DSU/DSC changed lives
Where faithful support and involvement in Delaware State University are concerned, Dr. Donald and Dolores Blakey are among the most prolific alumni couples.
Actively connected to Del State since their undergraduate years, the Blakey are a constant alumni presence on campus as they have attended countless events, served on various committees, and shared their thespian and music skills on stage throughout the years.
Equally compelling are their life stories that largely began with their enrollment in the 1950s at then-Delaware State College.
In addition to being introduced to each other during their freshmen years, their degrees led them to a career as educators, in public service and a respected place in the dramatic arts community in Delaware.
The lives they have enjoyed are the fruits of a Del State institution that gave them an opportunity that at the time did not seem to exist after their high school graduation.
Mrs. Blakey – Born as Dolores Frances Walker in 1938, a Wilmington native and a Howard High School graduate – said her early post-secondary school aspiration was to join the Marine Corps; however, due to her short height, she was not accepted.
Thinking college was beyond her family’s financial resource, Delaware State College was not on her radar screen. “I had never been below the St. George River,” she said.
However, due to the good grades she achieved in high school, she received a surprise visit in the summer of 1955 that would change the course of her life.
Dr. Maurice Thomasson, a Del State sociology professor and a former acting president, and his wife Laverrne, who also taught sociology in his department, paid Dolores a visit to invite her to attend DSC.
“They offered me a scholarship of $275 to attend Delaware State College, and I had to come up with $125,” Dolores said. “That summer I worked at an olive factory outside of Wilmington and earned enough to pay the remaining amount.”
Her then-future husband Donald Blakey – who was born in 1936 and raised in Washington, D.C. – also had his life changed by a visitor.
Although he excelled in football, because of his family’s financial situation, at first Donald could only watch some of his teammates go on to college. Having studied small home architecture in high school, he had applied to Bradley University in Indiana – the only school that offered such a degree in the country at that time. Donald was accepted to Bradley University, but with no scholarship. His family could not afford the tuition.
That summer after his high school graduation, however, he was involved in a D.C.-area recreation program and it put him in the right place at the right time.
“One day a military man came and asked if anyone wanted to go to college,” Donald said. “I asked ‘I do! Where?’ and he said a place called Delaware State College in Dover, Del.”
Then-DSC Head Football Coach Edward Jackson interviewed him and gave him an opportunity to try out for the team. Once Donald proved his gridiron worth, DSC accepted him and gave him a work scholarship. That meant in addition to taking classes and playing football, he had to work at the College to cover his tuition and other costs.
His job – working in the newly constructed Memorial Hall Gym.
Donald said his impression of Del State and the college life it offered was “exciting,” especially because he came from a low-income neighborhood.
“You could drink as much milk as you wanted and it was cold and came straight from the cow, which we could see outside through the window,” Donald said. “We had a family-style dining room where everyone sat eight to a table. There were waiters that brought food for the whole table.”
Delores – who became the first in her family to go to high school and college – was also thrilled with her then-new Del State chapter of her life. As a freshman, she immersed herself in campus life, playing for the Lady Hornets basketball team and joining the cheerleading team.
And she met Donald.
“One day I was walking down a path and I saw a bunch of girls around this tree. When I got to the tree there was this boy talking about how he was Korean War vet in the U.S. Army (untrue) and a bunch of stuff. I asked him his name and he said it was Donald Blakey,” Dolores said. “I had heard about him before, and I asked him to be my big brother, and he said yes.”
It wasn’t long before they were dating, and later in 1956 they married. Dolores interrupted her education to go work in the Pentagon (as a typist) while Donald worked to finish his degree. In 1957, the couple had their first child, Donna; their union also later produced two other children, Denver and Dusty
Dolores returned to resume her studies during Donald’s senior year, and then-DSC President Jerome Holland gave them permission to live on campus as a couple and let then reside in the old farmhouse.
Donald – who also played on the 1956 DSC CIAA co-championship football team, wrote for The Hornet student newspaper, and served as the Student Council President – went on to graduate with a BS in Physical Education in 1958 and the following year he completed a master’s degree in Health and Physical Education Administration from the University of Maryland. He then came back to DSC where Dr. Holland hired him as an assistant.
One of the last impact decisions of Dr. Holland before he resigned in 1960 was to delegate individual coaches to the College’s intercollegiate athletic teams. Over the prior four years Bennie George was the head coach for all of the DSC’s sports teams – football, baseball, men’s and women’s basketball – with the exception of track and field.
Dr. Holland gave Donald a choice of which team he wanted to coach, and he picked baseball. He also helped the football team by serving as the backfield assistant coach.
Meanwhile Dolores continued to work toward her degree and also returned to the Lady Hornet basketball court and performed in DSC drama productions. She completed her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in 1962, and then embarked on what would be an almost 30-year career as an educator. She began teaching in the segregated Dover Special School District, and then with integration spent the rest of her teaching year in the Caesar Rodney School District at W.B. Simpson and Nelly elementary schools.
As a married couple, often people did not see one without the other; as many of the Blakeys’ pursuits were done together.
In the early 1960s, Donald began taking flying lessons at the Delaware Airpark in Cheswold, and ultimately earned a pilot’s license. Know that she would be riding in flight with husband, Dolores persuaded Donald to teach her how to land a plane so she could take over if her spouse became incapacitated.
With a talent for the stage and singing, the couple began performing with the Community Singers, a local choral production group that also did Broadway-type shows, such as Oklahoma! They also performed productions with groups that took the stage in Milford and Georgetown.
The Blakeys were among the few African American who performed with those predominantly white groups.
“I realized I had a talent in Dolores, but she, and no other blacks for that matter, would ever be a lead in one of their productions,” Donald said. “And there was no outlet for a children’s theatre either.”
To remedy that, Donald and Dolores created the Black and Tan Ensemble in 1974. The group was the first theatre group to perform in Del State’s then-nearly complete Education and Humanities Theatre when they staged “Purlie” in 1974, starring in her debut lead role, Mrs. Dolores Blakey.
“It was an excellent production; all three shows sold out. Then we took the production to Salisbury, Md.,” Donald said.
In 1979, the Blakeys broke away from the Black and Tan and established another local stage group – Don-Del Productions. A year later, they created a theatre group for children, the Neighbor Kids.
From that time to the present, Don-Del Productions has locally staged African American works such as A Soldier’s Play, Raisin in the Sun, Ebony Moments, Rosedale, Samuel Burris, and many others. It gave Dolores ample opportunities for lead roles and to showcase her singing talents, while Donald performed as an actor/director and other local performers were provided an opportunity to shine on stage.
The thespian arena prompted Donald to further his education. In early 1990s, he completed a Ph.D. in Theatre Arts from Western University of California and became Dr. Donald Blakey.
In 1970, Donald began putting his high school small architecture knowledge and skill to work, and put his wife to work as well. The couple began building their own home on a property between Camden and Woodside and completed it in 1979. It is their current residence.
Donald stopped teaching and coaching at Del State in 1968 to become a physical education teacher at Caesar Rodney Junior High School, and a few years later was appointed Supervisor of Health and Physical Education and Transportation. He later became the Assistant Principal at Caesar Rodney High School (the first African American administrator in CR District history).
Donald retired from Caesar Rodney School District in 1990 and returned to his alma mater where he began teaching Speech, African American Literature, and some Aviation courses. He also became one of the rotating theatre production directors and involved his wife in some of the plays. He retired from Del State teaching as the Director of Theatre and Dance in 1990.
It was during his early teaching years at Del State that the late Dr. John Innis, who taught Africana Studies, started Donald on the road to learning Kiswahili. That led the Blakeys to take a “language immersion trip” to Tanzania. Donald achieved a level of fluency that later enabled him to also teach Kiswahili language courses at Del State.
Travel has been an enduring passion for the Blakeys, with trips over the years to France, England, India, Greece, Italy, Brazil, the Caribbean Islands, and many African countries. “We would also take our kids and our grandkids,” Dolores said.
In the late 1980s, Donald entered politics. In his successful 1988 run for Levy Court (the first-ever African American on the county elected body), Donald and Dolores pounded the concrete together campaigning throughout the county’s 5th District. After 18 years as a Levy Court commissioner (which included a few terms as that body’s president), Donald won a seat on the Delaware House of Representatives. He was the first African American from Lower Delaware (Kent and Sussex counties) to serve in the General Assembly and the first Del State grad to become a state legislator.
Throughout his General Assembly years (1997-2005), Dolores was right by her husband’s side on the 34th Representative District campaign trail.
As a couple, Donald and Dolores have also been a faithful team in supporting their Del State alma mater.
The Blakeys are among the top Del State alumni givers. Over the last 29 years, the couple has donated more $155,000 to the University – $49,375 of which is the Dr. Donald and Dolores Blakey Endowed Scholarship Fund.
In the most recent years, the Blakeys engaged themselves in supporting and promoting the University’s Aviation Program, and establishing the DSU Tuskegee Airman Plaza. They also served as members of the Jerome Holland Memorial Statue Committee, of which Donald was the co-chair.
Dr. Blakey said Del State was a “savior” for his life, especially since it appeared that higher education would not be an affordable option for him.
“Delaware State College was really a foundation for me, with professors who spent time with me, the camaraderie I had in sports, and in the lessons that taught me ‘Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Serve’,” Dr. Blakey said. “That taught me that if I give back to the school and the community and if I do it unselfishly, good things will happen for everyone.”
Dolores also credits Del State as a life changer. “I wouldn’t have met Donald, and I wouldn’t have been able to give back and do the things that I’ve done,” she said. “We’ve never left Del State.”