Big Mike, first responders, and Spain in Sussex

Beth Salaman, event coordinator for Beebe Medical Foundation, sold Big Mike Donovan ten feet of tickets at the Dewey Beach Winter Gala. BY DENNIS FORNEY
March 30, 2012

Big Mike Donovan stands out in a crowd. At six feet seven, curly hair cascading past his shoulders and the bulk to match, it would be difficult for Mike not to stand out. In his cowboy boots, Mike’s height goes to six foot eight.

He cut a heroic figure on the dance floor at the Cape Henlopen Educational Fund event at Rehoboth Beach Convention Center in January.  Little of the music of the Funsters made it past him. He continued in fine form at the Dewey Beach Winter Gala, where many people sought him out to help them buy silent auction tickets. The deal on the silent auction was that for $20 you got as many tickets as you could stretch out from one hand to the other. Mike’s wingspan of 10 feet translated into a lot of tickets for $20.

Mike’s in the marine contracting business. He told me he recently relocated to Sussex from New Castle County. He worked on a project along the bayfront in Dewey Beach and developed an affection for the lifestyle.

“I love it down here,” he said.  “I won’t be moving back.”

The CHEF event and the Dewey Winter Gala are examples of the many events held throughout the year to raise funds for a variety of good causes in this neck of the woods. You could do a lot worse than attending all of these events through the year and enjoying the good music, food and company that go along with them.  They are often underwritten by a variety of companies. That means the value of the food and the music usually exceeds the cost of the tickets. Having fun while supporting the community will move you closer to God, plus you might be able to get Big Mike to buy some auction tickets for you!

Strategic burning is impressive
Watching staff of the state’s Department of Forestry and Division of Parks expertly handling fire for a controlled burn in Cape Henlopen State Park recently reminded me of how many dedicated and highly trained people there are in this country providing important services for the taxpayers. They’re all part of the infrastructure that allows our freedom- and free market-loving entrepreneurs to thrive.  They educate our children, work to keep our communities safe, keep our roads in good condition, look out for the well-being of the air we breathe and the water we drink, and the list goes on.  In short, they ensure the security and stability so critical to a healthy, functioning free market and economy.

At the state park controlled burn, the staff strategically cleared firebreaks to keep the fire from spreading beyond the burn area and took measures to save mature trees that make parks what they are. By next fall, new growth will likely hide the charred look of the burn area.

Sussex County and Spain
By the time this column is published, I will be on my way back from adventures in Spain. In Granada, our plan was to immerse ourselves in a culture thick with the blended Christian and Muslim architecture and traditions that have marked the Iberian peninsula for many centuries. Christians dominated the peninsula for the first eight centuries following Christ’s death.  Then the Muslim Moors of Africa came across the Mediterranean and drove the Christians out.  In the 1490s, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella led the crusades that drove the Moors back to Africa.  Granada, in the southern part of Spain, served as the seat of the Moorish kings and continues to show much of the Muslim influence.

While there, I planned to look for connections to Sussex County.  For instance, one explanation for the ethnically distinct community of people who called themselves Moors, in the area around Indian River, claims they descended from a crew of Spanish Moor sailors who shipwrecked off the coast of the county in the 1600s.  The sailors, according to this legend, then intermarried with Native Americans of the Nanticoke community, thus creating a persistent race of people that has survived for centuries.

I also planned to keep my eyes and ears open for history of the Nuñez family whose gravestones stand prominently in the streetside front row of St. Peter’s in Lewes. This family, believed to have descended from Sephardic Jews run out of Spain by the same crusade that ran out the Moors, somehow made their way to Lewes where they involved themselves in the community.  Daniel Nuñez Sr. was reportedly one of the earliest coroners of Sussex County, while his son, also Daniel, served a number of terms as sheriff of Sussex. History in Sussex County runs a lot deeper than most people realize.

I have to say thanks to Dave Burton for turning me on to Washington Irving’s writings about Ferdinand and Isabella’s Conquest of Granada and about the famous Moorish and Christian fortress in Granada known as the Alhambra. I never knew the famous early-American writer had any connection to Spain.  While reading his engaging “Tales of the Alhambra” (download both for 99 cents each on electronic readers), I found the origin of his folk tales from the Catskills including characters like the headless horseman and Rip Van Winkle.

Stay tuned for photographs and a few reports from the old country. Thanks for reading!