Saltwater Portrait

Beverly Corelle: In Dewey Beach, calm is her goal

Corelle working to update town's election process
When she is not volunteering her time for the Dewey Beach Elections Committee, Beverly Corelle enjoys the calm of her garden. BY KARA NUZBACK
July 5, 2011

Though Beverly Corelle is a familiar face in Dewey Beach, she is not likely to put her two cents in when it comes to the town’s turbulent politics.  After spending most of her career representing teachers' unions, Corelle said she has fought for her share of causes.  “I’m tired of it.  Calm is my goal now,” she said.

Corelle said she has lived in Delaware since 1992.  She began thinking about retirement while working as director of instructional advocacy for Delaware State Education Association in Dover.  Corelle said she decided she wanted to spend her retirement by the beach.  She had never vacationed in Dewey Beach before she made the decision to buy a house there in 2005.  “I started snooping around, and here I am,” she said.

Corelle lives on the north end of Dewey Beach, close to downtown Rehoboth Beach, on a quiet street away from the Dewey Beach bar scene.  A blue-grey fence in her front yard encompasses a lush green garden, speckled with purple hydrangeas.  Any one of her four cats is likely to be lying in a patch of sunlight on the wooden floor of her front porch.  “I enjoy my life in Dewey,” Corelle said with a smile.

Corelle said she prefers to spend her days gardening, taking walks on the beach or bird watching at Cape Henlopen and Delaware Seashore state parks, but she still finds time to use her professional experience to volunteer in Dewey Beach.

Corelle is chairwoman of Dewey Beach Elections Committee, and she is heading a project to establish a voter registration system for the town.  Corelle’s knowledge of elections stems back to an unlikely subject - chemistry.

Corelle said she loved her high school chemistry class.  After high school, she decided to further her education on the subject, first at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., then at University of Tennessee.  While working as a teaching assistant while she earned a master's degree in chemistry from University of Tennessee, Corelle said she realized her science skills might be put to better use in the classroom.  “I realized I liked the teaching aspect,” she said.

Corelle earned a second master's in education administration from Johns Hopkins University.  Beginning in 1970, Corelle said, she taught science on a high school level for Maryland Public Schools in Frederick County for 15 years.  Corelle said she also spent time teaching at various colleges, including Old Dominion University and Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Va.

As a teacher in Frederick County, Corelle said she became active in her school employees' union.  She began representing the union at joint committee meetings and board of education meetings, mostly to negotiate collective bargaining agreements.

Corelle was appointed president of Maryland State Teachers Association, a position she held for four years, until she moved to Nebraska in 1989.  She returned to the Mid-Atlantic in 1992, to work in Dover for Delaware State Education Association.

During her career, she conducted public hearings on teacher licensing and certification.  She said the experience has given her empathy toward council and committee members in Dewey Beach.

“You never have all the answers to all the questions people are going to ask, and that frustrates everybody,” Corelle said.  “It’s much better to say, ‘I don’t know,’ than to make something up.”

During her work with unions, Corelle said she was always interested in the election process and actively endorsed candidates on a local and federal level.  “That’s why I thought the elections committee would be a good fit,” she said.

Corelle said she volunteered for Dewey Beach Board of Elections during the town council election in September 2009.  “Without having a clue as to what I would be doing,” she said.  “I thought I would be a greeter at the Life-Saving Station.”

Corelle said she was handed the tedious, detail-oriented task of confirming voter eligibility using paper records.  “It was like, there’s got to be a better way here,” Corelle said.

When the elections committee was established in 2010, Corelle said former Mayor Rick Solloway called her to ask if she would be willing to co-chair the committee.  Corelle agreed, and she soon set out to create a more effective process for Dewey Beach’s 2,000 eligible voters to cast their ballots.

At a Feb. 12 town meeting, Corelle went to town council to ask for funding for the project.  Council said it had no spare funds to give the committee, but Dewey Beach volunteers rallied to help Corelle.

Residents David King and Betsy Damos told Corelle they would donate a new computer with a remote back-up system so the committee could begin the process.   Commissioner Jim Laird volunteered to pay for the software program the committee needed.  Town Webmaster Dick Cleaveland told Corelle he would design a voter registration database prior to the meeting.

Corelle said she was touched.  “Citizens who already do so much for the town have stepped up and given us a way to get started,” she said.

When the system is complete, Corelle said she hopes the database will also help the town keep track of business licenses, beach taxes and building permits.  “Our goal is to build a database with accurate information about people and room to add information,” she said.

But getting accurate information for all eligible voters in Dewey Beach is not easy, Corelle said.  “We’ve got lots of holes, lots of gaps in the information,” she said.

Corelle said she hopes the town council election in September will be a golden opportunity to gather information on the town’s eligible voters.  She said she hopes by election time in September 2012, the system will be up and running.

In addition to her volunteer work in Dewey Beach, Corelle has also done short-term volunteer work for the International Revenue Service for the last four years, helping low-income families file tax returns.  "People are so happy you're helping them," she said.  Corelle said that makes her happy too.