Dill funeral procession passes through Delaware State Fair

A horse-drawn carriage driven by Dave Wilson leads a funeral procession for former Delaware State Fair Director Eugene Dill at the fair on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery_

HARRINGTON — It was a fitting final ride for Alex Eugene “Gene” Dill as his funeral procession went through the gates of the Delaware State Fairgrounds Friday afternoon, touching the very things that he held close to his heart — the animals in the barns, the horses, and perhaps most of all, the 4-H club members who he used to call his “barn kids.”

Wyoming’s Mr. Dill, who served as a board member and an executive director for the Delaware State Fair for many years, died on Sunday at the age of 70 from COVID-19 complications.

It was an odd twist of fate considering the state fair has had to take drastic measures in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 just to have the annual tradition this summer. Signs of face masks, social distancing and hand sanitizing are everywhere at the fairgrounds.

Gene Dill

Mr. Dill’s final procession at the state fair took place rather quietly just after 1 p.m. as a horse-drawn carriage led a hearse and a family vehicle behind the Quillen Arena and past all the sights and sounds that he had enjoyed every summer throughout his entire life.

Groups of people gathered alongside the road to pay their respects to Mr. Dill.

“I hate to see him go. He was a good friend,” said Jim Schlotzhauer. “He was a really good man who helped a lot of people. He loved the horses out here. He was a horseman — and a very good horseman — and he helped a lot of these young kids get started with the horses. He was just a really good man.”

Madison Cook, who was involved with Caesar Rodney High’s FFA program with Mr. Dill, came out to watch him take his final lap. Mr. Dill was a graduate of Caesar Rodney High School and Delaware Technical Community College.

“Mr. Dill was always helping out, especially the kids with the Caesar Rodney (FFA) chapter,” Madison Cook said, “But anyone that needed help, just to have a place that they felt accepted, he helped a lot of kids find that.

“He was a huge supporter and he donated a lot of his time and money to the (CR) chapter to make sure it was successful. He also hosted different events that the chapter had, such as a bonfire, different team-bonding opportunities for the officer team. I had been there riding horses (on his farm) before and he really took it upon himself to make sure the kids were really taken care of. He was a good mentor for a lot of people.”

Mourners watch the funeral procession for former Delaware State Fair Director Eugene Dill at the Delaware State Fair on Friday.

One could say that the Delaware State Fair was in Mr. Dill’s blood. After all, he served as the state fair’s director for two-and-a-half decades and showed and exhibited his prized animals his entire life at the fair, where he also enjoyed harness racing ponies and horses.

Mr. Dill also founded Dill’s Auction Service in the town of Wyoming and Hollering Hill Auction in Virginia. After his funeral procession left the Delaware State Fairgrounds, it also traveled around Dill’s Auction Service grounds, which partially encompasses his former pony training track.

On its Facebook site on Friday, Dill’s Auction Service wrote, “With heavy hearts we are sharing the loss of Alex Eugene Dill, our dearest family member, friend, leader. We will have more to say in the coming days and weeks, as we mourn this tremendous loss and remember the inspiration of our most loved one.

“We love you, Dad, Pop-Pop, Brother, Gene, Friend, Boss … In the most beautiful tradition, you will always be a part of us, and your legacy lives on.”

Mr. Dill was survived by the family he loved very deeply, including his wife, Mary Ellen Dill, five children and a wealth of grandchildren, along with countless others.

He was a public servant for more than three decades, retiring from the Delaware Department of Transportation as a Central District supervisor. He was also a dairy farmer, entrepreneur, auctioneer, accomplished horseman and a former youth leader for Willow Grove Church of God.

Thomas Naylor praised Mr. Dill on the Dill’s Auction Services Facebook page.

“Have known this man, Gene Dill, and his business and family for many, many years,” he wrote. “He would go out of his way to be friends with and help anyone he met. He went out of his way to help me one day at a local benefit auction when I was having a health issue, he stayed by my side until proper help arrived.

One of the border collies from the Disc-Connected K9s leaps above Lawrence Frederick during a show Thursday evening at the Delaware State Fair. The traveling dog, based in Jacksonville, Florida, performs solely with rescued dogs. This is the group’s first time at the Delaware State Fair. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

“I watched him brighten a little boy’s day at his auction one day. The little guy wanted that certain baby goat and was letting people know it. I watched Gene buy the goat, then brought it out on a lead and gave it to that little guy. He made that little guy so happy! He has been known to help so many and touch so many hearts. He will deeply be missed. He was a very valuable asset to all of Delaware farmers.”

In lieu of flowers, the Dill family asks contributions in memory of A. Eugene Dill be made to Caesar Rodney FFA (239 Old North Road, Camden, DE 19934) and the Delaware 4-H Foundation (113 Townsend Hall, 531 S. College Ave. Newark, DE 19716).