Wilmington’s Matchmaker: Barry Schlecker
Barry Schlecker is the OG of movers and shakers. Veterans of Wilmington’s business scene know him as the founder of Barry Companies and Network Personnel, both successful temp and recruitment firms. Schlecker also ran invitation-only networking groups where members shared confidential leads. But the native Wilmingtonian always had other projects. Credit his parents, who owned a downtown grocery store and had second jobs.
For fun, Schlecker ran a film festival and organized antiques shows—he loves primitive furniture. He also amassed a sizable modern art collection, and after retiring from the personnel business, he resurrected the Brandywine Arts Festival, rechristening it the Brandywine Festival of the Arts. “I was 70 and had all these sidelines,” he recalls. “I soon learned that the arts festival is a full-time job if you want to grow it.”
Nevertheless, he took on the Ice Cream Festival at Rockwood Park, which opened on a sweltering July Saturday. Schlecker’s son, David, a festival organizer, had died the night prior. “I was a basket case,” Schlecker says. Longtime partner Ginger Weiss picked up the reins, and it was a hit. He no longer manages the ice cream festival but started the Holiday Festival of the Arts last year.
Schlecker remains the consummate networker. If you need a plumber, Realtor, banker, hairdresser or artisan, he’s your man. “I like helping businesses grow and make a living, and I make a living by helping them,” he says.
The Art of Living: Dennis Young
As a student, Dennis Young followed a pre-med path. The Salesianum High School graduate was in the first class of Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales, now DeSales University. He took an art elective when he completed his requisite courses, and his teacher was so impressed that Young moved to a separate room to paint whatever he wished.
During Young’s first few years at what is now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, he spent summers painting in fields off Route 52, never realizing the practice was called plein-air.
Young did his clerkships at the Medical Center of Delaware but found his calling at Delaware State Hospital. For 40 years, he practiced psychiatry in Delaware, and between work and family, there was little time to pick up a paintbrush. Shortly before retiring in 2017, he set up a studio in his medical office.
At age 70, Young pursued his second calling: art. He entered his work in competitions and exhibitions. “It really got into my blood,” he recalls. So much so that in 2018, the Old New Castle resident opened Mo’zArt Gallery on Second Street. “I got tired of waking up and wondering what day it is, and what am I going to do today?” he says of his decision to start a gallery near his home.
He advises people seeking to reinvent their lives to do something they love. “I’m very aware of time,” Young says. “And I’m also aware that I wish I’d done more earlier. That’s why I’m doing so much now.”
The Sound of Happiness: Mike Cook
Mike Cook spent nearly 30 years improving processes at the DuPont Co. But the math whiz—who led Certified Six Sigma Green Belt Blended Learning—dreamed of being a musician, although he’d never played an instrument. At age 60, Cook decided to improve himself. “I chose the Caribbean steel drum because the sound made me feel like I was on vacation in the islands,” he says.
To start, he attended a five-day workshop at the University of Delaware. His classmates had drums and years of experience. “Everyone talked in the language of music theory, which was foreign to me,” he acknowledges. Cook nearly quit. By mid-workshop, he was hooked. He bought a steel drum to learn enough songs to play a four-hour gig.
Within a year, he retired to form Steel Happiness, an entertainment company. Ten years later, he knows more than 100 songs and recently played his 360th gig. Moreover, he performed with a well-known steel drum band on the island of St. Martin and landed a weekly gig at The Lighthouse Bar in Dewey Beach. A personal point of pride is playing duets with his wife, a flutist.
“Many people have told me that my music brings happiness and makes them feel like they’re on vacation,” he often says. “I feel truly blessed and happy.”
Going the Distance: Betsy Tootell
Growing up in Broomall, Pennsylvania, Betsy Tootell wasn’t interested in sports. That changed as she watched her athletic sons—Rehoboth Beach lifeguards—compete. Their enthusiasm was contagious. “I just wanted to be an athlete,” Tootell recalls. She babysat her grandchildren while her sons ran, cycled and swam. “It was a long day, and I thought it would be easier to do the race,” she jokes. But between being a mom, grandmom and teacher in the Caesar Rodney School District, the University of Delaware graduate barely had time for the gym.
I’m still motivated but not as competitive—I just want to have fun.
In 2011, after 34 years in the classroom, she hired a coach, and in 2013, at age 60, she completed her first full Ironman triathlon, placing third in her age group. By age 65, she’d participated in the Boston Marathon and the 70.3 Ironman World Championship in New Zealand.
She now calls her 60s her glory years. “I’m still motivated but not as competitive—I just want to have fun,” she explains. Her challenge now is making her friends feel comfortable. “You do not have to do what I’m doing,” she tells them. “Just go for a walk around the block. Let’s ride a bike down the street.” In other words, just do it.
From HR to Vice Mayor: Lee Revis-Plank
Lee Revis-Plank started her DuPont Co. career when her Wilmington High School guidance counselor found her a summer job. Revis-Plank, however, had dreamed of a summer beach gig, followed by the College of William & Mary. Due to her family situation, she did neither. As a University of Delaware student, she dutifully returned to DuPont each summer.
Revis-Plank, a human resources and training specialist, spent 24 years with DuPont and 20 with MBNA, which became Bank of America. When she retired in 2013, she looked for a home in coastal Delaware and fell in love with Milton. In no time, she was a Milton Historical Society volunteer. “I am a historian at heart,” says the descendent of a Delaware Revolutionary War veteran.
She joined the board and, in 2017, became executive director. During her tenure, the society honored Milton native and Harvard graduate Bryan Stevenson, the subject of Just Mercy, the story and film about the Equal Justice Initiative.
Determined to be active in her new town, she attended council meetings run entirely by white men. The group did not represent the town’s demographics, she told the mayor. “He challenged me to be part of the solution instead of complaining,” she recalls.
She ran for town council—and won—and was later appointed vice mayor. Today, the council has women and men of color. When Revis-Plank was a corporate executive, she never imagined that she’d be writing policy, says the 75-year-old. “But I’ve never been bored for a minute because I volunteered.”
Taking a Stand: Kate Cowperthwait
Kate Cowperthwait can’t shake Wilmington. The Brandywine High School graduate went to Wilmington College, a small Quaker school in Ohio, not Delaware. While working in marketing for Time Life, she met her husband-to-be in Colorado. He joined the DuPont Co., which brought her back to the First State.
For 25 years, Cowperthwait was the executive director—and local face—of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society of America’s Delaware chapter, a position she held until the society merged chapters.
I didn’t know what retirement would mean.…It was a 180.
Cowperthwait, 60, was not ready for retirement. “I didn’t know what retirement would mean,” she acknowledges. Through friends, she learned that Vapor Retailers and Manufacturers of Delaware needed a lobbyist. Cowperthwait registered and took on the project. “It was a 180,” she says of the career move. However, she was no stranger to Legislative Hall. Clinical trials have found that medical marijuana can ease MS symptoms.
Meanwhile, Cowperthwait enrolled in the University of Delaware’s Over 60 Program, which offers free classes, and she earned a master’s degree in liberal studies. She saw familiar historical 20th-century events with a fresh perspective. “It was a gift,” she says.