What was special about Wyoming in the ’60s is that there wasn’t anything special about the quiet Kent County town.
“It was quiet. Good people. Everybody knows everybody, everybody watches out for everybody. Peaceful, no crime at all,” says Lora Bilton Englehart.
After moving around throughout her father’s Air Force career, from her birthplace in Fort Worth, Texas, to Belgium, to Dover, to France and then to North Dakota, Wyoming was a place where Englehart fit in well when it came time for her father to retire. Entering Caesar Rodney High School at the start of her sophomore year, she filled her resume with the typical All-American girl leadership entries: student council, captain of the cheerleaders, choir, Future Teachers of America. In the summer, Englehart found time for music camps at the University of Delaware and student council training at West Chester University. Her weekends were the typical small-town stuff: football games on Friday nights, a movie and a milk shake in Dover on Saturday nights, and weekend afternoon trips to Rehoboth in spring and summer.
She was fine with her 11 p.m. curfew because there wasn’t much to do past that hour, and “if anybody had any drinking parties, I never knew about them.”
It was pretty much the same at the University of Delaware. “My freshman year roommate pretty quickly got into protests and smoking pot,” she says, “but I didn’t get involved with those people.”
As the decade’s big events unfolded, Englehart observed them from various venues. She was a high school freshman in Minot, N.D., when President Kennedy was assassinated. The pain she felt became more intense when “some kids in the class cheered when the announcement was made.”
In 1968, as a UD freshman, she was on a spring break trip to Washington, D.C., with her boyfriend when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. “We were driving out of D.C., and we could see smoke all around us, but we didn’t know what was going on. When we got home, we heard about the riots,” Englehart recalls. Back on campus, where there were few black students and no black women in her dorm, “it wasn’t talked about very much,” she says. The reaction in Wyoming was also muted. Rioting may have broken out in Wilmington, but for the town’s small black community, “Wilmington was very remote.”
Having visited many U.S. military cemeteries in Europe while her father was stationed in Belgium and France, “I would never have spoken a contrary word against the military in Vietnam,” Englehart says. But the war did take a personal toll on her, primarily because a 1965 Caesar Rodney graduate, Donald Kenton, was killed in combat in 1968. “That was a devastating blow,” she says. “He was the most-liked kid in school.”
While the nation exalted as Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Englehart was nonplussed, wondering “what was the big fuss?” Not that she wasn’t interested in the major events and issues of the day, but her heart was closer to home.
“What pulled at my heartstrings were the poor people and the migrant workers” who toiled on the farms of Sussex County all summer long, she says. “That’s where my head was at the time.”
Englehart applied for a summer job that would have provided support services to migrant farm workers, and was disappointed that she wasn’t hired. But that passion for the underprivileged has remained with her for decades.
While forging careers as a freelance writer and as a public relations consultant for several museums and nonprofits, Englehart also found time to volunteer at a state-run clothes closet for the poor and as an interpreter in courts, hospitals and at the Division of Motor Vehicles. Today she writes part-time and teaches English-language learners through a Wilmington-based tutoring business.
Now 67, Englehart surmises that “maybe I haven’t evolved very much.”
But that’s part and parcel of growing up in a small town. “My priorities have remained the same,” she says. “I’ve always stayed close to my community.”