By Terry Rogers
When Steve Twilley resigned as the Executive Director of Downtown Milford, Inc., the organization knew that it needed leadership right away. They needed an Executive Director who could “hit the ground running.” Spring is one of the busiest times for DMI with the Annual St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, the Bug and Bud Festival, Milford in Bloom and other events that are very popular throughout the town. In addition, DMI has added several new events this spring, including an Easter Flower Sale at the Causey Mansion and the First Annual Porch and Garden Tour sponsored by the Milford Historic Preservation Group. While they began the search to replace Twilley, the Board of Directors reached out to former Executive Director, Lorraine Dion, who agreed to take on the position for two months while a new director was found.
“I love this town,” Ms. Dion said. “My background is in Museum Studies so history and art history are a passion for me. Milford has such a vibrant, strong downtown filled with historic treasures. I also have a passion for the Main Street program. I firmly believe in their four-prong approach to revitalizing downtown areas. When they called and asked if I would fill in, I accepted immediately. It just seemed like the right thing to do and the timing was perfect.”
Ms. Dion was the Executive Director of DMI in 2009 when the City adopted their branding, “River Town Art Town, Home Town.” She said she is very pleased that the City has continued with the brand as it clearly represents what Milford is about. She left DMI after two years to work for Kent County Tourism, helping plan special events like the Amish Country Bike Tour, Dover Days and Delaware Wine and Beer Festival.
“Although I left DMI, I continued to promote Milford,” Ms. Dion said. “I love Delaware and I wanted others to experience just how great this state is. It is more than just our beaches. We have so many great small towns in lower Delaware and I have always been proud to promote this area whenever I could.” Ms. Dion said she left DMI when the position with Kent County Tourism came available in order to spend more time with her family as she was working 60 to 70 hours per week at DMI.
Ms. Dion grew up in Dover after her father retired from the Air Force in 1964. She graduated from Caesar Rodney High School and left the area for a period of time after graduation, working for the Oregon High Desert Museum for a time. She returned to Delaware 25 years ago because she loved the area. She has worked for the Delaware Agricultural Museum, Main Street Dover and helped reboot the Middletown downtown organization.
Ms. Dion sees many positives happening in downtown Milford and very few challenges. She said that DMI continues to embrace the branding and growing partnerships with the City of Milford, Chamber of Commerce for Greater Milford and others.
“We have such a great group of volunteers, a much larger group than when I was here before,” Ms. Dion said. “The downtown strategic plan created last year is a great road map for us to follow as we grow Milford’s downtown area. The Downtown Development Designation is a huge benefit to us and we have already seen how that program will grow our downtown area. One challenge we must address is filling empty properties with businesses that will promote more foot traffic downtown. We are making progress but there is still a long way to go. The good news is that we are doing it, maybe with baby steps, but it is getting done. We want to get people into Milford to shop and eat. The new hospital will help with that, but we need to do more to encourage people to come see what our downtown has to offer. Milford is walkable, a great place for biking. We have a downtown that promotes healthy living. We have a river. No one could ask for a more beautiful, exciting downtown area.”
Ms. Dion officially retired last year in order to enjoy her family, especially her grandchildren. She said that when DMI called and asked for her help, it was just a good time to come on board for a few months. She has only committed to two months in order to allow the Board to actively search for a new director. She said she is not interested in becoming the permanent director and feels the Board will be able to replace her within the two months she has agreed to help.
“They need to find someone who can literally hit the ground running,” Ms. Dion said. “This is not an easy job. The director works long hours and it can take its toll. DMI is a very active organization, but it is almost totally volunteer-based. Without a director, there is no one in the office as there is no staff. One of my jobs is just to be here, answer questions and help those who stop in who want to learn more about downtown Milford. The volunteers do the heavy lifting, I am just here to support them.”
Lisa Fitzgerald, President of DMI, said she is very pleased that Ms. Dion agreed to assist them until a new director can be found. She said Ms. Dion’s presence will help DMI achieve their mission to promote economic development, vitality and a sustainable quality of life in Milford.
“I’m pleased that with the help of our committed volunteers and now our interim director, DMI continues to prepare for the popular events held in the spring throughout our town,” Ms. Fitzgerald said. “I remembered working with Lorraine in 2008 and she has always been professional, energetic and passionate about Main Street. Mr. Twilley was very committed to Milford and it was unfortunate that he had to resign for personal reasons. We will be seeking a replacement for him that has the same passion for our downtown and is committed to helping our city grow.”
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