Longtime county councilman Cole honored as Return Day Parade grand marshal

George Cole

GEORGETOWN — This November, for the first time in more than three decades, George B. Cole will not ride in Sussex County’s Return Day Parade as a county council candidate.

But Mr. Cole, who is stepping down after 32 years as the longest-serving council member in Sussex County history, will have a VIP seat as grand marshal for the 2018 Return Day Parade Thursday, Nov. 8.

“He has been in service to the county for a very long time,” said Sussex County Return Day Committee President Debra Jones. “So, to honor that service and all of his support, we were very happy to offer him the position of grand marshal. And, he has accepted!”

“And George has always supported Return Day,” said Return Day Committee Vice President Jim Bowden. “He has always been here.”

Mr. Cole, who will turn 68 two weeks after this Return Day, says he is truly honored, noting family ties his family had with the late Nutter Marvel, a passionate supporter of Return Day whose carriages to this day participate in the parade, and the Marvel family.

“I am honored,” said Mr. Cole. “This is what’s interesting. My grandfather was raised with Nutter Marvel — in the same house. He never was adopted. I think the story goes that my grandfather, his mother died; he was from Philadelphia and a doctor out of Milford brought my grandfather down and parked him with Nutter’s family. I guess they couldn’t have any more children and Nutter was an only child. They had a little farm.

“My grandfather and Nutter were like brothers. They just weren’t legally blood or anything like that,” said Mr. Cole. “Growing up I was around Nutter’s barns all of the time. And Return Day was so important to Nutter Marvel. He kept it alive for so long with his carriages. So, he would be thrilled to hear that I was named the grand marshal.”

Mr. Cole may wear something extra special in the parade.

“Nutter had a little gray derby that he used to like to wear, and I have that derby. I may have to wear it that day! I have his favorite derby,” said Mr. Cole. “So, because of that association it’s very important. It has had an impact. And I am thrilled.”

Mr. Cole has been a fixture in pretty much every Return Day Parade. “Except I think one time it rained, and I said, ‘The heck with it.’ I was over there but I didn’t get in the buggy,” he said.

A Republican from Ocean View, Mr. Cole was first elected in 1986 — the third member of his family to sit on county council since the county council form of government was adopted in 1970. He followed his mother, Kitty Cole, who was appointed to council in 1985 upon the passing of Mr. Cole’s father, Charlie Cole, who was elected to council in 1974.

“I am also longest-serving Republican right now currently in the state of Delaware. That is my claim to fame,” said Mr. Cole. “I am the last man standing.”

A licensed Realtor and purveyor of antiques, Mr. Cole represents the County Council’s 4th district, which encompasses southeastern Sussex County and the area around the Inland Bays, including Bethany Beach, Dewey Beach, Henlopen Acres, Long Neck, Millville, Oak Orchard, Ocean View and Rehoboth Beach.

Return Day, believed to be totally unique to Sussex County, is a post-election tradition dating back to the late 18th century. Its roots were planted with state law in 1791 that removed the county seat from coastal Lewes to a more geographically center site, later named Georgetown, and required all votes cast to be in the new county seat on election day.

Two days later, voters would “return” to hear the results read by the town crier.

Highlights of Sussex County Return Day biennial tradition include an ox roast on The Circle, ceremonial burying of the hatchet and a gala parade in which winners ride in horse-drawn carriages or convertibles, often with winners facing forward and losers facing backward.

Return Day 2018 gets a kickstart Wednesday, Nov. 7 with evening entertainment on The Circle. It runs five hours, with stage performances by The Jones Boys (5:30 to 6:30 p.m.); Danny Paisley & Southern Grass (6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.); Big Hat No Cattle (7:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and The Funsters (9:30 to 10:30 p.m.).

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