How to Help Your Aging Parents Plan for Their Futures

Preparing for this role reversal is key.


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Anything called “the conversation” is difficult to have. Parents have “the conversation” with their teens about sex, drugs, alcohol and any number of other issues. Fifty or so years later, it’s the kids’ turn to have “the conversation” with their parents. The kids are no longer kids; they are adult children to aging parents. But maturity doesn’t always prepare them for dealing with their parents’ declining health.

Joanna Shea remembers having “the conversation” with her father. “He had heart disease and my siblings and I knew that he had limited time,” Shea says. “I was the one who said, ‘Dad, we want your wishes to be granted if anything happens to you. Not that it’s going to happen tomorrow or next month. Just IF. We don’t want to be fighting about how you want the funeral service to be. We don’t want to be fighting about who gets your belongings. We want to do everything the way you want it. But for that to happen, you have to tell us what you want.”

Logic was her ally, Shea says, and her father was receptive to “the conversation.” He complied, outlining his wishes while he was still able to do so. Not all adult children can be so even-handed in coping with their aging parents. Shea’s advantage comes from her special training. She is the social service senior administrator for the Delaware Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities. 

DSAAPD provides a wide range of services for seniors, the disabled and their caregivers. Adult day care and home delivered meals are under DSAAPD’s purview as are legal, medical and financial services. In 2010, DSAAPD created the Delaware Aging and Disability Resource Center to be a one-stop shop for information, counseling and support. DADRC is part of a nationwide network of resource centers and receives support from a variety of local and national organizations. 

Shea says that one-on-one service is provided at resource centers throughout Delaware. DSAAPD also offers information through its Guide To Services For Older Delawareans and Persons With Disabilities, available in print and online. 

Alzheimer’s is one of DSAAPD’s main focuses. In 2015, the U.S. Administration for Community Living/Administration on Aging awarded DSAAPD a three-year grant of more than $890,000 to support its Delaware Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative. The new DSAAPD Alzheimer’s Toolkit is one of the first projects to result from the grant. “The focus is very much on the families of people with Alzheimer’s, because the disease takes a huge toll on them,” Shea explains. “Endless patience is required because it’s like dealing with a child. Our No. 1 piece of advice is to get support from groups of professionals and other people coping with their parents’ Alzheimer’s. There’s no reason to go it alone. Help is available.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum are seniors who are quite healthy in body and mind, but could use extra help—or so their children think. One issue that becomes a bone of contention: driving. “It’s a big symbol of independence,” says Maggie Ratnayake, director of the Brandywine Village Network, an aging-in-place initiative from Jewish Family Services of Delaware. “Family members often call us because they are noticing decline in their parents, particularly if they are not driving with confidence,” Ratnayake explains. “That can lead to them not going grocery shopping as often as they should or not going to social events and then becoming rather isolated.”

Brandywine Village Network provides seniors with transportation, light housekeeping and bill paying. Some services are performed by volunteers and others require payment, but those providers are screened by Brandywine Village Network and form what Ratnayake calls “an in-house Angie’s List for older adults.” Brandywine Village Network is available in northeastern New Castle County and will soon be available in Sussex County. 

Although housekeeping, transportation and bill paying sound like tasks that most people would welcome help with, some seniors have trouble admitting that they need assistance. “The adult child often tells us that their parent is declining, but is very resistant to change,” Ratnayake says. 

Frame conversations around parents’ goals of maintaining their independence, Ratnayake suggests. As an example, she offers this exchange: Do you want to go to the grocery store? Great. Let’s find ways to get you there safely. Do you want to do all of your grocery shopping in one weekly visit? Great. Let’s find someone to help you carry those heavy bags into the house. “Come at it from a collaborative point of view,” she says. “If you say, ‘We’re taking away your car keys,’ you won’t have much success.”

Have these conversations in stages so parents don’t feel overwhelmed, Shea suggests. And, get all of the siblings involved. Parents shouldn’t feel that their kids are ganging up on them, but when it’s a matter of overcoming resistance, there is power in numbers. Stay positive, Shea advises. The message should be that everyone wants to support Mom and Dad. “Even if they live in California, siblings can have a role and contribute,” Shea says. “But get yourselves together first. Call a sibling meeting and make an agenda with responsibilities. Does someone have power of attorney and if not, who should it be? Who will handle Mom’s finances? Who wants to take care of groceries? Lawn care? Everything. Make a list and let people take it home and think about it. You can tweak the plan before you present it to your parents.”

Longer-term decisions need to be made with aging parents well in advance of their decline. As a framework, Shea suggests Five Wishes, a planning document created by Aging with Dignity, a nonprofit organization. Five Wishes is exactly what it sounds like: five decisions that people can make about their futures in case of illness, incapacitation and death. “It’s not as intensive as a living will, but it is comprehensive,” Shea says. “I did it with my mother. It’s tough. I cried through the whole thing. But now all four of us kids know what Mom wants us to do and we’ll feel good about doing it.” 

Aging in place is not a choice for all seniors. Many need assisted living, memory care units and nursing homes, or specialized rehabilitation following surgery. Newark’s Churchman Village is one facility of choice and Nadia Caprice is usually the first person families’ meet when they arrive for a tour. Caprice is Churchman Village’s director of admissions and marketing and a trained social worker. “Overwhelmed” is how she describes the adult children she meets. 

“The first thing I do is decrease their anxiety level,” Caprice says. “I ask them to share exactly what’s going on with their parents. People say, ‘Mom is falling more. She’s being hospitalized more. Can you help me care for my mom or dad?’”

It’s a heartbreaking question and Caprice understands the difficulty of relinquishing care of ailing parents. But that’s an emotional reaction, she says, because the medical aspects are pretty clear. Older adults with balance issues, any form of dementia and a variety of comorbidities are usually safer in controlled settings staffed by medical professionals. And adult children remain very involved, Caprice says. “If a medical decision needs to be made or a situation arises, my colleagues call a family meeting so that everyone can be informed and on board with the next steps,” she explains.

Finances also weigh heavily on adult children, Caprice says. Navigating Medicare, Medicaid and other parts of the system can be difficult. Churchman Village has a business office that helps residents and their adult children go through the process, which can take from six months to a year.

“Most adult children are unaware of how lengthy the process is and that it’s on the family to figure it out if the parent cannot,” Caprice says. “A lot of documentation is required and there are a lot of appointments to make.”

For those reasons, Caprice tells adult children that they must maintain their own health, both physically and mentally. “I educate people about having positive health habits and taking care of themselves,” she says. “Know that your loved one is protected. Now protect yourself so that you can be healthy and strong for your parents—and your own children, spouse and other people you love.”  


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February 2018

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
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Cost: 10

Where:
Greater Philadelphia Expo Center
100 Station Ave
Oaks, PA  19456
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Sponsor: MarketPlace Events
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

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Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
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Cost: $10

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
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"Choir Boy" presents a complex look at race and sexuality. Shows are at 8pm on February 16 and 17; there is a 2pm matinee on Sunday February 18. Buy tickets online at www.WilmingtonDramaLeague.org.

Cost: $10-$15

Where:
Wilmington Drama League
10 West Lea Blvd.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Wilmington Drama League
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
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Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital will host a four-session diabetes educational program, The Diabetes Connection, on February 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. Pre-registration is required. As...

Cost: Call for cost.

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-629-6611 x2288
Contact Name: Nanticoke's Diabetes Education Department
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Show More...
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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Cost: FREE

Where:
Faith Victory Christian Center
301 Commonwealth Avenue
Claymont, DE  19703
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Sponsor: Faith Victory Christian Center
Telephone: 302.354.6726
Contact Name: Alvin Walker
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By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Ruth Arias
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Clearing the mind and learning to think not thinking is Zen awareness. Taking the appropriate action in this moment is Zen. Once you know this in your body, walking, standing, sitting down,...

Cost: Free

Where:
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark
420 Willa Road
Newark, DE  19711
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Sponsor: UUFN
Telephone: 302.368.2984
Contact Name: Richard Field
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"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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More information

This community event invites attendees to sample healthy dishes prepared by local restaurants and vote for the most creative, tastiest, and best preparation. The first 200 registrants may also sign...

Where:
STAR Health Sciences Complex
540 S. College Ave
Newark, DE  19713
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Explore connections between people and plants in these four inspiring presentations. Special thanks to Whole Foods Market for sponsoring this  year’s refreshments. Individual lecture pricing:...

Cost: $20 members; $30 non-members

Where:
Delaware Center for Horticulture
1810 N. Dupont Street
Wilmington, DE  19806
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Sponsor: Delaware Center for Horticulture
Telephone: (302) 658-6262
Contact Name: Mackenzie Knight-Fochs
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Tickets are $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students. Tickets are available at the door. Cash or check only.

Cost: $15 adults; $10 UD faculty/staff/alumni & seniors; $5 students

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

"What the water said…Flowers, Places, & Faces," an exhibition of watercolor paintings by Hugh Phibbs, will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from February 2-23, 2018. A free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
Carvel State Office Building, 2nd Floor
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8278
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

More information

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Glory of Stories introduces young visitors to art and the Museum through a story reading followed by an interactive tour of relevant works of art and a studio art project. This program encourages...

Cost: Free to Members, $5 per child and one adult free for Non-Members

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
Website »

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Show More...
Show Less...

A winter warm up of colorful, vibrant paintings. Marlene Dubin - bold mixed media abstracts; Elaine Lisle - regional landscapes in oil; Mary Ann Weselyk – whimsical animals and still life...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

The area’s largest sale of gently used books has been scheduled by the Wilmington branch of the American Association of University Women. The 49th annual Dollars for Scholars Used Book Sale, to...

Cost: free

Where:
Concord Mall
4737 Concord Pike
North Wilmington, DE  19803
View map »


Sponsor: American Association of University Women
Telephone: 302-428-0939

More information

This community-curated exhibition brings together three painters—Alan Soffer, Brian Dickerson, and Moe Brooker—who are attuned to harmonies and contrasts in abstract forms. Each artist...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

Ronald Barron was principal trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1975 until 2008. He joined the orchestra in 1970 after being a member of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and also...

Cost: Free

Where:
Gore Recital Hall
110 Orchard Rd
Newark, DE  19716
View map »


Sponsor: University of Delaware Department of Music
Telephone: 130-283-12578
Contact Name: Megan Everhart
Website »

More information

Celebrate the 12th Annual Chinese New Year at the Delaware Art Museum! This celebration includes traditional Chinese art activities, artist demonstrations, a lion and folk dance, a Chinese yo-yo...

Cost: Free; donations accepted

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

More information

By Simon Stephens (playwright of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time") Directed by Matt Pfeiffer REGIONAL PREMIERE! Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Delaware Theatre Company
200 Water Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

More information

For this Saturday’s activity, visitors will have fun with fluid dynamics and hydraulics - Pascal would be proud! Visitors of all ages are invited to discover solutions to science and engineering...

Cost: Free with admission; Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under: Free

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Website »

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Cost: *VIP $125.00; *Silver Mirror Ball $50.00

Where:
Dover Downs Hotel
, 1131 North Dupont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition
Telephone: 302-778-1102
Contact Name: Eliza Mohler
Website »

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The Newark Symphony Chamber Orchestra presents a performance of Johann Baptist George Neruda, Trumpet Concerto in E flat, with Wendell Banyay, Trumpet.  Also to be featured will be Gabriel Faure,...

Cost: 0 - $20

Where:
Newark United Methodist Church
69 E. Main St.
Newark, DE  19711
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