EXTRA: Kent County Guide: County Line

A long-awaited civic center is on track, big doings at The Little School, Kent’s masterpiece theater, C-17s land, and more.




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Civic Minded


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A group of movers gets a new convention facility off the ground.

Though the project has been in the works for more than 30 years, the pieces are finally coming together: Delaware is getting its very own civic center.

With about $6 million in the bank, and a new financial strategy in the offing, the Delaware Civic Center Committee is well on its way to building a $60 million facility in or near Dover. The committee, comprised of leaders from across the region, hopes to start building by summer of 2007. The building will take three to five years to complete, but when all is said and done, Delaware will no longer be just the state known as the Small Wonder. In fact, we can hopefully prove that size doesn’t matter.

This 160,000-square-foot civic center will accommodate a wide spectrum of events. Besides hosting its own minor league ice hockey team, the civic center could welcome family shows, Disney on Ice, concerts, trade shows, conventions and sporting events. Not only will the civic center be no more than an hour’s drive from anywhere in Delaware, it won’t take much longer to reach from the Philadelphia International Airport, and Baltimore is about 90 minutes away. So, instead of thinking about going to Philly or Baltimore for a weekend getaway, people may just consider staying in Delaware.

Not only will a civic center appeal to the overall attractiveness of the state, it will be a boost for Delaware’s economy. Delaware Civic Center Corporation chairman Stuart Outten Jr. has made it clear that the civic center will “help stimulate private enterprise” in many areas, and provide stable long-term employment in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industries. Delaware won’t just be known for being the home of tax-free shopping anymore.

—Laura Marecki


The Littlest Big Thing in Dover

A preschool becomes an institution—and the changes keep coming.

Milestones, both big and small, are reached everyday at The Little School in Dover. And such daily achievements have been occurring quietly for area preschoolers and kindergartners for more than 50 years. The secret? Learning is disguised as fun and tempered with lots of nurturing and patience.

For these reasons and more, it’s no exaggeration to say that The Little School is a beloved Dover institution. Founded in 1954 by Hattye Mae Biddle and Penny Fox, it started as a nursery school in Fox’s home with just 11 children.

“People then, especially dads, thought it was terrible for children to be going to school all their lives, especially nursery school,” says Biddle, who is 91. Yet children flocked to The Little School. It grew in leaps and bounds, moving from one location to another, until in 1966 it finally settled in an historic farmhouse in downtown Dover.

Biddle says her days at The Little School were the happiest of her life, so there was only one person who she could bring herself to sell it to—teacher M. Jane Richter. Not wanting to give up teaching and worrying about filling Biddle’s big shoes, “it took me three years to decide,” Richter says.

She assumed leadership and ownership of the school in 1975. Since then Richter has greeted students and parents at the door each morning and guided the school through further growth and challenges, all the while maintaining the nurturing and learning environment Biddle had established. Both women agree that it is a job of love.

“You look forward to every day. You could never call this work. It’s a major gift in my life,” says Richter. Biddle echoes those sentiments. “You give a thimble full of love and you get a bushel back,” she says.

Now The Little School is approaching yet another milestone. Richter is negotiating with Wesley College for the purchase of the property—what she cautiously calls an “asset acquisition.” Richter and the entire staff would stay on and their program would remain intact. Yet Richter felt it was a necessary step take to ensure the longevity of The Little School—difficult as it is for her to give it up.

The change, she says, is like raising children: You work hard to help them grow up and be independent, but you hate to let them go. —Carrie Townsend


Photograph by Christian Kaye http://transitdesigns.com


Theater of the Absurd

…and dramatic, and comedic and anything else the Kent County Theatre Guild wants to do. No matter what, these actors do it well.

It was six years ago today,

That we thought you all would stay away.

But you keep on comin’ back for more,

Even though we tried to lock the door.

So let us introduce to you

Thirty people without a clue.

If you were lucky enough to get tickets to last year’s edition of the almost annual, wildly popular send-up “Delaware Unleashed,” you might just start singing such twisted lyrics to the tune of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

The zany production, a parody of all things Delaware, is just one of many shows the Kent County Theatre Guild has performed during its 54 years in Dover—often to great acclaim.

“People are always amazed at the quality of the work we do,” says chairman Mike Polo. “People who’ve seen professional productions of some shows come to see ours and tell us that our version is every bit as good as the one they saw in Washington or Philly. Considering that our annual budget is less than $50,000, that’s quite a compliment.”

The guild’s 2005 production of “Driving Miss Daisy” won “best everything” in the Delaware Theater Association’s annual play festival, says Polo. “It was a clean sweep, including best show, best director, actor achievement, best sound.” Other past productions, including “The Lark” and “Death of a Salesman,” have also won top honors.

“Delaware Unleashed,” a fundraiser for the guild, is nearly impossible to get tickets for; the past two performances sold out within 24 hours. Started in 2000, taking a break in 2003, and performed again for three consecutive years, “Delaware Unleashed” is taking another hiatus. It will return in 2008. This year the guild is planning for a summer cabaret after its final two shows, “Perfect Crime” in March and “Wit” in April and May.

The guild presents five shows each season, which runs September through May, and a summer fundraiser. The theater, a renovated church on Roosevelt Avenue, has 100 seats, which gives each member of the audience an excellent view of the elevated stage. “The intimacy of a small theater makes each audience member feel part of the production, which we feel is an important part of community theater,” Polo says. “This intimacy is also useful when we present plays that involve the audience in the action.”

Guild membership is about 100 people. They handle everything from governance and building maintenance to set construction and acting. The actors are all volunteers. To learn more, visit www.kctg.org. —Lisa Chase


Building Leaders

A popular and successful program creates a stronger community by making better professionals.

The Leadership Central Delaware program is just six years old, but already it has grown so much, there is now a waiting list of applicants.

Starting with 17 participants in 2001, the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce began to train people who wanted to develop a network of diverse professionals and become more involved in the community while learning about local, statewide and national issues that affect the area and about the organizations that make central Delaware tick.

“As a graduate of last year’s class and as the coordinator of the program now, it is certainly an incredible program and was life changing for me,” says Gina Aurora, the chamber’s membership director and the program’s coordinator. “We do try to keep the group at a max of 27 people because that size group is able to bond more.”

And bond they do. During the June Day of Caring, each class chooses a non-profit organization to help out with chores and other tasks, such as a major cleanup or painting.

From September through June, the class meets all day once a month, beginning with a two-day retreat in September, then ending with a June graduation. In that time, participants learn about topics from healthcare and education to waste management and communications while visiting related organizations to learn first-hand.

One of the program’s big draws is an opportunity to participate in the mid-air refueling of a C-5 jet from Dover Air Force Base.

The program costs $750. Many companies view the expense as invaluable training for their staffs. Companies that wish to sponsor one of the training days can do so starting at $1,000. Scholarships are available.

The chamber limits applications to two per company each year. Sometimes both employees can participate at once, but one is sometimes held for the next year’s program. “This way, we get a better balance of participants and a wide range of experience and perspectives on the topics we present,” she says. —Lisa Chase

A Super Highway

Lazy Route 9 is a perfect glimpse of rural Kent—one worth protecting.

Delaware City manager Paul Morrill describes his favorite road as “a window on the past.”

“It is an experience of a rural past that was slower and more natural,” he says wistfully of Delaware Route 9. “That feel is disappearing elsewhere and is becoming harder to find.”

From New Castle to south of Dover, you can travel a significant stretch of Delaware’s coastline on Route 9, from the Reedy Point Bridge, enjoying a panoramic view of Thousand Acre Marsh along the C&D Canal, to the Delaware Estuary and tidal marshes. Delaware 9 is not to be confused with U.S. 9, a federal highway that runs from the Cape May-Lewes Ferry terminal across Sussex County.

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