Milton mourns loss of ‘community idol’

Gladys Wilkins will be remembered as loving, caring
Gladys Wilkins is shown with friend John Potocki during the Milton Garden Tour in July. BY DENY HOWETH
December 27, 2013

Gladys Wilkins was a part of the Milton community from the day she was born until the day she died.

Born in 1929 in a farmhouse off Cave Neck Road, Wilkins lived in the same home for 84 years, becoming an intrinsical part of the town.

On Dec. 23, the community lost one of its brightest lights.

“Everyone knew Miss Gladys,” said friend Stell Parker-Selby. “She was a fabulous lady, a community idol. This was her town, and she will be missed.”

Wilkins was well known in Milton for her friendly demeanor and charitable nature.

“When she saw someone in town who was new, she would go out of her way to introduce herself and welcome them to the town,” said friend John Potocki. “She was loving and accommodating.”

Wilkins often donated eggs from her own stock of banty chickens for local auctions and fundraisers. They usually fetch more than $100, but have garnered as much as $250 at the Best of Milton Auction held each September.

She was also known for her work at 50-50 raffles.

"Gladys was 'Milton's mascot,'" said Allison Schell, director of the Milton Historical Society. "She was a pillar of the community, and was so involved with the MHS. We could always count on her to do our 50-50 raffle tickets. Who could refuse her?"

Wilkins' parents, Yugoslavian immigrants, moved from Long Island, N.Y., to Milton in 1923. She was the youngest of five children. Sisters Ann and Emily and brothers Frank and Charlie all died before her, but she kept the childhood home in the family. Through the years, the home was not modernized. It still has a wood-burning stove in the kitchen, a coal-burning stove in the living room and there is no air conditioning anywhere in the house.

“She lived what I call the old Sussex County way,” Potocki said. “She believed in being very basic – utilize things rather than replace them. Knowing her was like knowing Sussex County 50, 75 years ago.”

She graduated from Milton High School – now Milton Elementary – in 1947. She married Norman Wilkins, and together they owned and operated a farm and a school bus. She also worked in the office at Milton Manufacturing Co. on Atlantic Street.

Norman died in 1985. Over the years, Gladys leased the land of her 100-acre farm, but she would not let go of her family's home.

“She never wanted to leave there or go to nursing home,” Potocki said. “She was born there, and she wanted to die there.”

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 29, in the chapel of Short Funeral Services, 416 Federal St., Milton with visitation after noon. Burial will be in Odd Fellows Cemetery, Milton. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Grace Church, 514 Union St., Milton, DE 19968.

As she did often, Parker-Selby said she spoke to Wilkins just days before her passing. She said Wilkins called her about the health and well being of a neighbor.

“She's the type of person I see as a role model,” she said. “She loved her neighbors.”