At the Table: On Individuality

Don Blakey wasn't trying to become the first black legislator from below the canal. He was simply being Don Blakey.



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“I’m not a follower,” says Blakey, who has been affiliated with Delaware State University for more than 50 years. “I don’t necessarily do everything that everybody else does. So I question things.”
Photograph by Pat Crowe IIÊ

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Donald Blakey does things his way. Rather than join DT for lunch during our scheduled March 26 interview, for example, he asks if we can chat in a small office at Delaware State University. Blakey, who teaches speech, aviation and Kiswahili at Delaware State, explains that he is manning a weeklong display about East Africa at the university’s Education and Humanities Center.

Blakey, a youthful looking 71-year-old, appears professional but comfortable in blue jeans, a navy blue sports jacket, a blue dress shirt, a necktie that features African lions and a pair of snakeskin cowboy boots. Arranged on a nearby table is a collection of African memorabilia, including photos, brochures and a goatskin.

Blakey has been affiliated with DSU for more than 50 years as a student, alumnus, coach and faculty member. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Delaware State in 1958 and is enshrined in the school’s sports hall of fame for his baseball and football exploits.

In 1968 Blakey became the first black school administrator in the Caesar Rodney School District, where he served as an assistant principal and transportation supervisor. He became the first, and so far only, African American to serve as a Kent County Levy Court commissioner. In November after 18 years in county government, the Camden resident was elected to represent the 34th district in the House of Representatives, becoming the first black legislator from below the C&D Canal.

The discussion is occasionally pre-empted as students drop in to check out the African display. African music plays in the hallway, sometimes interrupted by a lion’s roar and other animal noises that echo from just outside the door, which leads us to ask:

DT: Will you tell us a little bit about what’s going on here today?

DB: This is the English slash foreign language department. One of the instructors came up with the idea that students should know more about each one of the languages being taught. This is Kiswahili. We deal with the culture because I don’t think you can separate culture from language and keep them abstract.

DT: You are the first African American to become a Kent County Levy Court Commissioner and you are also the first black legislator from below the C&D Canal. What does that mean to you and why did it take so long?

DB: It’s been a wonderful pleasure and an awesome responsibility to be a Levy Court Commissioner for my particular district, which was the fifth district. And it’s with the same awesomeness of being the representative of my representative district, which houses the Levy Court district that I worked for. Dolores (his wife) and I worked a long time in the community—not working toward this kind of outcome, but to be of service to the people that we had been working with as teachers and administrators and school bus supervisors and having our children’s theater. We just wanted to give back to the community whatever we could give back to them in whatever form that they required of us.

DT: I guess dealing with school bus issues could be as contentious as anything you’d deal with in politics.

DB: Absolutely. But I think people recognize that when you look at both sides of the issue—and I try to do that—and then you make a decision based on the evidence that was available coming from both sides and try to work toward as much of a compromise as you possibly can. In some instances you can’t get there and you have to go ahead and make your decision.

But most people will give a little bit if they can get a little bit. I thought that was one of the things that I could be working toward: to get people to see that everybody can win. You can’t win all, but you can win a lot of what it is that you are after. So if everybody walks away from the table with something, I think you can make progress.

DT: What in the world took so long to elect a black legislator from downstate?

DB: I’m just going to have to give credit to the people in my community. They weren’t looking at it from a racial point of view. They were looking at it from: Does he have experience? Does he stay in contact with us? Will he do his best to get the job done? Has he done that in the past? I think, for the most part, the answer has been yes. There have been a number of other people who I thought should have been the first, but for some reason, the chemistry wasn’t right at the time.

DT: Many folks have gone into the legislature with the intent of doing good things, but not all of them are able to keep constituent service at the fore, for whatever reason. How do you continue to serve your community and not get involved with the lobbyists and all of the special interests?

DB: I don’t think you can get away from the lobbyists. I mean, they’re there. (He laughs.) It’s like breathing air. They’re all around you. But I think, as I’ve been told and as I’ve done in Levy Court—because there are lobbyists at the Levy Court level, but not as many and not as intense—is to study both sides of the problem, talk to both sides so that you get a full understanding of what is going on, then make a decision. You’re going to satisfy somebody, and you’re going to make someone else not happy about the situation, but if you have the evidence and the circumstances point to a certain conclusion, then you’re on much better ground than if you only listen to one side.

So what you’re talking about is, yes, I’ve had lobbyists talk to me about certain things in medicine, in the business of abortions and things like that. But there are two sides to that, and I’m going to listen to both sides. As I said before, I would try to get both sides to give up something, because if both sides can walk away from the table saying, “I won something. I didn’t get it all, but I won something,” it’s a much better situation than the other way.

DT: You make it sound easy.

DB: I just live that way.

DT: You’re a Republican. How many people of color, especially from below the canal, are Republicans?

DB: I think there are a lot of them, but they won’t say it. A lot of people don’t want to draw attention to themselves. Dolores and I are both Republicans.

I guess I got to be a Republican, not because of a political issue or anything of that nature, but basically because when my grandmother put me on a train to come here, she said, “Don’t make an ass out of yourself.” We (he and Dolores) both like elephants, so we chose the elephants, not knowing what the elephant was going to lead to in terms of politics or anything of that nature. I have nothing personal against Republicans, Democrats, Green Party or anything else. I think the issues that we have to deal with, that need to be ameliorated through working together, hammering things out and, again, both sides walking away with something—that’s what politics is all about, I think, is compromise.

DT: Now, if you don’t mind running this by me again, your grandmother put you on a train…

DB: My grandma put me on a train from Washington, D.C., in 1954. She gave me a bag of sandwiches and $20 and a hug and said, “Do the best you can. Just don’t make an ass out of yourself.” What she really was saying was uphold the family values.

DT: Was she telling you to not become a Democrat?

DB: No. But I use that.

DT: So tell me how the elephant results in you joining the Republican Party.

DB: Well, obviously you have a symbol. And everybody knows when you show the symbol on the wall and one is an elephant and one is a donkey, then you say, “Oh, I like the elephant. That’s what I want to do right there.” That’s how I became a Republican. (He laughs.) That’s the way it happened.

DT: But I assume you would have changed your affiliation if you didn’t agree with the party’s stance on issues?

DB: Well, I’m not a joiner. I’m not a follower. And I want to qualify that, because it may seem that I’m overstating myself, but I don’t necessarily do everything that everybody else does. So I question things.

DT: You said there are a lot of black Republicans around, but they’re not admitting it. Are they registered Republicans or are they just voting that way?

DB: I can’t tell whether or not they are registered. I’m assuming that most of them are registered. But they’re not vocal about it.

DT: Why not?

DB: Well, I guess it’s like the kid that walks through the cafeteria with the suit on when everybody else is in T-shirts. For the most part, the student that wants to be different won’t be different if he walks through the cafeteria with a T-shirt on. But he can do things because he’s under the radar, so to speak. The student that walks through the cafeteria with the suit on, everybody’s going to look at him. They’re gonna ask him why he’s dressed like that. Everybody doesn’t want attention called to themselves like that. So this is only an assumption, that those African Americans who are not vocal or visible want not to have attention drawn to themselves. They want to vote the way they want to. They don’t want to get drawn into these arguments about what this party did for that group or the other party did for this group.

DT: You chair a committee and you’re a member of three others. That’s quite a lot to deal with during your first year, isn’t it?

DB: Yeah, but it’s not unusual. I’m up to multi-tasking. I’ve had experience in transportation. I’ve had experience in administration. I’ve had experience in the school system and I have 18 years of Levy Court experience, so I think that they trust me with a bailiwick that has a lot of responsibility to it. I appreciate that, and I will attempt to do the very best I can to be up to date and to really help to try and solve problems. I’ve got a learning curve that’s kind of steep. But that’s what helps to get me up in the morning.

DT: What were the remaining issues that you wanted to address in Levy Court?

DB: Still, it’s going to be growth and how to control growth. There’s been the issue that people want to have the infrastructure in before the growth occurs versus those that want to have the growth then put the infrastructure in. I’m working from the opposing point of view of each of them and saying, let’s do them together. As you grow, you put infrastructure in. But don’t get it too far ahead. They have to be close.

The governor has said, “Discover Delaware.” They’ve got signs as far west as Ohio: Discover Delaware. New York: Discover Delaware. We’ve been discovered. So now we have to handle that. So it’s not a county problem as much as it is a state problem.

Do we want all these people here? Do we want to build a road that carries them all the way from Philadelphia straight into Ocean City? That’s one of the issues that’s coming up right now with the Milford area. Even further down, the state wants to improve the highway system to carry people through the state to get to Rehoboth, where they can’t go anywhere because it’s gridlock. It seems another kind of thinking needs to take place there. I’m not sure what that is, but I think if we put our heads together, we can probably figure it out.Ê

D

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February 2016

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More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
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Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
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1200 N DuPont Highway
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View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

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The Station Gallery
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Cost: Call for information.

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
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Telephone: 302-629-6611x2446
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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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500 McKennans Church Rd
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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

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, DE


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Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: Free

Where:
Kimmel Center - Commonwealth Plaza
300 S. Broad St.
Philadelphia, PA  19102
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Sponsor: Kimmel Center
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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

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Where:
, DE

More information

Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Delaware State University will feature the following events and exhibitions during its 2016 Black History Month celebration: Wednesday, Feb. 3 Black Lives Matter Symposium Documentary...

Cost: FREE and open to the public

Where:
Delaware State University
1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
View map »

More information

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

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Cost: $50

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Rd.
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-629-6611 ext. 2540
Contact Name: Maternal Child Health Clinical Educator
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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

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


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »

More information

Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
View map »


Website »

More information

Two-hour guided tours are offered at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Guests will visit Eleutherian Mills Residence, the first du Pont family home built in America; the First Office...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

More information

This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
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Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
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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
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Playing folk, Americana and blues, Sand Creek is a central Delaware institution of a band.   Friends of Folk is a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion and preservation...

Cost: Free

Where:
First State Heritage Park
The Old State House
25 The Green
Dover, DE  19901
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Sponsor: First State Heritage Park
Telephone: 739-9194
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Art, the fourth element of hip-hop, comes alive for enthusiasts of both art and hip-hop. Let your inner creativity and love for hip-hop hit the canvas. "All I Need" is...

Cost: $40

Where:
Humpty's Dumplings
277 N Keswick Ave
Glenside, PA  19038
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Sponsor: Creative Paint Nites
Telephone: 267-312-8339
Contact Name: Charisse R McGill
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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

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Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

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Christiana Care at the New Castle Farmers Market Location: New Castle Farmers Market, 110 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, Market Stage Area Time: 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Routine screenings for...

Where:
, DE

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A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

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Our Winter Group Show features oil paintings by Rosemary Castiglioni, Jim Gears and Mary Ann Weselyk. Still-life paintings with subtle color variations by...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Features activities and crafts that help visitors learn about local and national political roles in environmental conservation. Visitors can learn about the battle that politicians fought for a...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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The Philly Home Show will inspire your inner HGTV star at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia from Feb. 12–14 and 19–21. The show will feature highly interactive...

Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Explore some of the diverse ways that human beings have understood sex and sexuality, gender and gender diversity in this small but broad new exhibition, presented in conjunction with the 2015-2016...

Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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What was behind the legendary story of King Midas and his golden touch? That is the question to be answered—not with chests full of gold, but with a spectacular array of ancient artifacts,...

Cost: Adults $20; seniors $18; students (with ID) $15; children (ages 6–17) $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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Guests can explore three floors of exhibitions in the Visitor Center, stroll along the river through dozens of historic structures from the Industrial Revolution, and explore the gardens and...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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Penn Museum opens the world premiere exhibition The Golden Age of King Midas—featuring ancient treasures on loan from the Republic of Turkey—with a spectacular daylong public...

Cost: $15

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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This art exhibit features fine art works and three dimensional pieces that embrace the subject “red.” Artist are free to use their imagination and creativity, so works will include...

Cost: Free

Where:
The Gibby Center for the Arts
51 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
Website »

More information

For more information, please contact: Dave Ruffner ​Rehoboth Beach Film Society 107 Truitt Ave. Rehoboth Beach, DE 19971 302-645-9095, ext. 4 administrator@rehobothfilm.com...

Cost: Free

Where:
, DE


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

The Rehoboth Beach Film Society and CAMP Rehoboth will co-present "Tab Hunter Confidential" and "Portrait of a Serial Monogamist" as part of its annual Another Take...

Cost: $8

Where:
Metropolitan Community Church
19369 Plantation Rd.
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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"La Sylphide" shares the beautiful and romantic story of our hero, James—a young Scottish farmer who, on the eve of hid wedding, abandons his betrothed, Effie, after being...

Cost: $25

Where:
Salesanium School
1801 North Broom St.
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Sponsor: Academy of International Ballet
Telephone: 1-866-908-5666
Contact Name: Denis Gronostayskiy
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Venture back with us for an evening where we re-imagine the Victorian Industrial Age as seen through our steam-powered, futuristic goggles.  Our biggest fundraiser of the year and all proceeds...

Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
Smyrna, DE  19977
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A spoiled orphan girl is sent to live with her uncle on the Yorkshire moors and discovers renewed life, for herself and her sickly cousin, in bringing her dead aunt’s secret garden back to...

Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Secret Garden
47 W Main St.
Middletown, DE  19709
View map »


Sponsor: The Everett Theatre
Telephone: 302-540-8561
Contact Name: Chris Everett
Website »

More information

Location: St. Mark’s High School, 2501 Pike Creek Road, Wilmington Time: Registration: 11:30 a.m. Race: 12:30 p.m. Fee: $25 (until Thursday, Feb. 11), $35 after and day of event...

Where:
, DE

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Location: Beebe Healthcare’s Medical Center, 424 Savannah Road, Lewes Date: Saturday, Feb. 13 (and the second Saturday of each month) Time: 9 a.m. Fee: Free For more...

Where:
, DE

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Ditch the winter whites for a world of dazzling color at Longwood Gardens, where you can stroll through thousands of orchids in bloom. Kennett Square, www.longwoodgardens.org 

Where:
, DE

More information

A successful writer of Broadway thrillers is struggling to overcome a dry spell when he receives a script from a student —a potential Broadway hit. Thereafter suspense...

Where:
, DE

More information

Regional artists Carol Tippit Woolworth, Catherine Drabkin, Pahl Alexander Hluchan, Colleen Randall and Dan Jackson explore the concept of place—physical, emotional and spiritual—in...

Where:
, DE

More information

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