An Arden resident will light up your life. Plus, plucky pirates treasure Lewes.

When it comes to high-end pyrotechnics, Arden resident Denis

O’Regan is a veritable wizard of aahs (and oohs).

Photograph by Tom Nutter

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Creating a Big Bang

Not just anyone can teach the Chinese how to put on a fireworks show. After all, the Chinese invented fireworks more than a thousand years ago and still supply most of the world’s pyrotechnics.

But when a major fireworks company in Wuhan, China, decided to put on its first computer-designed extravaganza for China National Day, they called on Arden resident Denis O’Regan for help.

O’Regan owns and operates Fireworks Concepts. He creates 50 shows a year, including big productions at Penn’s Landing and Washington, D.C. But the logistics for the China show staggered even him.

“It was 12 to 14 times the size of the Penn’s Landing New Year’s Eve show,” he says. “They lashed together 14 barges in the middle of the Yangtze River to create a 1,600-foot-long stage. The 30-minute show included $200,000 worth of shells and required four networked computers to control it.”

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A woodworker with a background in architecture and historic restoration, O’Regan brings to his work the eye of an artist and skills of a builder. He learned fireworks production from Ruggieri of France, a company preeminent in the field since its founding in the mid-18th century.

“I decided if I was going to do
fireworks shows, I would do high-end,” O’Regan says. “There are plenty of people with a pickup truck who want to set off fireworks, but they don’t have the desire or the background to design a show as art.”

Delawareans have seen O’Regan productions at the Wilmington Riverfest, the Hartefeld National Golf Club on the Fourth of July and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s anniversary galas. He also does onstage pyrotechnics for performers.

O’Regan likens his work to floral design, “painting on an aerial canvas” or creating a “fire symphony.” He most enjoys creating elaborate spectacles that combine color, sound, music, lights, water and, of course, explosions.

The oohs and aahs of the audience let him know when he has succeeded.

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—Theresa Gawlas Medoff

The Endless


Eric Foraker grew up on the water. At two weeks old, he sailed on the Chesapeake Bay tethered to the boat’s mast. At three months old came his first swimming lessons. By 12 he was sailing solo. He was adventurous, says his mother, Victoria Foraker, but very much a homebody.

Now the Newark native is living a perpetual exotic vacation as a traveling surf instructor in the Mentawais Islands of Indonesia.

His career path is as much a surprise to him as it is to everyone else.

After a spring break trip to Costa Rica turned into three months, Foraker returned home with a new girlfriend, who he decided to follow to California a few days later.

While there, Foraker went back to school, earned his captain’s license from the Coast Guard, and trawled the Internet in search of surf spots. Which is how he discovered Southeast Asia, the final frontier for surf nuts.

He agreed to a 45-day ticket to Indonesia for a surf guide training session. When he discovered the offer was a scam, a dejected Foraker split to Bali to plan his next move. Over breakfast the next morning, he had a chance conversation with a talkative Frenchman. Foraker told the man his tale. The man responded, “I just bought a boat, and I need a captain.”

“The timing of it was a little odd,” Foraker says. “I always wondered if luck could be that good.”

Foraker spent the next two years captaining Strictly Business, a 58-foot catamaran around the Mentawais Island, taking a dozen surf nuts at a time on 12-day surf vacations.

Today Foraker, 25, spends most of the year piloting Addiction, a bigger, better, 80-foot ferryboat—through the Mentawais.

“I feel like I have a purpose,” he says. “I’m not working just to pay bills or whatever. I have a mission in my life. The people who come on the trips are on a mission, too. They’re searching for waves.”

—Matt Amis

Built on Stilts? 

The lot at

3 Red Oak Road

in Wilmington is nowhere near surf or sand, but to Steve Crifasi, it might as well be beachfront real estate. Crifasi handles premier properties for Patterson-Schwartz. He describes the ¼-acre parcel as the city’s version of oceanfront property because of its Frisbee-toss proximity to Rockford Park. It’s the sort of view many would pay a pretty premium for. One might expect a real estate agent to embellish a bit, but 3 Red Oak is more than a nice view: The parcel is thought to be the last vacant property in The Highlands. “There’s nothing else left that I know of,” Crifasi says. “Zippo.” It could be yours for $529,900. Or you could wait to purchase a nifty house on the property, built by Dewson Construction. Crifasi says that if the lot doesn’t sell soon, Dewson and owner Bill Freeborn will likely build a three-story home there. The 5,000 square-foot home would list for between $1.5 million and $2 million. Tim Dewson, president of Dewson Construction, and Freeborn are well known for fancy homebuilding, so the buyer will no doubt get a top-notch home with a to-die-for view. “It’s a win-win for everybody,” Dewson says. “It’s a beautiful corner.” And if you squint, Rockford Tower could pass for a lighthouse.

Drew Ostroski

For Polecats Only

For $350, Patty Mandelbaum will come to your house and teach you and 12 friends a pole-dancing routine. She brings the pole. Its name is Antonio Banderas.

Antonio supports up to 300 pounds, as long as he’s drilled into a floor joist. As a certified instructor for A Pole Lot of Fun, Mandelbaum uses it to teach 12 basic steps, including the fireman’s spin.

Lest you get the wrong idea, this is for fitness only.

“I got a lot of negative feedback at first,” Mandelbaum says. “Now it’s becoming quite popular. Even the people that were very reluctant, like my psychologist friends in North Wilmington, are into it.”

Pole dancing builds upper-body strength; improves muscle definition in the arms, thighs and buttocks; and burns an average of 250 calories an hour.

Though touted as America’s newest fitness craze, it’s impossible to ignore the obvious. “Well, you’ve got women dancing around a pole here,” says Mandelbaum, 53. “Let’s face it. It brings out your inner sexpot.”

When Mandelbaum started in April, she was hosting one party a month. Now she’s up to six. Customers ranging from 25 to 70 include cops, ministers and brides-to-be. The guys are getting some too, if you will. “One groom is having a pole installed while he’s on his honeymoon,” she says.

This summer, expect to see Mandelbaum and her portable pole on the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk or, as she says, “wherever they let me.”

—Maria Hess


Given the town’s interesting past, some Lewes residents may have been surprised—maybe even alarmed—to see a pirate ship cruising the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.

No, it isn’t the ghost of Captain Kidd, Blackbeard, Pirate Blueskin or Johnny Depp.

It’s only Barry Askew at the helm of the Sea Gypsy V.

Since its maiden voyage in early May,  the Sea Gypsy V, through Pirates Expeditions of Lewes, has been making up to six trips a day on the canal.

“I love the sea and I love having fun,” Askew says.

Aspiring pirates (that’s you)—tutored in pirate jargon, dressed in appropriate garb and initiated with the “pirate pledge”—are greeted at the Anglers Marina dock. They then set sail for Beach Plum Island, following a treasure map. When evil Pirate Pete pursues, the crew and mates fire water cannons to defend the treasure.

The Sea Gypsy V is one of six in the United States. Built in Maine by Hyannis Pirate Adventures, the foundation of the Sea Gypsy V is the hull of a lobster boat, “so it’s safe and strong,” says Askew.

Askew, a Realtor on land, was drawn to this new business by the fun of it. The ship is “the talk of the harbor,” he says. “My wife thinks I’m nuts, but most of my friends think it’s a great idea.”

Seafaring adventurers can book their voyage by calling 249-3538. Reservations are required.

—Carrie Townsend

Artistic License

The secret to winning a national art contest is as clear as duck soup for Milford resident Richard Clifton: talent and persistence.

Clifton’s waterfowl art has made him a local celebrity. Now, as winner of the 2006 Federal Duck Stamp Contest, one of his paintings will be printed on hunting licenses across the country this year.

The award was a long time coming. Clifton has won the Delaware contest 26 times. He had entered the national contest more than two dozen times.

“It becomes your Super Bowl,” he says. “It’s like if you were on a football team and you win all of your games and make it to the playoffs, but don’t make it to the Super Bowl. That’s good, but it’s not what you’re going for.”

Art has been a part of Clifton’s life since he could wrap his fingers around a Crayola. “I started as a kid drawing tractors with crayons and colored pencils,” he says. “As I got a little older, I started drawing songbirds.”

These days Clifton prefers acrylics and waterfowl. He has spent so much time photographing, hunting, and painting ducks and geese that he can create a picture worthy of framing without using a model. “I live, eat and breathe this stuff every day,” he says. “It’s pretty ingrained in my mind.”

Those who want to help Clifton celebrate can migrate to Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge on July 14, which Milton has declared Richard Clifton Day. Fans can purchase prints and see the area that inspired the art. Proceeds from sales of the stamp go toward habitat conservation. Call 684-8419.

—Kaytie Dowling

A Can-Do Proposition

When Jacob Vassalotti turned six, he nixed birthday presents. He asked his friends to donate to the Can-Do Playground instead. Jacob raised $400.

It was a great start, but it took another $463,900 to build Can-Do Playground, the first in Delaware designed to help children with disabilities (and without) develop life skills through play. Can-Do, part of Blue Ball Barn and Alapocas Run Park on Concord Pike, will open July 11.

The 26,000 square-foot playground supports three major groupings: development and decision-making, physical development and social interaction. Play apparatus challenges physically. A garden offers mazes, games and other brain teasers. Raised sandboxes are wheelchair accessible. Autistic children can play alone in specified areas. Balancing tools such as pods and stepping-stones help children with Down syndrome.

Thank the six Rotary clubs of greater Wilmington. After consulting with special-education teachers, the Mary Campbell Center, parents and children, Rotary learned that more than 8,000 local children who are not institutionalized have a physical, developmental, sensory or cognitive disability—but no public playground of their own.

The Rotarians contributed $135,000. Accountants and lawyers volunteered their services. When state officials got on board, the effort kicked into high gear.

The park’s proximity to A.I. duPont Hospital for Children is another asset, says State Representative Bob Valihura, who worked on the project.

Brandywine Rotary member Tom Talley says the importance of the project hit home for him when a wheelchair-bound dad expressed his gratitude.

“He said, ‘This is the first time I can go to a playground and play with my child,’” Talley says. “I lost it.”

—Maria Hess

20 Questions Plus—for Grown-Ups

The game Knowbody Knows is not meant to be played before a fire with the family on a lazy Saturday afternoon. It’s more of a get-drunk-and-act-silly-in-front-of-your-friends-on-a-Saturday-night kind of game.

“If you’ve ever played Pictionary after a few drinks, you know what I’m talking about,” says Susan McNeill, CEO of McNeill Designs for Brighter Minds, the Wilmington-based company that invented and distributes the game.

The idea behind Knowbody Knows is to get to know people better, preferably in a party setting. But unlike most games, Knowbody Knows is based on the idea that there are no right answers, only good, if not wild, guesses.

Cards direct players to guess how many hours a month other players spend “on the can” or to rate one’s flirtatiousness on a scale of 1 to 1,000. The goal is to be the player who gives answers that are nearest the truth.

Knowbody Knows received the Major Fun Party Game Award and was named one of Major Fun’s Five Most Fun Party Games for 2006. “You really can’t answer the questions without laughing,” McNeill says. “It’s a great game for a party, especially for younger crowds. It’s just something different to do.”

—Emily Picillo