Photograph by Kevin Fleming
Scott and Donna de Kuyper’s romance hasn’t been easy.
Photograph by Carolyn Watson
Donna de Kuyper (as Desiree) is pictured with Jeff Haslow (Fredrik) during a performance of Clear Space Theatre Company’s “A Little Night Music.”
Scott flipped houses and sold hand-painted clothing; Donna worked in video production. All that changed when they visited her parents, who’d retired to Lewes. They fell in love with the area and relocated here. But three days after arriving, they got two phone calls: Scott’s father had died and his mother learned she had breast cancer.
Serendipitously, she’d taken a job with a travel agency in Philadelphia, which allowed the family to spend time together. An independent career woman, she was a role model for the de Kuypers’ daughters, Montana and McKinnon, now 23 and 21, Donna says.
As for the de Kuypers’ careers, they briefly ran the Star of the Sea condos in Rehoboth Beach. Donna was executive director of the Delaware Music School for seven years, and when her daughters were old enough, they joined her in local theater productions. Scott, who sold his L.A. properties, purchased property along the coast, including the aging Angler’s Motel, which he razed. “It was the opportunity to design condos, commercial space and a hotel—how amazing is that?” he asks.
It was a good life. They visited the beach daily, and the girls biked around historic Lewes. Then in 2003, three months after Scott’s mother died, he felt a pain in his throat while sparring with a karate partner. He had two thyroid cancers, one of which was Stage IV. The treatment: eight doses of radiation and four maximum doses. He was so ill that friend Matt Haley, the well-known restaurateur who died last year, asked him: “Are you lying to me, man? Are you dying and not telling anyone?” Scott replied, “This is what the cure looks like.”
The diagnosis wasn’t the end of their challenges. Their health-care premiums soared, and PNC Bank sold the hotel’s mortgage to a private group, which called in the loan. “The bank froze our assets, which would have easily covered the loan call,” Scott says. The de Kuypers were poster children for the “occupy” movement, a protest against social and economic inequality, Donna says. Certainly, Scott was no stranger to advocacy. His mother founded a Detroit chapter of the National Organization for Women, and he’d accompanied her to meetings.
Occupy Wall Street began on Sept. 17, 2011, in New York. On Oct. 15, Donna, Scott and McKinnon went there to march. A detour funneled protesters into a barricade of police on motorcycles and horseback. The crowd panicked. Donna and McKinnon shrunk against the wall. Scott was pushed into the fray. He was charged with resisting arrest and trying to yank off the chief of police’s badge, a charge he vehemently denies. He woke up bruised in a jail cell. For two days, Donna didn’t know where he was.
The original charges were eventually dropped, but Scott still had a February 2012 court date. He left Lewes at 2 a.m. after working and napped at a rest stop. At the courthouse, security found an unloaded gun and ammunition in his backpack. “Scott doesn’t remember doing this, but he must have thrown our legally registered, unloaded, two-shot snake gun into this backpack,” Donna wrote in a letter in the Cape Gazette newspaper—her response to the local and national press. Anyone who knew Scott was aware that his memory had faltered due to cancer treatments, she wrote.
New York City’s strict gun laws were unbending. Sentenced to a year on Rikers Island, Scott slept in a room with 50 bunk beds, placed roughly 11 inches apart. Back in Lewes, Donna found support in the theater community. Her daughters, she says, were “little women” who showed “great strength of character.” After eight months, Scott returned to Lewes. “It was challenging coming back labeled a violent criminal for life and still is,” he says. The good news: He was cancer-free as of the fall of 2012, and Hotel Blue had refinanced with another bank.
In the spring of 2014, he played the henchman to friend Haley’s Mafioso-like character in Rob Waters’ short film, “The Interview.” Donna that summer starred in “The Full Monty.” “She has a natural instinct,” says Button of her talent. “She always adds value.”
Acting is therapeutic for both of them, but so is the hotel, whose popularity has grown steadily via word of mouth. Though time-consuming, the business was ideal when the children were young. For years, they lived in an onsite condo. With the girls grown, they’d like to travel more, but the hotel, for now, is still demanding. Nevertheless, they don’t plan to leave the hotel business—or Lewes—anytime soon.
“If you own a piece of the beach,” Scott says, “you should never sell it.”