History of the Rehoboth Beach Community Unity Dinner

History of the Rehoboth Beach Community Unity Dinner

by Patty Derrick, Co-Founder, Community Unity Dinner in 1994

The Rehoboth Beach Community was having a trying time in 1994, and many of us as members of the community wanted to find a way to make things better.

I have a vivid memory of visiting my dear friend, the late Billy Sheilds in November 1994. She was a long time City of Rehoboth Commissioner, and very much loved throughout  the community.  

We were sitting in her living room communicating about what we could do, brainstorming on how to do it.  Billy said  “Patty, why don’t you do a dinner of some sort for all, as your coming off as chair of the Centennial celebration for the City?  You know everybody! I can get the Convention Hall for you but I am pretty sure Sam Cooper (Mayor at the time) will give it to YOU.”  Well, I thought fast and said, “Okay, I’ll try.”  I remember her saying, “The sooner the better.”  I agreed.  


My immediate plan was to communicate with John Kleitz, President of Downtown Business Association at the time, to see if this organization would sponsor this new community dinner.  Billy and I started thinking about what the name would be, “What shall we call it”?  I answered back, “Community Dinner.”  she said, “Okay, but let’s say “Unity Dinner”.  And so the Community Unity Dinner was born.  This all happened in a matter of one hour. Deciding to have the dinner, asking for the Convention Hall, calling John Kleitz and getting permission to sponsor it and then Patty called Nicola’s and talk to Nick Senior and without hesitation he said sure Patty I’ll make you spaghetti dinners for 500 people.  It was an effort of many. Sadly, John pasted away this year.


I remember leaving Billy’s home and after immediately calling Mayor Sam Cooper. The Convention Hall was secured for the first Sunday in December, less than three weeks away. I was excited to tell John, and it was time to contact the Downtown Business Association Board  for a vote by phone.

At the time the Board consisted of my husband, Bob Derrickson, three others, President John Kleitz, and myself.   We all agreed.  John said, “Go for it!” and off I went to make the Community Unity Dinner a reality.

I was amazed! Within two days, I was able to get all the food for this event for free, because of the generosity of our downtown businesses.  Being a young Village Improvement Association (VIA) member,  I asked  my friend, Margaret Spurgat, VIA  Past President to help.  She helped get permission, and YES, VIA was the first to help us. This amazing group of ladies helped decorate, straighten tables, and clean up. I then asked all the dignitaries I knew in the county to serve.  They ALL said “yes.  At hat time it included George Bunting and John Schroeder.

The first Community Unity Dinner was set for the first Sunday in December.   The Whale , now Cape Gazette, did wonderful articles by yes Dennis and Trish, which helped spread the word. tremendously.  The downtown business then picked their first Citizen of the Year, which was awarded to Billy Shield’s. She obviously deserved it helping me name it and for so many reasons like her years of service as a Commissioner.

It was very successful, as about 500 attended with games for the children, music by Charlie Tumini, a magic show and Santa making an appearance. ….  And that’s the way it was……

As the 2018 Chair of the Community Dinner, I look forward to seeing many of the same faces, and new ones, as we gather this holiday season for the 2018 Community Unity Dinner, the way it was.


CITIZENS of the Year WINNERS from previous Community Unity Dinners

1994 – The late Billie Shields

1995 – Robert (Bob) Derrickson

1996 – Fasnacht Family Allen (oldest member) 

1997 – The late Mary Campbell

1998 – Nick and the late Joan Caggiano   

1999 – The late Elizabeth Hooper

2000 – Priscilla Smith

2001 – The late Richard Darley

2002 – John Schroeder

2003 – Bill Bahan  

2004 – Don Derrickson 

2005 – The late Steve Elkins        

2006 – The late Colonel, Jack Lingo and Family; John, Bill, Bryce, and the late Derrick Lingo.   

2007 – George Bunting

2008 – The Village Improvement Association 

2009 – Bette Gallo

2010 – Steve Crane

2011 – Patty Derrick 

2012 – Pat Coluzzi

2013 – Paul Kuhns




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