The Hotel du Pont’s lobby gets a facelift. Plus, UD’s Academy of Lifelong Learning gets new life (and a new name), volunteers send the right stuff to soldiers overseas, and go behind the scenes at Ronny’s Christmas Wonderland.

Hotel GM Lisa Bolten says feedback on the newly decorated lobby has been “overwhelmingly positive.” Photograph by Jared CastaldiA Refreshing Redo

As it approaches 100 years, the iconic Hotel du Pont transforms its lobby into an even hipper place to see and be seen. Don’t worry. The awesome ceiling remains.

When redecorating the lobby of the nearly 100-year-old Hotel du Pont, management wanted to make the space a friendlier place to meet and greet while retaining the sophistication and elegance the world-class hotel is famous for.

So they started at the top.

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Designers looked to the lobby’s architectural ceiling detailing and the five large, arched windows that face 11th Street as building blocks for the project. The new look was created to enhance the ceiling and windows while also improving guests’ experiences.

By all accounts, the hotel once again hit its mark. “So many more people are using the lobby,” says Lisa Bolten, the hotel’s general manager. “They’re sitting, relaxing and talking. They’re actually hanging out more.”

The previous lobby design, done in 2000, was described by some as intimidating. But the addition of new ceiling-to-floor damask draperies, a custom organic carpet pattern, funky furniture and 8-foot sculptures has transformed the lobby into a classy, yet comfortable, space. The color palette of turquoise, berry and gold was also culled from the ornate ceiling.

“I love the drapes,” Bolten says. “They do a fantastic job of pulling the color out of the ceiling and everyone loves the ceiling. The drapes also complement the wonderful arch in the windows.”

Those at the hotel aren’t calling the project a renovation, explains Carolyn Grubb, the hotel’s public relations and marketing communications director. “It’s a refresh,” she says. “It’s kind of like redecorating your living room.”

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Grubb won’t say how much the project cost, citing company policy, but she would divulge that men, especially, have taken to the comfortable side chairs along the lobby’s front.

Still, it didn’t take long for a well-known woman to share her appreciation for the hotel. “Priscilla Presley was doing something with QVC and staying here,” Bolten says. “She stopped at the front desk and said how beautiful the hotel is. I’d like to think the lobby had something to do with it.” —Drew Ostroski

Page 2: Thanking the Academy | UD’s Academy of Lifelong Learning gets a new name–and a sizable endowment–to help keep it going and growing.


The Rev. Robert Faatz is chair of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s council. Photograph by Jared CastaldiThanking the Academy

UD’s Academy of Lifelong Learning gets a new name—and a sizable endowment—to help keep it going and growing.

What began 30 years ago as an idea to open a center for continuing education has evolved into the biggest continuing studies program in the United States.

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To celebrate, the University of Delaware Academy of Lifelong Learning—with 2,900 students enrolled and more than 220 courses offered—has changed its name. Along with the new moniker, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at University of Delaware in Wilmington is enjoying a $1 million endowment gift from the Bernard Osher Foundation—with another million on the way.

For almost 10 years, the Osher Foundation has supported lifelong learning programs across the U.S. The foundation now has a presence in all 50 states. Its mission is to improve quality of life through support of higher education and the arts. UD is using the money to maintain and expand existing academies in Wilmington and Lewes and to help launch the newest program in Dover. “We are excited to benefit from what they are doing and to share what we know,” says the Rev. Robert Faatz, who chairs the institute’s council.

Because more than 80 percent of the students (who must be 50 years or older) have already earned advanced degrees, the academy encourages learning, interacting with others and just plain having fun.

For more, visit —Katharine Gray and Anastasia Quinn

Page 3: The Right Stuffing | Stockings for Soldiers sends a heartfelt ‘thank you–and snowman soup–to our  heroes overseas.


Jill Biden (left), with Stockings for Soldiers founder Judy Travis, is one of the project’s many volunteers.  The Right Stuffing

Stockings for Soldiers sends a heartfelt ‘thank you’— and snowman soup—to our heroes overseas.

What started six years ago as a small project in Judy Travis’ living room has exploded into an annual holiday drive that spreads good will and cheer across the globe.

Travis started the nonprofit Stockings for Soldiers after her son returned from serving in Iraq in 2004 and she realized “there are still kids over there,” she says.

So she stuffed 288 Christmas stockings “with a touch of home,” and shipped them to servicemen and servicewomen overseas. In 2009, more than 500 volunteers sewed, stuffed and shipped 6,600 stockings in 1,150 boxes that weighed over 30,000 pounds.

The stockings are filled with items such as playing cards, paperback books, cookies, candy, granola bars and Ramen noodles. A favorite treat is snowman soup: a sandwich bag containing a package of hot chocolate, a few Hershey Kisses, a baby candy cane, marshmallows and a short poem. Another favorite is a simple pair of socks, “which we can never have enough of,” Travis says.

To lend a personal touch, Travis and her helpers send letters of thanks and encouragement to the soldiers. The recipients often reply and some even stop by in person when they return home.

Volunteers include everyone from families who put together snowman soup, knitting bees that sew stockings, libraries that donate books, children and adults who write notes and the local post office, which donates tractor-trailers on shipment day. “Everyone wants to help,” Travis says. “It’s our way of paying them back. You can never thank them enough.”

From mid-October to the first week in December, Travis and her elves can be found at the Stockings for Soldiers headquarters in Branmar Plaza, North Wilmington, Mondays through Thursdays, 6:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. For more, visit —Anastasia Quinn

Page 4: A Not-So-Small Wonder | For 40 years, Ronny’s Garden World has presented its Christmas Wonderland–the biggest holiday shop in the state. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work it takes to pull it off.


Ronny’s owners Donna Staley (left) and Brenda Metts get into the Christmas spirit. Photograph by Jared CastaldiA Not-So-Small Wonder

For 40 years, Ronny’s Garden World has presented its Christmas Wonderland—the biggest holiday shop in the state. You wouldn’t believe the amount of work it takes to pull it off.

Next time you walk into the Christmas Wonderland at Ronny’s Garden World in Smyrna, think about the folks who have to decorate all 37 artificial trees—taking four hours apiece—starting in July. Or owners Brenda Metts and Donna Staley, who have to start planning for next Christmas before this Christmas is even a memory.

“We do the orders in January, start taking shipments in June and start putting it together at the beginning of July,” Metts says. “Christmas is almost year-round for us.”

For 40 years in the same location, the folks at Ronny’s have transformed the popular garden center into Delaware’s version of the North Pole—a Christmas shop that carries everything holiday-related, from live trees to tiny villages to model railroads.

Artificial trees are big sellers, as are the Le Max Christmas Village collection, custom bows and wreaths.

Ronny’s carries a large selection of personalized ornaments, including blown-glass ornaments, by Annalee and Buyers’ Choice. Shoppers will also find ornaments with NFL and University of Delaware sports themes, outdoor garden flags, tinsel, ribbons and wreaths, and garland made with live greens.

Longtime customers will notice that fiber-optic table trees are back this year after a short absence, and Ronny’s will carry a new product: hand-painted, keepsake glass balls by Heart Gifts by Teresa.

The main Christmas room actually opened the weekend after Labor Day weekend. Work outside began after Halloween. One would figure Metts might get a little tired of Christmas after doing the same routine year after year.

“I’ll tell you what I get tired of,” she says, laughing. “Moving a box from point A to point B to point C to point D before it ever gets to where it’s going. Other than that, I’m fine.”

For more, visit

—Drew Ostroski


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