Saltwater Portrait

Patricia Brown: Lewes senior taps into success

Dancer lives for Cape senior center productions
May 29, 2012
Patricia Brown stands in front of a painting her brother made of her when she was a young girl in Philadelphia. BY MELISSA STEELE

Patricia Brown knows a lot about homes. She should. The young 78-year-old estimates she's moved about 20 times in her lifetime.

Now settled in a lovely Cape Cod in Lochwood, she said, she finally feels she's home.

"We're like gypsies," she said about herself and husband, David. "We love it here in Lewes – the beach, the boardwalk, the people, everything."

Many seniors in the area know Brown from the annual productions she coordinates at the Cape Henlopen Senior Center. She creates the program, sews the costumes, paints the sets and directs the choreography. She does it all.

Brown recently was honored for her volunteer work at the Cape Henlopen Senior Center when a Salute to Senior Service program by Home Instead Senior Care placed her on its wall of fame.

"Patricia is a valued member of the community and a senior hero to many," wrote Jeff Huber, president of Home Instead Inc. "She has shown that volunteer opportunities for older adults should not diminish because of age."

Brown's daughter-in-law, Tracy Brown, nominated her for the award because of all she does at the Cape Henlopen Senior Center.

"People look forward to her dance classes every week," Tracy said. "She brings joy to so many people's lives that I thought she deserved to be honored."

Nonagenarian Jack Luzzi has been Brown's dance partner for more than a decade. Husband David confides he doesn't enjoy ballroom dancing; it's fine with him for her to dance with Luzzi.

"I've been on the dance floor for the last 50 years and danced with a lot of people. That lady is the very best," Luzzi said.

Brown returns the compliment.

"The first time we danced, we danced so well together it was like heaven," she said.

It's not just Brown's students who adore their teacher.

Brown said she doesn't know what she'd do without her volunteer work.

"I'd be lost without the center," she said.

Not all singing and dancing

And to think, there was a time Brown gave up her dance career.

Born and raised in South Philadelphia, Brown had to work and pay for dance classes out of her own pocket.

She worked as a seamstress, sewing drape covers, slip covers, clerical vestments and other tailor work, while studying ballet, jazz and tap at the Cawonova Academy of Dance.

She said she admired dance stars Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell and tried to emulate their dance style. Tap was always her favorite.

"I like the rhythm your feet make," she said.

But her dance days at Cawonova Academy only lasted three years.

The reason?

She met husband David and they married in 1955.

Five years later, she was the mother of four young boys.

"There was no time for dancing at that time," she said.

The young couple and growing family lived in southwest Philadelphia, where they started in an apartment.

"We had our first baby, then our second and before I knew it we had our third," Brown said. "We didn't have any room, so one day I went out and bought a house."

Brown said she scrimped and saved to buy their second home a few blocks away, next to her sister's home; a few years later her husband surprised her with a beautiful home in Aston, Pa.

"I'll never forget the day we moved into that home," she said.

David found the idyllic spot while working at a nearby Nike rocket site for the National Guard. During the Cold War arms race against the Soviet Union, the U.S. government considered the rockets a last line of defense in the event of a land invasion.

He later took a job driving a tractor-trailer, which kept him on the road for long stints throughout the 1960s.

Raising four boys - often on her own during a time of great cultural reform and social change - wasn't easy, Brown said.

One day her 10-year-old son ran away from home and was gone for eight days, she said. It turned out he went to her sister-in-law's home and the sister-in-law never bothered to call and say he was there, she said.

"He came home and told me he was so scared, and I decided to call a family meeting," Brown said.

She said she sat her four boys and husband in the living room and told them from now on they would have to make their own choices and suffer the consequences.

Then she decided to do something for herself after giving so much to all of them.

She went roller skating.

Rolling along

Brown went to skating classes at a local roller skating rink, made friends and, most of all, had fun. She competed in figure skating competitions and enjoyed the freedom skating gave her.

"Some days, I'd let the cleaning go and not cook," she said.

Two of her boys decided to join her at the skating rink; one competed in skating events.

Life continued along a natural progression: the boys moved away from home and the Aston home soon became too much for the empty nesters.

In 1992, the couple brought a singlewide trailer to Pot-Nets for a vacation home and bought a full-time home in Bear. With David on the road during long trucking stints, Brown said she spent most of her time at Pot-Nets.

"I lived in it and had more fun here than anywhere," she said. "I met a lot of friends, and we were out every night and we loved it."

Finally, the couple decided to sell all their homes and move permanently to Lewes. They bought a home in Rolling Meadows where Brown met her dear friend Betty Dively who, in turn, introduced Brown to the Rehoboth Senior Center.

"I saw the tap dancing class there and I was hooked," Brown said.

But the couple's moving days weren't quite over.

A sick mother and sister beckoned Brown to move to Florida and help them. Florida, however, wasn't to David's liking and they moved back to the area - first to Sussex West and finally Lochwood.

Anything goes

Brown said she's already planning for the senior center's fall production. "Anything Goes" is a musical that will be held at 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3-4, at Epworth United Methodist Church, 19285 Holland Glade Road, Rehoboth.

Her eyes light up when she talks about all the preparations for the senior center performance.

There's nothing else she'd rather do.

"People come in and they may have lost their spouse and they're lost," she said. "People get involved, and it's good for them. I have people who come in with problems. The senior center's a place people can come in and people know their name."



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