Kent County’s Banta to be lauded for lifetime of public service

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta reflects on his career in politics and service to local organizations during an interview in his Dover office Wednesday afternoon. He will receive the Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council’s Kent Distinguished Citizen Award Sept. 24 at Dover Downs. (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta reflects on his career in politics and service to local organizations during an interview in his Dover office Wednesday afternoon. He will receive the Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council’s Kent Distinguished Citizen Award Sept. 24 at Dover Downs. (Delaware State News photos by Dave Chambers)

DOVER – With half a century of public service under his belt, Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta has been chosen as this year’s Kent Distinguished Citizen and will be honored during a Sept. 24 dinner.

The Boy Scouts of America Del-Mar-Va Council-issued award, now in its 31st year, is awarded to an individual who donates their time and talents to improve the quality of life in Kent County.

Mr. Banta has done exactly that.

“When I was told I’d be receiving the award back in April, it’s probably the first time I cried since my mother passed away,” he said. “It’s really such an honor to be awarded for doing what I love.”

Humble beginnings

From humble beginnings living in a third-floor Main Street apartment without heat or hot water in Smyrna, Mr. Banta has become one of the most recognizable faces in Kent County.

The award is fitting as Mr. Banta is a former Scout himself, having been a member of the organization for six years during his childhood.

“The Boy Scouts of America is an honorable organization,” he said. “It gave me direction and was an incredible experience. It’s great for any young man looking to get involved in an organization of their community early in life.”

From Boy Scouts, he joined the Silver Eagles, a community service group for young men at what was then John Bassett Moore High School.

His public service began in 1964 when he undertook his first political race; running for Clayton Town Council. Ask Mr. Banta the names and tally of votes for each of the three candidates and he knows them all — not leaving out the fact he came in third.

It may seem strange, even uncanny for him to remember such specific information about an election 51 years ago, but Mr. Banta is not one to overlook or forget even the smallest of details. For him, recalling memories from as far back as the 1960s seems as easy as reading a reference book; each detail readily available with a simple turn of the page.

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta’s attention to detail is such that he knows the exact number of phone calls he has received since he joined Levy Court 19 years ago and the number of emails he has gotten since 2005.

Kent County Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta’s attention to detail is such that he knows the exact number of phone calls he has received since he joined Levy Court 19 years ago and the number of emails he has gotten since 2005.

So it’s not difficult for him to remember what happened the year after his town council defeat, especially since it started a remarkable legacy Mr. Banta is still creating.

He ran again with the support of his wife of now 56 years, Ruth, and won. The election in 1965 started a six-term stretch in Clayton, one of which he served as mayor.

Sixteen years after joining Clayton Town Council, Mr. Banta ran for a non-resident commissioner position in Dewey Beach and came in sixth among 13 candidates vying for five seats.

Again, he wasn’t discouraged by a loss and ran again in the next election, winning this time and serving a decade in Dewey as a commissioner.

At the same time, Mr. Banta also served on the Smyrna School District Board of Education for two five-year terms.

As his terms in Dewey Beach and on the school board drew to a close, Mr. Banta was approached to join the Kent County Regional Planning Commission where he put in four years from 1992 to 1996, deciding to run for the First District Kent County Levy Court Commissioner position which he won and has held since.

As of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Mr. Banta had received 38,942 phone calls, all meticulously logged since the start of his tenure as a Levy Court commissioner 19 years and 8 months ago. But as far as emails go, he’s only been tracking them since 2005, but he recalled the exact number, in excess of 13,000, without a moment’s thought.

Love of public service

It may seem like Mr. Banta has an addiction to politics but for him, running for office is about more than being elected and sitting pretty with a title other than “Mr.” before his name.

“I encourage everyone to get involved in public service,” he said. “Everyone should strive to be a part of the solution to our community’s problems. It’s one thing to just sit back and be a concerned citizen but it’s another to get involved and address your concerns.”

Mr. Banta also prides himself on his ability to compromise with other politicians to create a productive government.

“Although we are a mix of Democrats and Republicans in Levy Court, we work well together and are able to come together to decide what is truly best for the people of Kent County,” he said.

“You never see a very close vote in Levy Court because we don’t vote along party lines. Our votes are almost always unanimous.”

He credits the cooperation of the commissioners during his tenure to strides the county has made to become one of the only county governments running on a balanced budget, and many years ending with a surplus.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve started an early retirement option and I think morale has increased,” he said. “Kent County is a place people love to work. No one comes to their County job dreading it.”

Even after nearly 20 years as a Levy Court commissioner, eight of them as president, Mr. Banta has already decided to run for the seat again in 2016 when his current term expires.

“I’ve enjoyed every minute with the county and I intend to be of service to the community for as long as I’m able,” he said.

Levy Court has been his only paid political position; he didn’t even know the job came with a paycheck until he was asked for a filing fee when submitting his application.

Outside life

Due to his nearly 30 years of pro bono public service, Mr. Banta has held several regular jobs, two of them more memorable than the rest.

The first, serving six years in the Army National Guard from the late 1950s to early ’60s. In April 1962, he even put in several weeks of work in Sussex County after a particularly damaging nor’easter hit the coast.

The second started in 1967 when he took over his family’s business, Delab, and served as owner and manager until 1985.

“We were a wholesale distribution center and you name it, we sold it, anything from candy to first aid supplies,” he said.

He’s also served his church, Ewell’s-St. Paul in Clayton in nearly every capacity and participating in many volunteering opportunities the church organizes.

Dinner tickets

The deadline to register for the awards dinner at Dover Downs is Monday. Registration can be completed online at dmvc.org/kentdcad. Tickets are $125.

The event begins at 6 p.m. with a reception and is followed by a dinner at 7 p.m.

The event is considered one of Del-Mar-Va Council’s premier events, a large portion of the proceeds funding the Boy Scouts.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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