by Terry Rogers
Gina Derrickson, Director of Development at Sussex Academy in Georgetown, is excited that Dr. and Mrs. Charles Wagner have agreed to assist the school in bringing back the Hot Air Balloon Festival. The festival is planned for September 14 and 15 at the Delaware Coastal Airport.
“We will have hot air balloon rides, tethered balloon rides, balloon walk-arounds, entertainment and food,” Derrickson said. “We don’t currently have a list of the balloons that will be attending as we are still getting applications. We hope to confirm that in the next week.”
Charles and Patt Wagner have owned a hot air balloon for many years. After attending the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival, they felt that a similar festival should be held in Delaware. It was Mrs. Wagner’s idea to create a festival that would raise money for the American Diabetes Association.
“Patt was working as a diabetic educator and held a position on the Board of Directors of the Association,” Derrickson explained. “The festival was held at H.O. Brittingham as well as on private property owned by the Wagner’s that was located adjacent to the school. There were vendors, crafters, rides and games along with many bright, colorful hot air balloons.”
The Wagner’s helped with the event which lasted for 13 years in the town of Milton, initially raising funds for the Diabetes Association and then for the Historic Milton Theatre. This year, funds raised will be used to support programs at Sussex Academy, a public charter, tuition-free school serving grades 6 through 12.
Sussex Academy opened in 2000 as a middle school, only serving 6 through 8 grades. In 2012, the school received a major charter modification approval from the Delaware Department of Education to add high school grades. Starting in 2013, Sussex Academy added one high school grade per year and celebrated their first graduating class in 2017. Enrollment at the school is open to all middle and high school students throughout the state although a majority of the students who attend the school reside in Sussex County.
Dr. Wagner who retired from his medical practice in 2014, is a disabled veteran who completed a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. He came to Sussex County in 1978, working for Milford Hospital as an emergency room physician and started his own practice, Milton Family Practice, in 1978. At one time, he had offices in Camden, Milford and Milton. Dr. Wagner holds many patents in electronics dealing with energy conservation. He established a company known as Powerkuff, Inic, which produced and sold the Powerkuff Monitor which monitors the amount of electricity your home or business uses at one time.
His balloon, The Della Bear, is often seen floating across Sussex County with Dr. Wagner as a pilot. The balloon is followed by the Bear Chaser, a customized van outfitted to launch and retrieve the balloon when it lands. Dr. Wagner and his wife live in Milford.