Kent County Theatre Guild unveils historical marker

Mike Polo, left, chairman of the board of trustees with the Kent County Theatre Guild, and Rep. Andria Bennett unveil a historical marker at the theater on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The Kent County Theatre Guild has been staging award-winning productions for the Central Delaware community for more than 50 years.

On Thursday, that history was formally recognized as dignitaries, members and local theater fans attended a ceremony in which an historical marker was unveiled in front of the guild’s Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

The Kent County Theatre Guild’s history began in 1953 when Alan Hunn, Earl Scheidt, Dick Clark and Sug Adlam met and discussed the need for a community theater in Kent County.

Ms. Adlam suggested an ad be placed, calling on all who shared the same interest to attend a meeting, with 50 people attending. As a result, the Kent County Theatre Guild was formed, a charter and bylaws were drafted and Mr. Hunn was elected the guild’s first president of the board of trustees.

The guild first held its shows at the old Dover High School, other area schools and the Hinkle Building at North and State streets in Dover. In 1972, St. John’s Lutheran Church donated a former sanctuary for a permanent theater at 140 Roosevelt Ave., where the 100-seat Patchwork Playhouse stands today.

Jeff Bellon, a master sergeant with the Force Support Squadron at Dover Air Base, joined the guild as a volunteer and actor about four years ago. A native of the Pacific Northwest then recently deployed to the area, he was immediately taken with the family atmosphere and the sense of history that the guild evoked.

“I kept hearing stories about the guild and the history of the people. One day I said ‘Have you guys ever thought of getting recognized with one of those blue signs that I see all over Dover and Delaware?’ I didn’t even know what they were called at the time,” said Mr. Bellon.

“The response I got a lot was ‘Someone has got to approve that. It will never happen but it would be great.’ I said ‘I’ll see what I can do.’”

Mr. Bellon contacted the Delaware Public Archives to start the ball rolling. He admits that the process was a bit more complicated than he originally anticipated. But he credits Katie Hall with the Public Archives with helping him a great deal.

“It took a lot of digging up information and then having to go back to many of the longtime members and having them answer this question or that question about the history of the guild and then working with Katie to make sure everything was the way it should be,” he said.

Mr. Bellon also credits longtime members Chris and Mike Polo who, with the help of Mr. Polo’s mother, Jane, an early member of the guild, put together a comprehensive history of the guild about 20 years ago. He was able to glean much of the information needed to get approval for the marker from their work.

“That was super useful for all of the research that it took,” he said.

Chris Polo is thrilled that the group is getting notice for their years of dedication to the local theater community.

“Those of us who have been working with the guild for a long time are well aware of its long history, and it’s wonderful to see the organization get recognition for that longevity,” she said

“So many theater groups start with a lot of enthusiasm and a great idea, but aren’t able to make a go of it. It’s a real tribute both to our founders and the guild’s many hard-working volunteers that we’re still bringing great live theater to the Dover area after all these years.”

Funding for the marker was provided by the offices of State Sen. Colin Bonini and State Rep. Andria Bennett.

Mr. Bellon said he hopes the historical marker will have a dual purpose.

“It will serve to commemorate the history of the theater but also I hope it will get people to realize that we are here,” he said.

“So many people don’t even realize that the theater guild exists and I hope that changes this and more local actors and community members get involved. Because we’re not going anywhere.”

Although the end result has been fulfilling, he does have one regret.

“I wish that the people who started the guild were still around to see this but none of them are. It’s a shame. I wish this was done while they were still alive,” he said..

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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