Greater Lewes Foundation presents Community Service Awards

Vessels family, Gary Stabley honored for contributions to city
Shown during the Community Service Award presentation are (l-r) Dennis Forney, Greater Lewes Foundation board of directors; Mickey and Jack Vessels; and Joe Stewart, chairman of the board of directors. BY DENY HOWETH
May 5, 2014

The Greater Lewes Foundation presented its annual Community Service Awards to two residents at Lewes Public Library April 12. The keynote address was presented by U.S. Sen. Chris Coons.

The Vessels family received an award for its contributions to Lewes as stewards of history and historical architecture, and Jack Vessels' previous service on the Lewes City Council.

Jack Vessels and wife Mickey, and his late sister Mary, have all been key figures in creating the Lewes people know and love today. Although they lost Mary to a heart condition at age 47, Jack and Mickey recently returned to Lewes after a brief period of living in Milton and are living nearby in East Five Points in a house that Jack constructed.

The Vessels family came to Delaware from Virginia in the 1700s. Jack’s lineage goes back to the first John M. Vessels, who settled in Cool Springs in 1801. One hundred years later, in 1901, Jack’s grandfather bought the Col. David Hall House in Lewes, where Jack and Mary grew up. The Hall house dates to 1728, and its lower floor was most likely the original trading post in Lewes. Jack is a foremost authority on the history of the house and of David Hall.

The family has attended Lewes Presbyterian Church for generations, where Jack and Mary both served as elders and Jack as president of the board of trustees.The original church dates to 1692. After graduating from the University of Delaware in 1974, Jack returned to Lewes to make custom reproduction furniture and to restore 18th century homes. This led to his development of Shipcarpenter Square. Beginning in 1983, Jack personally oversaw the moving and restoration of numerous houses there, and many homes in Lewes are furnished with the fine custom reproductions he created.

Mickey Vessels came to Lewes as a young girl from Easton, Md. Jack, Mickey and Mary shared residence at the Col. David Hall House where, for 16 years, they operated the Swan's Nest gift shop.   The three family members also played key roles in rejuvenating the Lewes Chamber of Commerce, where both Jack and Mary served as president, and they founded and helped run the popular Lewes Garden Tour.

Mary, for many years, served as an unpaid assistant to Mayor George H.P. Smith, helping him with numerous state and federal grant requests.  She was also the longtime chair of the Lewes Grounds Committee, today Lewes Parks & Recreation.

During his decades in Lewes, Jack served on the Lewes City Council for 10 years. Among his many accomplishments, Jack was responsible for allowing residences to be established over the downtown businesses, and for constructing the parking lot at the 1812 Park.

He also chaired the committee that created the Lewes Historic District.  Jack served as president of the Sussex County Association of Towns, vice chair of the Zwaanendael Heritage Commission and president of the Lewes Homeowners Association. Jack was also responsible for moving and restoring the Fisher-Martin House, which serves as home for the Lewes Chamber of Commerce.

He and Mickey raised two children, Debbie, who lives just outside Lewes, and Bill, who lives in Kansas City, Mo., and they have three grandchildren. True to their lasting love of Lewes, Jack and Mickey both continue their active service with the Presbyterian Church, where they donate many hours each week working in its soup kitchen. Mary’s years of service to Lewes are commemorated by a marble memorial in the Market Street pocket park that has been named for her.

Gary Stabley received an award for his preservation of the Lightship Overfalls and the vision for the water treatment plant.

Gary and his wife Flo became full-time Lewes residents in 1997, but their original residency here dates back to 1951, when Gary was stationed with the U.S. Coast Guard at Indian River. In many ways, Gary’s return to Lewes completed the circle he had begun 45 years before when his Coast Guard boat would shuttle supplies to the Lightship Overfalls, and when Gary first joined the Jefferson Masonic Lodge, to which he still belongs today.

Gary’s life has always been one of public service. He was one of the very first public school business administrators in Pennsylvania, as well as a consultant for IBM in the design of early PC systems for schools, and the director of public service for Easttown Township, Pa. When Gary and Flo returned to Lewes, he brought all those talents and experiences with him, and soon he was put to work.

His first assignment was as the founding president of the Overfalls during the period when it spun off from the Lewes Historical Society to become the Lightship Overfalls Foundation. At the time, there was discussion about selling and moving the Overfalls, but under Stabley’s seven-year stewardship, the new organization kept the lightship here, and it has become one of the city’s most visible and active nonprofit organizations.

At the request of Mayor Smith, Stabley then turned his attention to the Lewes Board of Public Works. While in Pennsylvania, he had served for 35 years on the board of the Keystone Federal Credit Union, 15 of those as its chair. Between that and his experience as director of public services, Stabley brought invaluable experience to the construction of a major new treatment plant for Lewes, including floating the city’s very first bond issue, a $38.5 million authorization that eventually helped fund both the new treatment plant and upgrades to the city’s electric and water services.

Today, Stabley remains active with SCORE, where he focuses on providing advice to regional nonprofits and businesses.  And, of course, he and Flo are very busy with their four daughters, 11 grandchildren and, as of last count, 14 great-grandchildren.  Summers are, indeed, very busy around the Stabley household.

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