C. Wendell Alfred: A life of volunteerism
For C. Wendell Alfred, life in Lewes is all about volunteerism.
Since moving to Lewes more than 20 years ago, Alfred has dedicated much of his life to helping others. “My life goal is to keep helping people,” he said.
He tries to make a difference through his work with the Beebe Healthcare Auxiliary and AARP. But much of the last two decades was spent serving on the Lewes Board of Public Works, an often thankless unpaid position that is important to the quality of life in Lewes. BPW directors set water, wastewater and electric rates for customers. The goal is to keep rates low while also continually upgrading the city’s infrastructure, much of it nearly a century old.
Alfred spent the final seven of his 18 years on the board as the president, and April 5 he was honored for his service as the BPW’s water production plant near Cape Henlopen High School was named in his honor. He was joined by BPW directors past and present as well as family, friends and colleagues. “It’s just a great honor to have something named for me for my years of volunteerism and service to the BPW, the rate payers and citizens of Lewes,” Alfred said.
Alfred originally ran unsuccessfully for a BPW seat, but shortly after the election was appointed by Mayor George H.P. Smith when a member stepped down.
He also spent 40 years working for insurance companies in the loss-control field. Safety was a priority in his job, and that was always a very important issue while on the BPW board.
During his BPW service, the board authorized the construction of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility on American Legion Road. As president, he worked closely with BPW General Manager Darrin Gordon to continually upgrade infrastructure. More recently, the board authorized the construction of a new potable water treatment facility near the high school.
Current BPW President Preston Lee said he doesn’t typically believe in fate, but naming the water plant in Alfred’s honor seemed meant to be. “For some reason, previous BPW boards never decided to give it a name and inform the public of its importance,” Lee said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that all the previous boards were waiting for a person whose outstanding service and dedication warranted the naming rights.”
Since leaving the board last May, Alfred has stepped up his volunteer efforts, but also used his newfound free time to get away and relax. He spent three-and-a-half months in Florida this year, something that was never possible for the last two decades. Also in that time, he has continued to volunteer with the Beebe Healthcare Auxiliary and ramped up his efforts with AARP, focusing primarily on educating seniors about scams and how to avoid becoming a victim.
In June, Alfred will be a speaker at the AARP’s Livable Communities Rural Workshop conference in Portland, Maine, where he will discuss preparing for weather and disasters, with an emphasis on communicating to seniors before and during emergencies. In preparation, Alfred has met with his former colleagues at the Lewes BPW and Lewes city government as well as other organizations. He will be Delaware’s representative at the conference, which will feature presenters from all 50 states.
Alfred grew up in Covington, Va., nearly two hours northwest of Lynchburg. Before his 40-year career in the insurance world, he served five years as a police officer, then worked for the state Alcohol Beverage Control board as an investigator.
He attended Old Dominion University, then got an associate’s degree in occupational safety and health from Northern Virginia Community College. He eventually moved to Arlington, Va., and met his partner Mike at a fundraising event for Georgetown University. They’ve been together for 40 years.
Prior to moving to Lewes, they had a home in Florida. It was there they met a couple who lived on Manila Avenue in Lewes. “We had never heard of Lews,” Alfred said, mimicking the way tourists often mispronounce Lewes. Then, when one of their friends had a heart attack and died, Mike attended the funeral in Lewes.
“He came back and said it was such a beautiful place,” Alfred remembered. “We came back down a week later, and within a week after that we owned a house here.”
The rest is history.