How Delaware’s Legislators Have Evolved (Or Not)

No more exploding cigars: Many things have changed inside Legislative Hall over the years. Were they for the better?



The name is Dave. He is in his mid-50s, a Delaware native, and he went to the University of Delaware. He can say who the state’s secretary of finance is without looking it up, and he knows exactly how many miles there are between his house and Dover.

Dave is a composite of the 62 legislators in the General Assembly, where men outnumber women, more than half of them were born within the state’s borders, and almost a third of them probably own some clothing with a Fightin’ Blue Hen on it. Not to mention 100 percent of them can spot Tommy Cook, the finance secretary, inside the corridors of Legislative Hall.

Credit the parents of Dave Lawson, Dave McBride, Dave Sokola and Dave Wilson for making Dave the most popular name among the legislators. It is an equal opportunity name, distributed without regard for political affiliation or geographical locality.

Dave Lawson is a Republican state senator from Kent County, Dave McBride and Dave Sokola are Democratic state senators from New Castle County, and Dave Wilson is a Republican state representative from Sussex County. All counties, both parties and each chamber accounted for.

The name of the composite lawmaker could have been Brian. Or maybe Bryan. Or is it Bryon? But not unless Brian Bushweller, Brian Pettyjohn and Bryan Townsend in the state Senate and Bryon Short in the state House of Representatives learn how to spell their own names.
Likewise, John is disqualified, even though the state House has John Atkins, John Kowalko, John Viola and somebody called John Mitchell, because the name of John Mitchell would draw blank stares inside Legislative Hall. He goes by Larry.

Referring to Larry Mitchell as John would be about as strange as introducing Beau Biden as Joseph. Who? 

So Dave it is.

Funny thing about the legislature. The look of its members has not changed much in oh, say, 30 years.

The evidence is a news story written by Jane Brooks, then a reporter with The News Journal, about the legislators elected in 1984. As Brooks wrote, “The typical Delaware legislator—if there is such a creature—is Delaware-born-and-raised, 47 years old, attended the University of Delaware. … Chances are he also has slightly thinning hair, a slightly bulging waistline and has been known to dress in colorful apparel.”

The age has shifted somewhat since then, and so has the tenure.

The 1984 version was about 10 years younger than the current one and served in Dover for about four-and-a-half years, as opposed to about eight-and-a-half years today. The profile of the present-day composite was drawn from biographical information compiled by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

Probably it is just a coincidence that the willingness of legislators to hang around longer has gone up as the salary has. Their base pay used to be $20,000 a year. It is $43,000 a year now.

If age, tenure and salary have gone up, other stuff has come down. There sure is a lot less polyester in the legislature. Also less booze and cigars, especially cigars.

Legislators used to be allowed to smoke while they were in session. Health and public nuisance were not the only reasons to stop it, as Roger Martin, a Democratic state senator from Newark from 1972 to 1994, related in “Memoirs of the Senate,” a book he wrote.

Martin, an affable history and foreign languages teacher, was fond of cigars. His favorite brand was whatever he could get for free from someone else, often from Sherman Tribbitt when he was the Democratic governor or from Richard Cordrey when he was the Senate’s Democratic president pro tem.

One day during a Senate session, Martin was offered a cigar by Tom Sharp, another Democratic state senator with a reputation as something of a prankster. Martin delightedly accepted and immediately lit up.

“Seconds later, the thing blew right up in my face,” Martin wrote.

Yes, an exploding cigar. Legislative Hall is a better place now that only tempers and bills can be explosive.

The legislature has evolved in other ways.

There were 10 women among its members in 1984. Now there are 16 women. Not only that, four of them are in leadership. Patti Blevins is the highest ranking senator as the Democratic president pro tem. Margaret Rose Henry is the Senate’s Democratic majority whip, Valerie Longhurst is the House’s Democratic majority leader, and Debbie Hudson is the House’s Republican minority whip.

Also Melanie George Smith, a Democratic state representative, just became the first legislator in Delaware history to give birth to a baby while holding office.

The minority membership has grown from three African-Americans to five African-Americans and two Hispanics.

The oldest legislator back then was born in 1917. That would be Tina Fallon, a Republican state representative. The oldest legislator today was born in 1933, the birth year of Bob Venables, a Democratic state senator.

The youngest then? Steve Taylor, a Republican state representative, born in 1956. The youngest today? Jeff Spiegelman, a Republican state representative, born in 1983.

What has changed the most between Legislative Hall then and Legislative Hall now is the politics of the place.

Delaware was a swing state in 1984, as likely to vote Republican as it was to vote Democratic, and the legislature reflected it. The Senate was controlled by the Democrats, 13-8, but the House had the Republicans in charge, 22-19.

The General Assembly of today is decidedly Democratic. The Democrats outnumber the Republicans in the Senate by 13-8 and in the House by 27-14.

The legislature is also a living, breathing testament to the pullback of the DuPont Co. In 1984 the chambers were honeycombed with DuPonters, either current or retired, all of them sitting on the Republican side of the aisle. Not to mention the outgoing governor, also a Republican, was some guy named Pete du Pont.

Today the only one is Dave Sokola, a state senator, and surprise, surprise, he is a Democrat. The DuPonters have gone the way of the polyester.

Oh, and by the way—the name of the composite legislator back then was Bob.  


► For more from the June issue, click here

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February 2016

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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Hagley Museum
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Cost: Free with Museum Admission

Where:
Penn Museum
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
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Cost: $15–20

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 S. Madison St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-764-6338
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Cost: $15–$18

Where:
The Everett Theatre
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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Cost: Free with Museum Admission

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
Philadelphia, PA  19104
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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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Cost: $100-$110

Where:
Smyrna Opera House
7 West South Street
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Cost: $50

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I.A.T.S.E Ballroom
2401 Swanson St.
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Sponsor: AOI Events & PR
Telephone: 267-562-2179
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Back by popular demand! This Valentine’s Day we bring to you yet again a masquerade affair, welcoming both couples and singles. This event is for everyone no matter the relationship status....

Cost: $50

Where:
I.A.T.S.E Ballroom
2401 Swanson St.
Philadelphia, PA  19148
View map »


Sponsor: AOI Events & PR
Telephone: 267-562-2179
Contact Name: Danielle P. Jeter
Website »

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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

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The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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
View map »

More information

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Cost: $13

Where:
Pennsylvania Convention Center
1101 Arch St.
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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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Penn Museum
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Cost: FREE

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Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
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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.

Where:
Penn Museum
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Cost: $13

Where:
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More information

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

Where:
Penn Museum
3260 South St.
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Cost: Depends on what you purchase

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East Coast Garden Center
30336 Cordrey Rd
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Telephone: 302-945-3489
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Cost: FREE

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Seaford Library & Cultural Center
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Join us every Tuesday for this fun and educational enrichment activity. Students will learn to draw pictures from a variety of themes, including woodland animals, creatures by the sea, creepy...

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Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
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Join us every Tuesday for this fun and educational enrichment activity. Students will learn to draw pictures from a variety of themes, including woodland animals, creatures by the sea, creepy...

Cost: $10

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Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church
500 McKennans Church Rd
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801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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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

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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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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


Website »

More information

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

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
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View map »


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Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
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More information

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Cost: Free

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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Cost: FREE

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Cost: $20

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Penn Museum
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Where:
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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

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Cost: free

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Methodist Manor House
1001 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-629-6611 x 3838
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More information

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Cost: Free with Museum Admission.

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


Website »

More information

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Cost: $13

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

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
View map »

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

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 »

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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: FREE

Where:
Seaford Library & Cultural Center
600 N Market St, Ext
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Sponsor: Nanticoke Health Services
Telephone: 302-629-6224
Contact Name: Robert Donati
Website »

More information

Looking for something different for your children to do this summer? Look no further than the Summer Camp Fair at the Delaware Museum of Natural History on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. This free...

Cost: Free

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »

More information

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Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Sponsor: Nanticoke Physician Network General & Bariatric Surgery
Telephone: 302-629-6611 x 8810
Contact Name: Shelly Geis

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Rebecca Kobrin of Columbia University will discuss her paper, “Credit to the Nation: Jewish Immigrants, the World of Immigrant Banking and American Finance, 1873–1914.” The...

Cost: Free

Where:
Copeland Room of Hagley’s library building
298 Buck Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 658-2400
Contact Name: Meg Marcozzi
Website »

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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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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
Website »

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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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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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Website »

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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
Website »

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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
Website »

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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
Website »

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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
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
Website »

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Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud and young, rising Oxford Don, C.S. Lewis, to his home in London on the day England...

Cost: $18 online, $20 at the door

Where:
Bootless Stageworks
1301 N Broom Street
Wilmington , DE  19806
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Sponsor: Bootless Stageworks
Telephone: 302-887-9300
Contact Name: Rosanne DellAversano
Website »

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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

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Pup-Purr-i...A little bit of everythng for pet lovers The PAWS for People 7th Annual Winter Conference is designed for pet enthusiasts, owners and all those who love animals.  Cost of admission...

Cost: $45 through 2.6; $50 after 2.6

Where:
Nemours A. I. du Pont Hospital for Children
1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: PAWS for People
Telephone: 302-351-5622
Contact Name: Clarice Ritchie
Website »

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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
View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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

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
View map »

More information

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
View map »


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

Create and innovate at Hagley! Enjoy a family-friendly festival of invention, creativity and resourcefulness in celebration of the Maker movement. It will feature demonstrations from area...

Cost: $0-14

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Rd
2
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


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

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

Hailed by The New York Times as "a young piano visionary" and "one of the leading figures in the current renaissance of performer-composers," pianist Michael Brown, a 2015 Avery...

Cost: $30. Free for ages 10-18 & accompanying adult. $10 for students 18 & older.

Where:
Bethel United Methodist Church Hall
Fourth & Market Streets
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Coastal Concerts, Inc.
Telephone: 888-212-6458
Contact Name: Edna Ellett
Website »

More information

The St. Elizabeth High School Alumni Association is hosting an art exhibition and auction on Saturday, February 20, 2016. The event will be held in the newly refurbished Grant Hall...

Where:
Grant Hall at St. Elizabeth Church
809 S Broom St.
Wilmington, DE
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Featuring Diane Monroe, jazz violinist in "What Is This Thing Called Freedom? The Transforming and Timeless Songs of Protest." Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016 at 7:30 p.m....

Cost: Free

Where:
Trinity Episcopal Church
1108 N. Adams Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Jackson ImmunoResearch
Telephone: 302-652-8605
Website »

More information

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

Freud’s Last Session centers on a hypothetical meeting between legendary psychoanalyst Dr. Sigmund Freud and young, rising Oxford Don, C.S. Lewis, to his home in London on the day England...

Cost: $18 online, $20 at the door

Where:
Bootless Stageworks
1301 N Broom Street
Wilmington , DE  19806
View map »


Sponsor: Bootless Stageworks
Telephone: 302-887-9300
Contact Name: Rosanne DellAversano
Website »

More information

Direct from TAO’s successful, sold-out, world-premiere run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this brand-new production, "TAO: Seventeen Samurai," stops at The Playhouse on its...

Cost: $33–$39

Where:
The Playhouse
1007 N. Market Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »

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

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

Show More...
Show Less...
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