Saltwater Portrait

As school board chapter closes, a new one opens

Camilla Conlon looks forward to grandchildren and Thursdays to herself
Camilla Conlon listens to thanks and praises for her 17 years of service on the Cape Henlopen School Board. BY MELISSA STEELE
September 4, 2012

Every other Thursday, Camilla Conlon feels like there's something she has to do.

For 17 years, she did. As a member of the Cape Henlopen Board of Education every other Thursday, and sometimes more days than that, she faithfully attended scheduled school board meetings – until she gave up her seat this year.

Now her Thursdays are free.

"I still think about it," Conlon said. "I think, "Well I guess I could be at the board meeting."

Then she comes back to reality.

Serving on the school board was a natural progression for her after she and her husband, Kevin, had four children.

While four children may sound like a lot to some, it's small compared to where Conlon came from. She was the oldest of 10, growing up in Derwood, Md., outside of Rockville. It was all farmland back then, and she attended Catholic primary and secondary schools.

"I wore a uniform everyday, a real Catholic education," she said.

After graduating from Holy Cross Academy in Kensington, Md., Conlon attended University of Maryland where she earned a bachelor's degree in criminology with a minor in juvenile delinquency.

"I wanted to be a probation officer or a counselor and work in a group home," she said.

Though she eventually found another line of work, her criminal justice degree had a greater implication for her.

It was during a criminal justice class in her sophomore year that she met her husband, also a criminal justice major.

"We just bumped into each other in class," she said. The rest is history.

They got married during the blizzard of 1979 and lived in Brookville, Md., where Kevin worked for Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Conlon worked for Maryland National Bank.

Kevin's work kept them traveling for a couple of years until 1981, when the couple settled in Dover. Conlon stayed home with her first child, Christina, while Kevin worked at ILC in Frederica where he is a production manager for Lighter than Air products.

Baby Steve soon followed Christina as Conlon settled in as a stay-at-home mom. Travelling south to the beach was part of their routine.

"Everytime you had company, they always wanted to go to the beach," she said.

One day, the young family drove down for a daytrip, and decided to stay.

"It was a whim," Conlon said. "We went down and Kevin wanted to show me where he plays golf. Next thing you know we bought a lot and a year later moved down here."

They built a house in The Landings where two more children, Khara and Tricia, soon joined them. In 1997, the family moved to Kings Creek and a decade later to the Glade, where Kevin and Camilla are quickly becoming empty-nesters.

"After all those years with all that activity you look back and you wonder where the time went," Conlon said.

Between the four children, Conlon just about did it all – Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports, school and all the extra-curricular activities that go with it.

There was an eight-year stretch when there was at least one Conlon kid in school, and Camilla was there for it all. "Those were real good times," she said.

Conlon returned to the workforce in 1989. She became a Realtor, starting her real estate career at Virginia Joy. She began working for Lingo in 1997 where she continues to work today, primarily selling residential real estate. She's earned top producer honors, Realtor of the year and served as president of both the Sussex County Association of Realtors and the Delaware Association of Realtors.

School board years

Conlon refers to her involvement on the school board as an evolution of sorts. She began attending board meetings before to the 1997 election, and was particularly instrumental in lobbying the General Assembly to change Cape school district's school board area boundary lines.

"I went to every school board meeting. I was getting ready because I knew I wanted to run," she said.

Conlon learned a lot serving on the board. She worked with five different superintendents, presided over countless school matters, and through it all went from neophyte to the grande dame of the school board.

Though it may not sound exciting, aligning the elementary schools to a kindergarten through fifth-grade configuration was the most significant achievement during her tenure, she said. Aligning curriculum from grade-to-grade and school-to-school followed.

"It was really a big deal when we made that change. It meant everyone was learning the same thing," she said.

Life after school board

With three married children and the youngest in college, Conlon said she felt like she needed to move on.

"You plan your life around every other Thursday," she said.

Now she has time to visit with her growing family. Her oldest daughter, Christina, has a 2-year-old and is expecting a baby in October. Conlon said she looks forward to seeing her grandchildren this fall in Richmond, Va.

She may even return to a Thursday meeting someday.

"It's been a good run for everybody," she said. "I've watched so many students become so successful."