Dina Hollingsworth: Summer vacation with a spiritual twist
Standing on the recently rebuilt back porch, shaded by a backyard of tall pines, Dina Hollingsworth said it’s one of her favorite spots on the entire A. Felix duPont Memorial House property in Rehoboth.
There’s almost always a wind that blows up Lake Gerar’s northwest finger, and there’s always birds and other wildlife to see, said Hollingsworth, Memorial House managing director. Binoculars were recently hung on the wall inside for guests to use, she said.
“This place really is a blessing,” she said. “This is such a beautiful place to work.”
Sitting on Oak Avenue, Memorial House has carried the duPont name since 1952, when Anne Marvil d’Armand donated the property and the home to the Episcopal Church in Delaware. The house has 11 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, two kitchens, two outdoor seating areas, three common living spaces and a chapel. It sleeps 34 people.
This is Hollingsworth’s second year as managing director after working part time for over a decade before that.
Hollingsworth describes staying at the house as, “Summer vacation, with a spiritual twist,” she said.
The house is in use all year long, but it’s during the summer months that Memorial House is in high gear. Hollingsworth said Friday afternoon a clergy host checks in first; soon after guests begin to arrive. Once the guests are all here, the clergy host holds a quick gathering in the dining room to see how the guests want the week to go based on their religious expectations – daily services in the chapel, Bible activities in the evening, morning gatherings on the brick patio overlooking Lake Gerar or nothing but Sunday service.
Hollingsworth said there’s a full-time chef who she works with at the beginning of the summer to create the menu. It’s different than working in a regular kitchen because the guests come into the kitchen and talk to the chef while he’s preparing food, she said.
As good as the food is, Hollingsworth said a guest favorite is the ice cream that’s available 24 hours a day.
“You should see it the mornings we have waffles. The kids will pile the ice cream on,” she said.
Hollingsworth said over the years, the house has been upgraded, but she and others before her have done their best to keep the house in its original state. Almost every room has wood paneling made of pecky cypress, a wood with fungus-made holes throughout. There are nooks and crannies throughout every corner of the house.
“It’s really hard to keep the integrity of the house,” she said.
During a tour, Hollingsworth can’t help adjusting what the cleaning crew didn’t leave perfect. A pile of magazines in one of two downstairs sitting rooms is fanned out. A pillow for the couch in the room with the only television is missing, and it must be found. The sheets on a bed aren’t pulled tight. A spider web hanging in the corner of another bedroom, is swiped down with a broom. Bug sprays and sunscreen on a shelf next to the door leading to the brick patio are organized so guests can easily read the labels.
“I can’t help myself,” she said sheepishly.
Walking into one bedroom with navy blue walls and enough beds to sleep five, Hollingsworth said this one is her favorite room. She said this where she stays in the beginning of the season; she spends a week at the house after the summer menu is set, but before the season really begins.
“It’s great to stay here for a week, but it’s definitely a working vacation,” she said laughing. “It’s important to see how the house is running and what the guest experience will be.”
Hollingsworth said one of the interesting things is that the only private spaces in the whole house are the bedrooms. Guests pull tables and chairs together, to talk, play games or just hang out, she said.
“If you’re the type of person who doesn’t like sharing space with a stranger, this might not be the place for you,” she said.
The Episcopal Church of Delaware also owns and operates Camp Arrowhead, which has a Lewes mailing address, but is found right on the water in Angola, on the edge of Rehoboth Bay. Hollingsworth’s husband Rick is the camp’s facilities manager. Her two sons have both attended the camp and worked at the camp over the years.
She also worked part time at Camp Arrowhead for close to 10 years before she began at Memorial House. She and her husband are originally from southern New Jersey, and she has a background in management and retail. She managed a Kids “R” Us with 35 employees and was the manager of seven stores for a small retail chain before becoming a stay-at-home mom.
“I’ve been blessed with the gift of hospitality,” she said.
Hollingsworth said her family isn’t unique as multigenerational user of the church’s Sussex County properties. She said 75 percent of the guests who stay at the Memorial House have stayed there before.
“We have families with three generations. It’s really pretty amazing to see,” she said.
In addition to families coming back year after year, Hollingsworth said, families will come at the same time of year with the same families. They’ll arrive as strangers, but by the end of the week, they’re making plans to visit at the same time together next year, she said.
“So many families come. It’s really a wonderful thing,” she said. “It’s pretty magical. The house has such positive vibes. There’s a lot of happiness and joy.”
Hollingsworth said the rates, which can be found online, are kept modest through an endowment so families can afford to stay at the house.
“We want young families to be able to stay here who otherwise wouldn’t,” she said, adding they get inquiries into renting the whole place fairly frequently. “We would never do that. That would defeat the mission of the house.”