Five people with strong ties to history and the sea were inducted into the Delaware Maritime Hall of Fame during a May 21 ceremony in front of the Lightship Overfalls in Lewes Canalfront Park.
The prestigious event is sponsored by the Overfalls Foundation, and it coincided with the opening of the historic lightship for the 2021 season. The event was canceled last year, and the Overfalls was not open to visitors.
Inductees this year are Connie Benko, James Falk, Lisa Himber, Michael Morgan and Lee Jennings, who was honored posthumously.
The Class of 2021's names will be inscribed with those from 11 other classes dating back to 2007 on the Hall of Fame monument in the park along the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal.
Wreaths were placed at the Hall of Fame monument in memory of recently deceased members including Mary Ann Etu (1944-2020); Hugh Councill (1927-2020); Louis Schulze (1938-2020); and Harriet Maynard Graves (1933-2021).
Participating in the ceremony were Mike Safina, Overfalls Foundation board of directors president; Dennis Forney, Cape Gazette publisher emeritus, as emcee; Elaine Simmerman, co-chair of the hall of fame committee, opening and closing remarks; Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes; the Rev. Jim Peper of The Lighthouse; and hall of fame committee members Deb Bonvetti and Emily Yeager, co-chair.
Maritime history educator
Connie Benko was noted for her volunteer efforts for the Lewes Historical Society in promoting the maritime history of the Lewes area through a series of popular walking and trolley tours from 2004 to 2013. She has trained dozens of docents, and some continue to give walking tours for the historical society.
With a background in education, she said her passion now is adult education.
In addition, she helped start UD by the Sea, a four-day seminar as part of the University of Delaware Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Each year, there are more than 200 attendees with four additional sessions on Lewes maritime history.
Sea Grant leader
James “Jim” Falk has been honored for his visionary leadership to the Delaware and national Sea Grant programs. He worked for the Sea Grant program his entire career from 1978 to 2017 at the College of Marine Studies/College of Earth, Ocean and Environment in Lewes.
His career was a steady stream of local, regional and national successes that helped to improve land use, water quality, environmental education and coastal economies.
He has participated in more than 40 boards and committees, including chair positions, with the Sea Grant network in Delaware and across the nation. His work earned him numerous awards and honors.
He also played a key role in the founding of Delaware Coast Day in 1977 at the College of Marine Studies/College of Earth, Ocean and Environment in Lewes and was involved with every event until he retired.
Teacher, writer and speaker
Michael Morgan was honored for his career as a teacher, writer and speaker who has raised public awareness of Delaware's maritime history. In a 45-year span, he has written more than 2,500 weekly newspaper columns, along with magazine articles and nine books about local maritime history. He is also a highly sought-after speaker who is known for his research, academic depth and accuracy.
Morgan, who taught for 32 years, conducted research related to the historic frigate Constellation. His work was adopted by the Smithsonian Institution and the Navy Heritage and History Command. He also served as an interpretive guide at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. For his service to youth education programs, he was recognized in 2014 with Disney's prestigious Partners in Excellence Award.
Trendsetter in maritime industry
Lisa Himber was honored for her lifelong career promoting maritime business on the Delaware River and Bay. She is vice president of the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River and Bay, a nonprofit trade association representing port businesses and organizations in the tri-state area.
Her long resume includes leadership positions with several regional and national organizations. She has served as president of the Seamen's Center of Wilmington board of directors since 2017.
Capt. Stephen Roberts, a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2018, read a letter from Himber, who could not attend the ceremony. She said she was thrilled to be included with some of the true maritime champions such as Paul Ives (Class of 2013) and Hick Rowland (Class of 2011).
Champion of history
Leland “Lee” Jennings was honored for his tireless efforts to save and restore the Delaware Bay maritime forts – Fort Delaware on Pea Patch Island and Fort Miles in Cape Henlopen State Park. Jennings, the first chief historian for Delaware State Parks, passed away in 2010 at age 57 in Lewes.
As historian, he was able to raise funds and staff to save the forts from years of neglect. He helped establish the Fort Delaware Society and the Fort Miles Historical Association, two volunteer organizations that carry on his dreams today. The two forts have developed into major tourist attractions in the state.
His wife, Linda, said her husband was a very passionate man who could get others passionate and excited about the projects he worked on.
The couple portrayed John and Abagail Adams during living history programs.
ABOUT THE OVERFALLS
The Lightship Overfalls has become an iconic symbol of maritime history in Lewes.
Launched in 1938, the lightship actually served at three locations, but not in Delaware Bay. It had been named Cornfield, Cross Rip and finally Boston from 1962 to 1972.
Boston was given to the Lewes Historical Society in 1973 by the Coast Guard as a floating museum, but serious work to restore it really started three decades later, thanks to the Lightship Overfalls Foundation and its Dirty Hands Gang. Thousands upon thousands of hours of volunteer labor have helped restore the lightship.
It's been towed out of Lewes two times – in 2008 to Norfolk and in 2018 to New Jersey – for hull repairs and painting.
Overfalls lightships served as navigational aids in Delaware Bay from 1898 to 1960. Two Overfalls have found new homes as tourist attractions on opposite coasts of the United States. The Overfalls that was on station from 1926 to 1952 is now named Portsmouth and is docked in Portsmouth, Va., and the Overfalls that was on station from 1951 to 1960 is renamed Relief and is docked in Oakland, Calif.