Cheryl Blackman may have been a small person, but she always knew how to fill a big room.
On Dec. 21, the Rehoboth Beach community filled the large sanctuary of Epworth United Methodist Church to honor the pint-sized queen of the Boardwalk with a memorial service that paid tribute to her infectious and occasionally mischievous spirit.
Blackman, 53, who died Dec. 7 after a lengthy battle with breast cancer, told her mother, Shirley Bennett, that when she died a lot of people would come.
“She was right,” Bennett said. ”Cheryl was my life, and I loved her so much. It’s going to be really hard to be without her.”
Bennett said Blackman, who stood 4-foot-3, was born with a mild form of dwarfism and was told she might not be able to keep up with her sisters in activities such as swimming. That didn’t stop Blackman, Bennett said, from learning how to swim and then diving into the water and playing “Jaws” by biting people’s toes.
“She was a prankster,” Bennett said.
Friends and family remembered what Blackman herself called ‘bar-hopping.’ While Blackman didn’t drink, she enjoyed going to happy hours around town absorbing the local gossip, but mainly to sell raffle tickets for various causes, primarily the children’s charity, KINFolk, but also the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce, Village Improvement Association and Cordrey Charities, among many others.
Blackman’s sister, Barbara Rynkowski, said Blackman always loved making grand entrances, and had a fearless spirit. She recalled Blackman, who had been an actor and stunt double, on the set of the 1990 Barry Levinson film “Avalon,” for a scene in which Blackman agreed to have her face covered with bees. Rynkowski said Blackman never worried at all about getting stung, and that was indicative of how Blackman viewed the world. She related the last text message she got from her sister that said, “I’m on my way.”
Rynkowski said Blackman loved photography, never going anywhere without her camera, often delighting in pictures when her subjects did not have their best look.
“I will miss my buddy,” Rynkowski said.
Gwen Osborne of Sign-A-Rama said Blackman had a little defiant streak and enjoyed playing pranks. Osborne said one day, Blackman was feeding bread to a particularly large turtle at the pedestrian bridge at Silver Lake. Despite a sign at the bridge warning not to feed the animals, Blackman scoffed, “Don’t pay attention to that sign. These turtles eat it so fast, we’ll never get caught.”
“She lived a positive life, always looking for the good in people,” Osborne said. “Cheryl, we will miss you.”
Valery Cordrey, Blackman’s sister, said Blackman never gave up her positive attitude, even after cancer had ravaged her body. She said Blackman enjoyed her role as Rehoboth’s sweetheart, particularly after Blackman was moved into hospice care and the community threw her a parade in July.
“Cheryl died knowing she was loved,” Cordrey said.
City Manager Sharon Lynn said Blackman was “a real, honest-to-goodness rascal who immediately radiated love and exuded more goodness than anybody I’ve ever met.”
Bob Cartwright, owner of The Coffee Mill, a favorite hangout of Blackman’s, said, “There are people that walk through our lives, but Cheryl left footprints on our hearts.”
Lori Klein, owner of another favorite Blackman haunt, Lori’s Cafe, said, “Make the most of this life, because Cheryl did.”
Blackman also worked at two Rehoboth restaurants, first the Beach Luncheonette on the Boardwalk and later Grotto Pizza on Rehoboth Avenue. Former Beach Luncheonette owner George Chiartis said Blackman would be the one to take tables the other waitstaff didn’t want because the people were bad tippers and then coax a $10 tip out of them. He said they nicknamed her The Little Sledgehammer because she could work, and she was tough.
The Epworth hallway was lined with photos and mementos from Blackman’s life, including her signed poster from “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” where she served as Miss Piggy’s rollerskating double. Bennett said Blackman got the role after climbing into Muppets creator Jim Henson’s lap and telling him why she should get the part. Other items on display included Blackman’s roller skates, her green St. Patrick’s Day hat and a Boardwalk bench lined with red, white and blue, Blackman’s favorite colors. The event also included video tributes and songs Blackman loved such as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “You Are My Sunshine.”
Closing the proceedings was Blackman’s sister Sharon Sherwood, who said, “However you choose to remember her, she loved all of you. Completely and unconditionally.”
And what would Blackman have thought of the tribute to her?
“She would have been right up on stage with her hats and telling her Cheryl stories herself,” Sherwood said.
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