The Profile: Lend Me Your Ears, Dude

Activist and agitator Tommie Little wants to tell Delaware how to save the world with ethanol. Can it be done?



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Little calls the use of ethanol as an alternative to gasoline “a common sense issue, but wrapped nicely in free enterprise and public need.” photograph by Thom Thompson http://www.thomthompson.com

 

 

January, 1954, late at night in Parris Island, South Carolina: Marine recruit Thomas L. Little, Serial Number 1464556, is once again crying himself to sleep after a third day under the whip of his drill instructors, Cpl. “Gudnight, ladies” Walden, PFC “Gedouddadarack” Gibbs and PFC “Twitch, and I Shall Have Yer Ass” Bower.

Then, somewhere in the pitch black barracks, Little hears another recruit crying. Then another. And another. “After that, everything was OK,” Little says. “That night, we understood we all felt the same, and we knew we could get through it together.”

“Till I went into the Marine Corps, I didn’t function,” Little says. “The Marine Corps taught me I could do anything I wanted.”

Summer 1980: Little, 45, is at a religious conference at Maryknoll on the Hudson, speaking on the subject, “Can you be a Christian in a capitalist society?” He has recently admitted to himself that he’s an alcoholic, but he’s still tempted by booze.

The cocktail party after the second day of talks sets his hands to shaking. When a priest notices, Little tells him his problem. The priest asks if he’s ever had “a healing in the spirit.” When Little answers no, the priest tells him to kneel, places his hands on Little’s head, prays the Our Father, and asks that Little be given the strength to never taste alcohol again. Little feels “a bolt of lightning” shoot through his head.

“I have never had an anxiety about wanting to drink ever since,” Little says, “27 years, dude.”

June 1994: A priest is administering Last Rites to 58-year-old Tommie Little. He lies on a hospital bed in Namibia, on the Atlantic Coast of southern Africa, where he has been teaching. He is the only survivor of an epidemic of cerebral malaria that has killed 301 people, and the quinine-drip administered to him for four days has failed.

In his coma, Little sees the world “as you would see it from the moon.” And around the Earth is what appears to be pollution. “But what I thought was pollution became words,” he says. “I couldn’t make out all of them but one that stood out was the word ‘love.’ The instant I saw that, I started crying, and I grabbed the priest’s gown. He was in the downstroke of ‘bless me’ when I sat up. Everybody, including the doctor, ran out of the room.”

Little smiles. “I haven’t been the same person since.”

Tommie Little is a lawyer, teacher, former state legislator, former Marine drill instructor, world-class martial artist, inventor of the individual retirement account, lifelong Republican agitator and mystic who, at 71, still calls men “dude” and conducts free lessons in Bushido—“the rigorous disciplined path of a spiritual warrior”—on Saturday mornings in Bellevue State Park.

For most people, eureka moments occur once or twice in a lifetime. For Little, epiphanies seem to lurk around every corner. Right now, ethanol fuel is that epiphany.

Little’s near fixation on this single issue began in November 2005. He had recently returned from Africa, where he had taught for more than 11 years and where, at 62, he married a 17-year-old Afrikaner (a whole other story, as the saying goes). The breakup of that marriage (his second) and the end of his teaching assignment brought him back to Delaware. He was basically broke, working as a laborer when he received a call from an old friend, Terry Spence, speaker of the State House of Representatives. Spence asked him if he would like to “write law” related to energy.

With characteristic alacrity, Little jumped in with both size 9½s, taking up the cause of ethanol-based fuels. He soon organized a Green Team-—more than 200 public officials and influential private citizens statewide—to whom he began firing off email paeans to ethanol, many of them ending with the Marine cry of enthusiasm, “oorah.”

Little, who many years ago was national treasurer of the Young Republicans, asked for and got a meeting with Spence, Republican Party Chairman Terry Strine and other party officials. There, he outlined an energy policy for Delaware, which included, among other things, the idea of renewable fuel for transportation. As a result of that meeting, and at the request of Spence, Little drafted a resolution that became House Concurrent Resolution 70, which established a blue ribbon task force to look into the feasibility of developing an ethanol plant and delivery system in Delaware.

The task force’s recommendation eventually resulted in public hearings, which in turn generated the legislation sponsored by representatives Spence and Joseph Booth, as well as Senate Minority Leader Charles L. Copeland. The legislation, House Bill 34, would establish a $1 million subsidy to convert 10 existing gas stations to pump E85 (a blend of 15 percent gasoline and 85 percent corn-derived ethanol) on a first-come, first-served basis. The legislation calls for three stations in each of Delaware’s three counties, plus one in Wilmington. In the beginning they would service the state fleet (1,057 vehicles) as that fleet comes on line to use E85. At this writing, the legislation is with the Appropriations Committee because of the $1 million price tag.

“This bill triggers the free enterprise system,” says Little. “In addition to the state fleet, these stations would also be available to pump E85 for the general public who wish to use that fuel.”

Little and others who support the legislation believe ethanol offers a possible long-range solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil. At the very least, they say, the $1 million subsidy will help Delaware drivers kick the gasoline habit.

They also believe it will be more environmentally friendly than gasoline and perhaps spur a demand for the state’s first ethanol plant.

(Such a plant seems unlikely in the near future. Nationally, 415 ethanol plants are operating, under construction or planned, according to the Earth Policy Institute. By the end of February, however, the plants were facing rising corn prices and declining ethanol prices, which have followed the lead of crude oil. If profits keep falling, experts say, there will be delays or cancellations of at least some of the plants, especially those that have not yet started construction.)

In endorsing ethanol, Delaware would join a national trend spurred by President Bush’s proposed $2 billion in loans to promote cellulosic ethanol. Bush was here in January to tour the DuPont Experimental Station and hear about the company’s biobutanol work. Made from agricultural products rather than petroleum, butanol, like ethanol, is an alcohol compound, but its different chemical structure gives it several advantages over ethanol. DuPont will introduce biobutanol to the United Kingdom this year as it continues to work on a genetically modified microbe to boost fuel yield from feedstocks.

Little calls ethanol--—specifically, E85—---“a common sense issue, but wrapped nicely in free enterprise and public need.”

Not so fast, say some observers. Like most energy-related issues, ethanol is complicated, with far-reaching environmental, economic and political consequences, not all of them positive. Critics include such disparate voices as Green Delaware’s Alan Muller on the left and the Wall Street Journal and Vice President Dick Cheney’s own investment manager, Jeremy Grantham, on the right.

Grantham has called corn-based ethanol “more or less a hoax” when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “U.S. corn-based ethanol…is merely another U.S. farmer-protection program, made very expensive both directly and indirectly by inflating real agricultural prices,” he recently wrote on his company’s website.

The Wall Street Journal, in a January 2007 editorial, noted that “as an oxygenate, ethanol increases the level of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and thus causes smog. The scientific literature is also divided about whether the energy inputs required to produce ethanol actually exceed its energy output. It takes fertilizer to grow the corn, and fuel to ship and process it, and so forth. Even the most optimistic estimate says ethanol’s net energy output is a marginal improvement of only 1.3 to one. For purposes of comparison, energy outputs from gasoline exceed inputs by an estimated 10 to one.”     

Muller, long the liberal go-to guy on Delaware environmental issues, warns of Big Oil being replaced by Big Corn. He points out that “fat federal subsidies” helped jump the price of corn by nearly 80 percent in 2006. While that’s good news for corn farmers (and their congressmen), it’s bad news for cattle ranchers and poultry and hog farmers, whose feed costs have risen sharply. Converting the nation’s-—or even the state’s—motorists to ethanol will require “a massive increase in planting of corn” somewhere, Muller says. “That means fields and forests will be devoted to a highly sprayed and chemicaled crop.”

There are other problems, Muller and his fellow critics say. Aside from being less efficient than gasoline, corn-based ethanol is also highly corrosive and damaging to standard engine components such as rubber and brass. This in turn means it can’t be shipped using existing pipelines (being alcohol, it eats the seals), so it must be trucked or sent by barge or train, at least until separate pipelines are built.

Kevin Wade, a systems engineer and project manager for Little’s Green Team, which presented the case for ethanol at the hearings that resulted in HB 34, offers counter arguments.

“Corn is a steppingstone to cellulosic ethanol,” Wade says. “Decades of low crop prices kept American farmers on one form of subsidy or another. The near-term demand for corn will finally allow farmers to get caught up on their bills. Also, the drain on the U.S. Treasury for the pay-to-not-farm programs will finally be ended by the new, healthy ethanol prosperity.” 

Wade further claims that U.S. Department of Agriculture data shows the number of harvested acres has been in decline for decades.

“Since 1950 almost 270 million acres of land in farms has been removed from agriculture,” Wade says. “This decline was due to too much production with not enough buyers for crops. Objections to ethanol based on insufficient acreage ignore the fact that acreage either increases or decreases, is farmed or is idled, according to changing markets and technologies. However, when acres are paved over for malls or converted to housing developments, farmland is permanently lost. And American farmland has been in surplus for years. Anything in surplus sells.”

While conceding that corn must be treated extensively with chemicals, Wade claims that switchgrass, a cellulosic source, needs no chemicals. “Planted once with very limited treatments in its first year of emerging growth, it produces for 10 years,” Wade says. “Those are 10 years with no ag chemicals. There is no better crop for Delaware farmers and Delaware’s environment. It grows like a weed and is indigenous to Delaware.”

As for the assertion that ethanol is corrosive, Wade says, “This is a fear phrase meant to alarm the hearts of the uninformed. It is out of place in any public policy discussion. Among all corrosive chemicals found in your kitchen, basement and garage, ethanol is the least corrosive. I wear rubber gloves when using paint remover or drain cleaner. I wear a smile when pouring whiskey or vodka (ethanol).

“Rather than name the few materials that simply wear out faster in the presence of ethanol, it’s more informative to name the hundreds of materials that are ideal for ethanol. Plastic, in its many forms, is the preferred material. It’s cheap, light in weight and can be assembled without flame welding. This is why ethanol plants are so much cheaper to build than gasoline refineries.”

Arguments and counter-arguments aside, the fact remains that the limited supply and costly distribution system make E85 pricey—about $3.47 a gallon in Delaware last October, compared to gasoline prices of about $2.12 per gallon. What’s more, it can’t be used by standard engines. Of the more than 200 million vehicles registered in the United States, only 5 million are equipped with engines that can handle flexible fuel. Some 5,000 of those are in Delaware. Little claims he could convert the engine of his 10-year-old Chevy Blazer to use flexible fuel for about $200.

Muller, not surprisingly, doubts the cost would be that low. He also calls Little “a cheerleader for something he doesn’t understand.”

Little’s response: “He attended every day of our hearings and added absolutely nothing. He has an audience of about 12 on his website.”

In an earlier time, Little was the type who might’ve challenged Muller to a duel over the remarks. In such an event, the smart money would be on Little, who, even at 71, appears to be “panther quick and leather tough,” to steal a phrase describing Johnny Yuma, a TV hero of his youth. He is still a Marine at heart; a decal with the Marine motto, Semper Fi, adorns the Blazer’s back window, and he has begun attending Corps reunions, enjoying the camaraderie and horseplay. A single grandfather of five, he rents a house in New Castle while teaching business law at a Wesley College satellite. In addition to Saturday morning Bushido lessons, he’s a volunteer assistant coach for his grandson’s wrestling team at St. Edmond’s Academy.

The rest of his time is devoted to his latest epiphany-—E85. He pursues it with all the enthusiasm and creativity he has devoted to his other quests, some of which smack of the apocryphal, others quixotic.

But as one of his oldest friends, Wilmington lawyer Wil Redfearn, says, “Tommie has done a lot more in his life than you and I ever have. And whatever he does, it’s usually for the benefit of someone else. He’s dedicated to helping others without any consideration of monetary rewards. He really does try to make this a better world.”

One can imagine Little’s response: Oorah.

D

 

 

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February 2016

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1200 N DuPont Highway
Dover, DE  19901
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Cost: FREE and open to the public

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

More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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View map »


Website »

More information

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More information

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


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Website »

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801 Middleford Rd.
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Website »

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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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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
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Telephone: 302-658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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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
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Sponsor: The Gibby Center for the Arts
Telephone: 302-449-5396
Contact Name: Caroline Zeitler
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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
Website »

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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
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

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
Website »

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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
Website »

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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
Website »

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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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