Meet Delaware's Ultimate Festival Fixer

Barry Schlecker has resurrected some of the state's most popular events and made them better than ever. What will the 77-year-old tackle next?


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Barry Schlecker’s greatest strength is bringing people together, says Ginger Weiss, his partner for 16 years. “He’s a pied piper.”//Photo by Joe del Tufo

 

At an age when some people are retiring, business owner Barry Schlecker started a new career.

As a member of the Wilmington Public Library board in the mid-1990s, he created shows of affordable antiques as fundraisers to pair with the Delaware Antiques Show.

The shows eventually fizzled, but a decade later he decided to show the important movies he wanted to enjoy on the big screen by starting a local film festival. “As I get older, I get bolder,” says the 77-year-old entrepreneur. The WilmFilm festival was so successful, one event became two, then three. “We prided ourselves on movies with a message,” Schlecker says, but the digital revolution led to their end.

Then, when organizers of the old Brandywine Arts Festival left some bills unpaid, a September tradition in Wilmington for 50 years was canceled. The next year, the state called in Schlecker, who gave it a new name and new features. Success again. Thousands of visitors returned. One revival became two when he resurrected the New Castle County Ice Cream Festival. Finally, this year, he took over Hockessin’s July Fourth festivities—with a bang.

Schlecker’s events company employs just one part-timer and several contractors. “You call Barry’s Events, and you get Barry,” he says. “It’s my personal number on all the publicity.”

So his events are run with connections built over a lifetime. A Delaware native, he started his first company, a personnel business, in 1966. It evolved into the Barry Companies, which also handled recruiting. As founder of networking groups Delaware Business Executives and the Delaware Industrial Network, he has many connections.

“His greatest strength is bringing people together,” says Ginger Weiss, his partner for 16 years. “He’s a pied piper.”

The best events offer “good music, good food and good artists,” Schlecker says, so that is what he creates. When Hockessin’s July Fourth organizer Ken Wynn wanted to retire, the Hockessin Business Association called Schlecker to save it. Schlecker identified several issues that kept it from being the best event it could be, including groups with different agendas and events scattered in time and place. He tackled both, meeting with Wynn and representatives from the Hockessin Athletic Club (morning relay races), the Hockessin-Greenville Rotary Club (afternoon parade), the Hockessin Fire Company, the business association and others.

What good stuff would draw people to Hockessin all day and keep them there until the fireworks started, Schlecker wondered? How about activities on Old Lancaster Pike? Shouldn’t it all have a unifying brand? Hence the Hockessin Fourth of July Festival and Fireworks on hockessin4thofjuly.org, which offered all those things.

The MO for the arts festival was similar. Schlecker renamed it the Brandywine Festival of the Arts; took suggestions from the artists; and added food trucks and adult beverages to carnival food offerings, a performance stage and children’s activities. “We cleaned up the place and brought it back to its roots,” he says.

Soon after taking over the Brandywine Festival of the Arts, Schlecker sold his personnel business. Then the time came to revive the ice cream festival.

The event, started in 1983 as a fundraiser for the Friends of Rockwood, was taken over by New Castle County in 1998, then, due to the high cost of running it, was canceled a decade later.

“I took away the fireworks and the expensive stuff,” he says. Again, he brought in local vendors and activities that would entertain families for hours. He dubbed it “Delaware’s largest family picnic.”

The debut was on one of Delaware’s hottest weekends ever: July 7, 2012, but it was an unqualified success.

But he still has events to run—Taste of the Holidays, a fundraising reception for various charities, will debut at The Delaware Contemporary in December—and things to think about.

“I’m a thinkaholic. My mind is always working,” he says. “I’m always thinking about networking and how to help. As I go into a restaurant, I think about ways to make it better.”

He has also thought about the future of his events. Running the Brandywine Festival of the Arts will pass to his son, Rob.

“I’m well on my way,” says Rob Schlecker, who jokes that he is five years into a four-year succession plan. Like any new hand, he has new ideas, but, “The festivals will lose something,” he says. “My dad’s personality is so much of them. He’s the de facto mayor of these weekends. I don’t have that personality and will overcome that with hard work.”

There are no family successors for the other events, Barry says, which is why he partnered with WJBR for last July’s ice cream festival. It will take over—eventually. “He doesn’t seem to want to stop,” says Susan Forbes, who did contract work for Barry’s Events for three years before being hired by WJBR as an event producer. She notes Schlecker’s interest in exposing families to the arts and giving them low-cost staycation options.

Schlecker has had talks with several charities he believes could step up for Taste of the Holidays, and he has identified a few business leaders who could take over Hockessin’s patriotic festivities. “Everyone likes it,” he says. “It’s a matter of who opens up their checkbook.”

And there are other preparations to make for retirement. He has started to sell his art, 300 to 400 pieces in his offices, plus 100 that Weiss allowed into their home. “I’m trying to downsize, sort of,” he says. She has also encouraged him to sell his real estate. “He recognizes he needs to simplify his financial picture so he can enjoy life,” Weiss says of their “sensational 70s.”

But both retain active business lives, his in, well, so much, hers in life insurance. “Staying involved with younger people gives us ideas and keeps us fresh,” Weiss says. “It energizes us.”

For six weeks each winter, they recharge on Isla Mujeres off Cancun, Mexico. There it’s time to enjoy e-books, TV series worth binge watching, movies that he should have seen, and music from the 1960s and ’70s. “I love media. It’s an escape. I get lost,” he says. Most importantly, there are visits from family members, including his five grandchildren and Weiss’ six.

And after those breaks, it’s time for another year of events. “His art is putting it on,” Rob says. “His art is people.”

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More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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More information

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More information

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Website »

More information

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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
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View map »


Telephone: 302-654-8638
Website »

More information

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View map »


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Website »

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Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

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A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

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Story Time Thursdays 10:30 - 11 a.m. Enjoy fun animal stories read by our own zoo story-telling team! Story time takes place in the otter circle, in the main zoo, and may include a craft,...

Cost: $7 - $0

Where:
Brandywine Zoo
1001 North Park Drive
Wilmington, DE  19802
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Telephone: 302-571-7747
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Charity Golf Event to benefit Children's Beach House A great way to start your Memorial Day weekend a day early! Make sure to register as a single golfer or register your foursome ahead of...

Cost: $225 Single Golfer / $900 Foursome

Where:
Peninsula on Indian River Bay
26937 Bay Farm Rd.
Millsboro, DE  19966
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Sponsor: The Ocean Atlantic Companies
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Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
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Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

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Join us on The Patio, voted Best Outdoor Dining by Delaware Today readers! Happy hour 4PM - 6:30PM, live entertainment 6PM - 9PM, local craft beer, handcrafted cocktails, creative gastropub menu,...

Cost: menu items vary

Where:
Hilton Christiana
100 Continental Dr.
Newark, DE  19713
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Relax and unwind after a long day with the Museum’s popular Happy Hour series. Enjoy live music on the terrace with friends or tour the galleries indoors. Special themed nights will be scheduled...

Cost: Museum galleries are open with free admission every Thursday from 4–8 pm

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
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Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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Alexi Natchev: Prints and Drawings will be on view in the Mezzanine Gallery from May 4-25, 2018. A free opening reception to meet the artist will be held on Friday, May 4 from 5-7 p.m. Alexi...

Cost: Free

Where:
Mezzanine Gallery
2nd Floor, Carvel State Office Building
820 N. French St.
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: Delaware Division of the Arts
Telephone: 302-577-8283
Contact Name: Roxanne Stanulis
Website »

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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

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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Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

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

More information

Mary Pritchard is an award winning pastel artist from Chestertown, Maryland. Following a career in education administration at the University of Delaware, Mary returned to painting full-time....

Cost: free

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

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
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

Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

  Join Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant as they open their doors to the public on May 24, 2018!  

Cost: Free

Where:
Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant
19815 Coastal Hwy
Rehoboth Beach, DE  19971
View map »


Sponsor: Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant

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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Sixth annual St. Catherine of Siena Community Garage Sale held in Church parking lot. One-stop shopping! Approximately 25 homes gather in one location to make your garage sale shopping...

Cost: $25/Consignors ONLY

Where:
St. Catherine of Siena Parish Parking Lot
2503 Centerville Road
Wilmington, DE  19808
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Sponsor: St. Catherine of Siena
Telephone: 302-239-1699
Contact Name: Mary Gispert
Website »

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The 11th annual Artisans Fair, featuring unique handcrafted art objects, will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, May 26, at Lord Baltimore Elementary School on Route 26 in Ocean View, DE. ...

Cost: Free

Where:
Lord Baltimore Elementary School
Route 26
Ocean View, DE  19970
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Sponsor: South Coastal DE AARP Chapter
Telephone: 302-732-6336
Contact Name: Ida Crist
Website »

More information

A needle's eye in a pond, a Greek temple in the garden, an Ottoman tent sitting on a hill—these are just a few of the inspirations for our upcoming, first-ever outdoor exhibition Follies:...

Cost: Included with general admission ($5-20)

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Sponsor: Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
Telephone: 800.448.3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

GUARDIANS OF THE IMAGE MAKER Group Exhibition & Programs Commemorating The 1968 Riots April 6 - June 29, 2018 Opening reception: Friday, April 6, 2018                      5 - 9 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

THE FIGURE: THE INDICATIVE AND THE ALLUSIVE Group Exhibition  April 1 - August 26, 2018 Opening Reception: Friday, April 6, 2018 | 5 - 9 PM during Art Loop with Panel Discussion: 6 - 7 PM...

Cost: FREE

Where:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
View map »


Telephone: 302-656-6466
Website »

More information

A newly acquired cabinet at Winterthur and related objects in the collection emerge as tools in the lucrative business of transatlantic trade in the 18th and 19th centuries. Curated by graduate...

Cost: free with admission

Where:
Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library
5105 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Telephone: 800-448-3883
Contact Name: Information and Tours
Website »

More information

Crooked Hammock Brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer all Memorial Day weekend! The festivities kick off on Thursday, May 24th with the release of their two summer seasonal beers,...

Cost: Free to attend

Where:
Crooked Hammock Brewery
36707 Crooked Hammock Way
Lewes, DE  19958
View map »


Sponsor: Crooked Hammock Brewery
Telephone: 302-644-7837
Contact Name: Jon
Website »

More information

Science Saturday – River Rangers River Rangers learn how to gauge the health of our local waterways by observing the variety of critters living in it. Visitors of all ages are invited to...

Cost: Activities are included in regular admission and free for members.

Where:
Hagley Museum
201 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE
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Sponsor: Hagley Museum & Library
Telephone: (302) 65802400 x 238
Contact Name: Jessica Eisenbrey
Website »

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