Presidential Reins Change Hands

Presidential reins of the Sussex County Return Day Committee have changed hands – the first changing of the guard in 26 years.With Return Day less than 10 months away, Debbie Jones is the committee’s new president, succeeding longtime president and committee member Rosalie Walls.In-depth planning for Return Day Nov. 10 will get under way soon said Ms. Jones, saying that right now Ms. Walls should have the spotlight in recognition of the many years, work, time and effort she has put into staging Sussex County’s unique post-election tradition as president.“She started with Return Day in 1972. She has held different offices but she has been president for 26 years. And that’s a lot of work and a lot of dedication,” said Ms. Jones.Rosalie Walls rides in the 2014 Sussex County Return Day Parade.Ms. Walls, 81, said she informed committee members prior to the election of officers that she did not wish to continue on as president.A Return Day Committee member since 1972, Ms. Walls is staying on as the committee’s corresponding secretary.“As long as I can be upright and of partly sound mind I will try to help when and where I can,” said Ms. Walls.Georgetown resident Jim Bowden, a noted historian and president of the Georgetown Historical Society, was elected the Return Day Committee’s vice president.Susan Messick is the committee’s new recording secretary and Alan Kujala remains treasurer, an office the Kent County Personnel Director has held for many years.Election of officers was held Sunday, Jan. 17 during the committee’s biennial meeting at the Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum.Return Day 2016 is Thursday, Nov. 10 – two days after the General Election.It is Sussex County’s one-of-a-kind post-election tradition, held biennially since the early 19th century.The event features the traditional ox roast, a huge parade featuring floats, marching bands, dignitaries and political opponents, many of whom ride side by side in carriages or vehicles, plus the ceremonial burying of the hatchet and the reading of election returns by the Town Crier from the historic Sussex Courthouse balcony.No major changes are in store for Return Day, said Ms. Jones, a Georgetown resident who is employed as Quality Assurance Supervisor for Sussex County’s Emergency Operations Center.“I think that mostly it will stay pretty much as it is. That’s the whole idea of Return Day;  the heritage and the history,” said Ms. Jones, who previously was the committee’s corresponding secretary. “There are always small little things that you learn along the way that you can do to help make it better or change it or restore it back to how it was, but I don’t think we are there yet. We just reorganized. I am looking forward to working with all of the directors and the committee.”Return Day evolved from state law in 1791 that moved the county seat from coastal Lewes to the a more centrally-based geographic site, later named Georgetown, and required all votes on election day to be cast in the new county seat.Voters would “return” two days later to hear the results – hence the name Return Day. In 1811, voting districts in the individual hundreds were established, but the Board of Canvassers presided over by the Sheriff would still meet two days later in Georgetown to announce the final tally.Planning for Return Day 2016 will begin in earnest next month. This year, America elects a new President and Delaware chooses its next Governor.“It should be interesting as the elections go to see how all of that plays out,” said Ms. Jones. “And I hope that being it’s a big election year that maybe the weather gods will hold up … it seems like we have had rain for several years in a row.”