The Lake Chapala Society is located in the heart of Ajijic, on 16th of September St. #16-A. It is also the heart of the lives of most expats here. It is the first place I was taken to visit when I arrived in Ajijic. I used the bulletin board to look for a rental. Every time I go there, I see what is new up on the boards.
The grounds open a little after nine in the morning and stay open until around five in the evening. The offices don’t open until ten in the morning and close at two in the afternoons. On Sundays, everything is closed except the back gate from ten in the morning until around eleven thirty. That is the time of the Open Circle. Every Sunday there is a different lecture at the Open Circle. The first half an hour is for coffee, snacks and visiting. New people are always welcomed at the beginning of the lecture. After the lecture is over, the gates close again until Monday morning.Each week there is a new speaker with a different topic. There are many highly educated and interesting people living here and some of them like to talk to large groups.
On Thanksgiving, they have a huge buffet. Everyone brings something to eat and there is music and dancing. I have been to the last two Thanksgiving potlucks. The food was delicious and it was fun to be with all my friends.
When the gates are open anyone can walk in, look at the bulletin boards, enjoy the beautiful gardens and have something to eat and drink at the coffee shop. It is privately owned by the Secret Garden Restaurant. Their food is good, especially the Breakfast Burritos.
Rosa works behind the counter most of the time when it is open. She doesn’t speak English so it is an opportunity to practice Spanish. She is always patient and smiling.
This is the time of year when the Lake Chapala Society does the annual membership drive. I haven’t been able to get down there to renew my membership yet (since I have a broken ankle) but the price is the same as last year, 500 pesos per person, 800 pesos for a couple. I would pay that amount of money just for the privilege of checking out books in their library. There are over 26000 books, in English, in the library. I don’t know what I would do without all those books, or without their beautiful gardens. I can spend hours sitting in the sunshine and reading a book or one of the two free bimonthly magazines, available at the coffee shop.
There is also a video library and a large library of books on tape. There are so many things happening everyday that there is a long list posted near the coffee shop every week. You can also check out their events online on the monthly calendar http://www.lakechapalasociety.org/test/Member_Activities/act_03_schedule.php
There are over 3700 members. When you sign up, you will be given a phone directory with their names and telephone numbers. The LCS online home page has classifieds, message boards and other items of interest to the community.
There are AA and Al Anon meetings held in the back area during the week. There are many health resources, including a table that is set up for the Red Cross. They have inexpensive trips to different areas around the lake and Guadalajara. I like to go to the coffee shop in the mornings to relax and meet up with friends. Sometimes we sit in the garden areas.
Neill James donated the beautiful grounds to the Lake Chapala Society. She wrote many books and received 43 citations acknowledging her contributions to the world of fine arts. She led an exciting life. If you are interested in learning more about her, Tod Jonson has written an article online. It is titled, Neill James “A Woman of a Century”. She is one of the most interesting women I have ever read about and because of her influence the Lake Chapala came into existence.
She was born on Jan. 3, 1885, in Greneda, Mississippi. She traveled around the world. She was planning on traveling all around Mexico but had a bad accident on the slopes of a volcano and spent a year recuperating, writing and falling in love with Ajijic. She started the first garden on the grounds. The garden has grown into many different kinds of gardens. It is a photographer’s paradise.
Neill James started a weaving business here and art, craft and music festivals. It is amazing all she did to turn this community into a vital center for the arts and crafts. On Jan. 15, 1955 she and 21 co-founders started the Lake Chapala Society. If you would like to know more about this fascinating woman, read Tod’s article at: http://www.lakechapalasociety.org/NeillJames.htm
If you are interested in the history of the Lake Chapala Society, check out this site: http://lakechapalasociety.org/test/About_LCS/lcs_10_history.php
Neill James donated her property to the Lake Chapala Society in exchange for being taken care of the rest of her life. This was towards the end of her long life. It is amazing how much influence one person can have in the lives of others. She transformed Ajijic from a sleepy small town into the lively, continuously growing community that it is now. She is an inspiration to me. I liked walking through the gardens everyday. That will be the first thing I will do when I can walk again.
There are many hidden places to sit and talk with friends or just read and enjoy the sunshine. There are two beautiful Koi ponds. Several cats have adopted the LCS as theirs.
Social functions go on all the time on the grounds. It is like the center of the spokes of a giant wheel. So much radiates out from the LCS.
Ed Wilkes donated the Wilkes Center to the LCS. It is located at Galeana St. #18. It was set up in March 1999. It is for the Spanish speaking community. They have a library of books in Spanish and four classrooms where volunteers teach English to the public. They are always looking for new volunteers to help teach the classes. If it weren’t for the volunteers, the LCS would close down. It is a nonprofit organization.
There is a fund set up for educational aid for Mexican students from primary grade through the university. There are yearly health care fairs. The list goes on and on. I can’t begin to tell you all that goes on there.
I just looked at some of their activities this month: Have Hammers, Will Travel is a class for young boys and girls to learn woodworking skills. There is an exercise class in the Gazebo area. Mah Jongg in the Gazebo. An Information Desk is set up near the library. There are computer classes, scrabble groups, A Music Appreciation Society that sponsors concerts. Health care week is coming up. There is now a singles group. An Optometrist comes in and offers free eye exams. You can get free skin cancer check ups. You can get your Blood Pressure checked. And more. There is too much more to mention in this one article. You can keep track of the activities either online or through the LCS. All I can tell you further is that this community thrives because of the LCS.
If you plan on living here, please join. It takes a lot of money and help to keep it going. They are always looking for volunteers. I helped one year with the membership drive and I met many interesting people. It feels good to volunteer and be useful. It is inspiring to feel a part of something larger than oneself. Maybe that was why Neill James was so influential. She thought of the larger picture, past her individual needs and wants. She changed the lives of thousands of people with her special gifts. Now the volunteers and paid workers keep it going. LCS is magical, filled with beautiful and mysterious things, like the Koi in the pond.
In later posts I will write more specifically about the various things that go on at the LCS. I am sure I will also put on more photos of the gardens there. Also, please contact us for more information.