, I am amazed at all of the things she has going on,” Zeigler said. “She is a very passionate and energetic lady. Like Belle, Jayni is fiercely independent with the same keen vision of environmental stewardship through education.”
In 1988, Chase founded the Center for Environmental Education, a resource for teachers focused on environmentalism. Her book, “Blueprint for a Green School,” offers suggestions for educators and students hoping to create a green footprint at their schools. She’s also been involved in numerous organizations dedicated to environmental education and conservation, including Global Green USA, Friends of the Earth and the Coalition for Clean Air.
The wife of comedian Chevy Chase, she said her environmental efforts can be found in their own home.
Her husband joined her at the award ceremony.
“My passion for environmental education is my life force,” Jayni said. “When my adorable husband and I met many years ago, he talked to me so passionately about his childhood days spending time in the outdoors, especially in Woodstock, New York. Little did he know that marrying me meant that he can’t leave a room without turning a light off. I get upset with him when he leaves the water running for too long.”
Chase’s award was named in honor of Hugh C. Lane Jr., who has served as a trustee for the foundation since 1996. He has served as both chairman and vice chairman.
“The finest and most noble way we interact with our environment is through the concept and ethic of stewardship,” Zeigler said. “Approaching and treating the world not with an attitude of mastery and individual ownership, but with humility and an understanding that we occupy the world and trust for future generations. This attitude of stewardship is something that Belle Baruch had in spades, and is now why Hobcaw is what it is today. I can think of no person who has come closer to meeting that standard than Hugh Lane.”
When he joined the board of trustees, Zeigler said, the foundation had undergone decades of mismanagement and was “on a decline, if not a downward spiral.”
“But led by Hugh and the late Harry Lightsey, the trustees turned things around,” Zeigler said. “In the decades since, the foundation has become a vibrant and powerful conservation force in its own right. In my time, Hugh Lane has been our rock, a powerful, guiding voice.”
Zeigler said Lane has a “strong sense of taking responsibility.”
The trustees made a unanimous decision to name the award after Lane, who serves as the president of the Bank of South Carolina.
“It’s been an incredible honor to work here,” Lane said. “This is a gem of a place and an incredible place where research is going on.”
He added that the newly-announced Belle W. Baruch Institute for South Carolina Studies, a partnership between the foundation, Coastal Carolina University and Francis Marion University that will focus on the humanities, gives Hobcaw “a new dimension.”
“Meeting Hugh has been the icing on the cake for me,” Jayni said. “There is so much passion and worth emulating from all of you down here. You really are a light. This is so enlightening to me and also inspiring to me to keep doing what I’m doing. I love this connection, and I would love to learn more about everything going on down here.”
Baruch and the Chases have more in common than their love for the environment. A portrait of Belle Baruch in the Hobcaw House was painted by Chevy’s grandfather, Edward Leigh Chase.
“Edward settled in Woodstock after the turn of the 20th century,” Zeigler said. “Many students and artists from Woodstock began coming to South Carolina to spend their summers. Edward joined a group known as the ‘Fakirs.’
Literally, the term represents a Muslim or Hindu person who doesn’t have earthly possessions, easily adapted for starving artists of the time. Edward Chase and his fellow artists also began painting parodies of then-famous paintings.
“These students might have thought themselves to be true fakirs,” Zeigler said.
“Same to you, buddy,” Chevy said.
The parodies transformed serious art into the likes of “MAD Magazine,” Zeigler said.
“It’s like the parodies of the news that began on ‘SNL’ with Weekend Update in 1975,” he added. “How’s that for genetics?”
The Chases were presented with a copy of the painting from the Hobcaw House.
“I’m so happy to have this painting. I’m glad I came down here, and I’m very proud of my wife,” Chevy said. “This is beautiful. I wanted the original.”