Our gal mingles Winterthur’s Yuletide celebration, wishes an OperaDelaware doyenne farewell and sorts through the who’s who at the Grand Gala.

Hello, dahlings! If winter is starting to seem like a little shop of horrors by now, let’s replay some blasts from the past—The Grand Gala, an OperaDelaware doyenne’s departure and more—to remind ourselves that the best social bonfires never die out.

Ashley Biden: Altruist
Ashley Biden, 25, is committed to giving others a better beginning. Now a job developer for the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Families’ education unit, she’s engrossed in working with disadvantaged kids, helping them develop life skills. Her duties sometimes take her into Ferris and Mowlds detention centers.

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“The biggest thing is that everybody should have the same opportunities,” Ashley maintained at Yuletide Evening, a cocktail buffet in the Galleries at Winterthur that highlighted two family friendly exhibits. Ashley’s long black hair spilled over her dramatic red blouse as she emphasized that her group was an essential part of the inner-city community.

“These kids need guidance. They have so much potential. They’re just so bright,” Ashley said. People respond to how others see you and treat you, she maintained. Her motto: It takes one person to believe.

Wow. Sounds like a stump speech that might be filed away for future use. But Ashley disavowed any run for public office, unlike her famous father, U.S. Senator Joe Biden, who made another charge at the White House, and his son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. “I’m a little sensitive. I grew up with it. You have to take a lot of heat,” Ashley said. Nonetheless, she braved the Iowa cold big-time to campaign for the man she refers to as “my best friend.”

Our tête-à-tête took place at the second of Winterthur’s Yuletide celebrations, which had corporate guests oohing over pets and period rooms. “We all enjoy giving back to the cultural community,” said Geoffrey Rogers, a senior vice president of The Glenmede Trust Company. Geoff’s red necktie patterned with Christmas tree balls was selected by his blonde wife, Sheryl, who looks for ties and cuff links when they travel. And, yes, that was Geoff we’d spotted earlier at the Saturday night premiere of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” which kept audiences howling at the Delaware Theatre Company.

Such Good Friends
Division of the Arts head Paul Weagraft, Delaware Humanities Forum director Marilyn Whittington, Delaware Theatre Company director of marketing and communications Amy Bish and Michelle Kramer-Fitzgerald, president of City Theater Company, are surefooted comrades in the arts. So all of them turned up for the well-wishers’ bash for Julie Von Blarcom, who’s signed off as executive director of OperaDelaware to take over the same title at the new Delaware Children’s Museum, on the Wilmington Riverfront, in the old Kahunaville building. “The good news is, I’m not moving. I’m not moving. Instead, I’ve found my true calling, which is to hang out with children,” Julie told the many guests gathered for cheese and pâté. John Rollins, past president of OperaDelaware, presented Julie with a framed collage of OperaDelaware program covers. Julie, that eternal fashionista, looked foxy in a fur-trimmed sweater vest over a cheetah-print top, with a shorter, curling iron-styled hairdo that was most becoming.

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We chatted up Danielle Rice, executive director of the Delaware Art Museum, about the upcoming Latin American focus there. With “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Muray” looming (February 2 through March 5), we had to ask what explained the fabled Kahlo’s enduring mystique? “I think it was her unibrow,” Danielle answered thoughtfully. “But she was such a remarkable, remarkable person who challenged all the conventions. Her persona was part of her art.” A second show featuring Fernando Botero, a Colombian living in Paris, follows through May with “paintings and monumental sculptures in the sculpture garden,” according to Danielle. So dress festively, art aficionados. “We’re hot. We’re hot,” enthused Danielle.

Grand Gala, Grand Slam
Grand Opera House chairman Skip Pinella entered on-stage in streams of smoke that resembled the sort of big-studio special effects usually reserved for Han Solo or Heathcliff. As an encore, there was serial Grammy award-winner Linda Ronstadt’s breathtaking rendition of “Desperado.” Gourmet sushi, sumptuous oysters and the mother of all chocolate fountains were among the star treats during the after-party in the Hotel du Pont. “Everyone’s here!” social star Claire DeMatteis Marquardt chimed outside the Gold Ballroom. And indeed they were. It was the 31st annual Grand Gala.

The ladies were decked out in fabulous finery, with black-tied public servants omnipresent among the buffets. U.S. Senator Tom Carper admitted he was eating “everything.” “We started our way over to one side and worked our way over to the other,” he said. Oh, to be blitzed by the Brandywine Room’s bounteous desserts. (But the man looks so skinny.) New Castle County Executive Chris Coons joined the Carper group by the sundae bar, where Chris’ gorgeous wife, Annie Coons, cooed over the concoctions. “She’s very disciplined,” her mother-in-law, Sally Gore, observed.

“He loves it. He loves it. He didn’t miss a beat. He just stepped right in,” Pat DiPinto bubbled over husband Joe DiPinto’s semi-new job as director of economic development for Wilmington. Gabby just had to ask Joe what his biggest challenge was. “Are you kidding? I could name about 50 things. The most challenging thing is to keep ahead of the curve. All Northeastern cities are doing well, but you can’t remain static,” Joe said.

Tracey Carney, in a silver and black ensemble, singled out that second Gala singer, Phoebe Snow (“Poetry Man”), as “a nice surprise. And they looked like they were having so much fun working and playing up there on the stage. We get spoiled by having musician David Bromberg as a local talent. We forget how good he is.” Down to brass tacks. Will Tracey’s husband, Lieutenant Governor John Carney, get the Democratic gubernatorial nod over rival Jack Markell? “You tell me. We are lucky. Life is good, no matter what happens,” she said.

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Lyn Doto, in a trumpet-sleeved, inky blue, two-piece dress from Lady’s Image, chatted up Kate Bayard, now a vice president at McConnell-Johnson. Vince Poppiti and Laura Scanlan—whose spouses had scattered—braved the crammed coat check room, which had run out of hangers for wraps.

Emily and Patrick Harker may be UD’s first couple, but New York City was a fave topic over breakfast in the Du Barry Room. (The couple’s daughter attends Columbia University.) Finally, we caught executive committee mover Tanya Copeland by the elegant pastries. Tanya has been renting out her palatial, five-bedroom Mustique retreat to businessmen, she told us. “Fantasy is the one thing they don’t have in their lives.” Ta-ta, ’til next time.

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