MOT Senior Center combines old favorites with some new twistsAug 09, 2019 10:44AM ● By J. Chambless
By Drewe Phinny Staff Writer
As Aug. 17 approaches, anticipation grows for the wildly popular Peach Festival that brings huge crowds to the area.
Now in its 26th year, the peach party has become the event of the summer and, not surprisingly, those who run the show follow the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” So the fruit peeling will take place Wednesday and Thursday, followed by the pie baking. The event has grown so much that there are now two baking facilities -- the Middletown Senior Center kitchen has been supplemented by the Middletown High School culinary arts kitchen to meet the demand for the delicious pastries. They sell out quickly, so get there early.
Clearly, the peaches take center stage at the festival, but there are other worthy features, including a car show. Cecilia “Ceil” DeFazio, executive director of the MOT Jean Birch Senior Center, supplied the details.
“There’s a car show on the property, sponsored again by the Middletown Historical Society. It’s held here, next to our gazebo,” she said. “This year, there are going to be, I think, 17 categories that will be recognized.” The public is invited to bring cars over to enter online. They can register on the Peach Festival website, www.middletownpeachfestival.com.
This year, the car show judging will be done by style, featuring street cars for all years, Corvettes from 1953 to1982 and 1983 to the present, street rods from 1922-1933 and 1934 to 1948. “It’s going to go up through present, but the general categories are Corvettes, because there are clubs in the area, street rods, stock, modified, and then sports cars, foreign cars and trucks,” DeFazio said, “so it sounds like we’re going to have a lot more cars than we ever had before, because it was promoted more heavily. They can park their cars here and walk in and have lunch in the air conditioning.”
As she talked about the pride these car owners have in their prized possessions, DeFazio explained that bad weather would probably be the one factor that would hinder their participation. “If it rains, there will be no cars here,” she said. “The people who keep their cars in garages and don’t drive in foul weather won’t bring their cars out if it’s raining. It takes years to get these cars in show condition. … They’re saying to the public, ‘Look what we did,’ and if they get an award for being best in a category; that is icing on the cake.”
The car show got its start after an official noticed that people were driving vintage cars in the parade. “They wanted to park at the senior center afterwards, and then the chair of the Peach Festival said, ‘Why don’t we just turn it into a car show?’ We’ve had a lot of restored cars from the thirties, forties and fifties. It’s been really neat to watch how this has grown. In fact, one year, we had a replica of the Batmobile drive in. That was kind of cool. And it attracts kids and adults alike. We also had a couple antique tractors from the twenties or thirties.”
DeFazio expects another immensely successful Peach Festival, and she attributes much of that to an attitude of goodwill in the area. “It’s one of these little, tiny micro-bastions where ‘town’ still means something,” she said. “People know each other, and they talk to each other. They take care of each other. And even the small businesses try to help the non-profits that are in town. It’s really a nice sense of community.”
As she explained the mission of the senior center, DeFazio said, “When a lot of people retire, they expect some life changes and they’re open to new things. So establishing a new residence in this area, or even if you’re keeping the same residence, you can reconnect. And if you’re moving here, you’re open to establishing new safety nets and new friendships groups.”
The area continues to attract new residents at an impressive pace. Some Delaware statistics show it is second only to Milford in terms of growth, particularly with respect to the senior population. “Everybody talks about the beach area in Sussex, but this MOT area is growing so fast that they’re predicting that in the next few years, it’ll outpace Wilmington and Dover,” DeFazio said.
The other key to Middletown’s appeal is the variety of different resident lifestyles. “It seems we’re attracting people from New York and North Jersey as well as the Pennsylvania area, and that brings a different flavor because this was all farmland, so it’s really changing the demographics around here,” DeFazio said. “But the town government in the MOT towns all have a strong desire to keep that hometown feel, and they will do things like decorate the light poles for different events like the Peach Festival. And the senior center has their peach pie contest. What more country kind of a thing can you do, other than invite the neighbors to bake their best peach pie, bring ‘em in and be judged?”
The population increase has also caused traffic concerns, which have been reduced somewhat by the completion of the 301 bypass. There is speculation that Route 299 (Main Street) will be widened in the future.
One final reminder about the stars of the show -- those scrumptious peach pies. “We can only bake about 350 of them,” DeFazio said. “If people want to order them early, they can call us, order one over the phone and pay by credit card, usually two weeks before the festival.” The day of the festival, the pies usually sell out by about 1 p.m.