A Leading Light

Oliver Cropper worked to save the Fenwick Lighthouse. There’s no place he’d rather be.

Photograph by Ray DalyThere was a time when Oliver Cropper thought about leaving Delaware for drier pastures in Arizona and New Mexico.

But after hearing a speech in Wilmington many years ago, the Fenwick Island resident, now 91, decided to stay put in Sussex County. He doesn’t recall who the speaker was, but he does recall the message: Delaware was the best place to live in the entire United States because the laws were favorable for business owners.

“Tell me a better place than this,” says Cropper, who has also run a furniture business, propane company and a real estate business. He is now known for his work to preserve the Fenwick Island Lighthouse.

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Cropper was elected vice president of the nonprofit Friends of the Fenwick Lighthouse in 1979, a group that kept the lighthouse going after the federal government decommissioned and abandoned it. Cropper was elected president of the group in 1992 and remained with the nonprofit until 2007, helping to raise more than $100,000 to refurbish the landmark. About 60 Friends of the Lighthouse donated money and time to keep the place open four or five days a week and run tours of the monument in the summer. Winnie Lewis, granddaughter of a former lighthouse keeper, now runs the organization.

On the Delaware-Maryland line, the lighthouse was built in 1858 to guide ships away from Fenwick Island’s dangerous shoals. “We used to run barefoot across the hot sand and see the boat wrecks up and down the beach,” Cropper recalls.

These days, Cropper doesn’t get to the beach much. After a hip operation last spring, he finds it hard to walk on the sand.

But he enjoys having his children around him. All four live in Sussex County. (A fifth died three years ago). “I’m proud of myself,” he says, “for deciding to stay in Sussex County.”

As a teenager, Cropper and his friends would build bonfires on the beach.

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