Saltwater Portrait

Jan and Ken Konesey recall Rehoboth’s past

Couple treasures the freedom city provided
November 28, 2017

Jan and Ken Konesey have been a lot of places, but there is nowhere they would rather be than Rehoboth Beach. “When I first came to Rehoboth, I loved it. From the first moment I saw it,” Jan said.

Jan first visited Rehoboth when her cousins owned a cabin on Columbia Avenue. “It was a log cabin. There were bunk beds. That was the first time,” she said. “I didn’t come back until ‘66-’67, because we moved to Miami.”

Jan’s mother grew up in Baltimore and was one of eight children. Rehoboth was often the site of family reunions. “When we grew up, we knew our aunts and uncles really well. We would get together in Rehoboth and everyone would rent houses for a week. We would have a big dinner at the VIA. We just kept coming for years, every three to five years,” Jan said.

Later, her relatives began migrating south, to North Carolina and Florida, and reunions were held down there. “We never liked it as much,” Jan said.

Jan and Ken met in Rehoboth in the late 1960s, married in 1971 and bought their first house in Rehoboth in 1979. Ken, who works for a mobile home supply company, has been coming to Rehoboth for even longer than Jan. A native of Harrington, he recalls a time when Sussex Street was a dirt road.

“In the early days, we would walk up to the Boardwalk on Labor Day night and nothing would be open,” Jan said. “At night, what we considered all the old-timers would be on Rehoboth Avenue and would have suits. They were all dressed to the hilt to go to the Boardwalk at night,” Ken said.

Ken has been around Rehoboth long enough to recall when Country Club Estates really was a country club. He caddied one summer at what was a nine-hole course. “I didn’t like getting up for these 6 a.m. golfers,” Ken said.

For Ken, trips to the beach became a focus as soon as school got out. “I remember, we’d come down after school, Memorial Day. The shoes would come off until Labor Day. We ran around up in the dunes. Climbed the towers. The National Guard used to bring tanks to North Shores and shoot drones. That used to be great, to watch that,” he said.

Ken and Jan recalled Stuart Kingston auctions on the Boardwalk, hosted by the late Jay Stein, the gallery’s long time owner. “My grandma used to love to go to the Stein family auction. Part of the family reunion was going to the auction at night. It was entertainment, but they bought stuff,” Jan said.

Jan first began to get involved in Rehoboth city politics in the late 1980s. She had once worked as a lobbyist for Common Cause, so she was familiar with politics, but her reasons for getting involved were personal. She said at the time, her family was living on Sussex Street, within earshot of The Ruffled Duck, on Rehoboth Avenue in the building that would later become famous as Dogfish Head.

“They used to prop their doors open and the kids would line up. They weren’t serving dinner; it was just a bar after 9 p.m. Then they would come back to their cars, and they would wake up my kids and wake up me. The bass, the ‘boom-boom-boom’ was just reverberating in the neighborhood,” she said. “There was a lot of concern.”

Jan was appointed as a Rehoboth commissioner in 1990 to fill the seat of Sam Cooper, who had been elected mayor. “We always said Dewey Beach was the bar town. We didn’t want Rehoboth to be a bar town,” she said.

In response, Jan helped draft the ordinance that capped restaurant size at 5,000 square feet. She said while business owners fought the regulation, they eventually came around, as the measure helped prevent large chains from coming into Rehoboth.

“We had heard rumors that Phillips Crab House was going to open in Rehoboth. And we just thought the scale is not right for this town,” Jan said. “That was the big fear. That we would get this giant, mega-restaurant.”

She left the commission in 1997, she said, because she took a new job with Bank of America and was traveling a lot. She was later appointed to the city Planning Commission, which she still serves on today. “I became very interested in planning when I was on the city commission. Ken and I would visit communities that became known for their planning during trips,” Jan said.

While she has not been a city commissioner for some time now, Jan is still passionate about Rehoboth issues, most notably to what she sees as the commercialization of Rehoboth’s neighborhoods. “It’s invaded the neighborhoods now. The average house in Rehoboth was three bedrooms, two baths in 2003. That’s not the case anymore,” she said.

For the Koneseys, they remember Rehoboth as a town Jan said was like “Father Knows Best” in its idyllic, small-town way. “People didn’t worry about children riding their bikes everywhere. Kids would go fishing. They had the freedom of Rehoboth,” she said.