Wilmington Flower Market Inc. is a tradition, a corporation and an all volunteer fundraising organization dedicated to improving the lives of Delaware’s children.
Most Delawarean’s are familiar with this annual event, but for the volunteers, it is a year’s worth of hard work and planning, capped off by a fun-filled three-day event at Rockford Park. The dedicated volunteers of Flower Market work with one goal in mind and that is to help make children’s dreams come true. When you visit the Flower Market, you will feel the excitement. You’ll hear the ring of laughter in the air as children share their delight in all the carnival rides and games. You’ll find a large selection of plants and flowers for your garden, as well as a multitude of crafts and merchant wares for sale. As you stroll through the park and listen to live music performed on the WDEL stage, you’ll find a variety of delicious food, and meet local celebrities such as Miss Delaware. This well-known tradition is held every Mother’s Day weekend, Thursday and Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-7pm.
However, Flower Market’s success comes from much more than this event in May. Over the years, there have been a variety of other events added including fundraisers such as the advertising supplement, art auction and fashion show. Originally conceived as “rain insurance,” these events have become a major source of income for the Flower Market beneficiaries.
The money raised is distributed by the Board of Managers to a wide range of charities throughout the state of Delaware supporting children. The board members are assigned agency visitations by the Beneficiary Chairman ensuring all agencies are personally visited and meet the required guidelines. Reports are prepared after each visit and a final beneficiary meeting is held in June to determine the recipients. Flower Market guidelines state that the purpose for funding must be used for something that will benefit children directly. Operating expenses are not considered eligible. To date, the Flower Market has awarded more than $6 million to Delaware’s children.
A corps of 6,000 dedicated volunteers drives this complex organization with high energy and sharp professionalism. Today’s typical Flower Market volunteer exemplifies the adage: “If you want a job done well, ask a busy person to do it.” Most workers must borrow the time for these efforts from their full-time careers and busy lives. Spanning generations, the volunteers have several things in common: a love of children, a determination to contribute to their community, a conviction that they can make a difference, and a belief that joy is contagious.
Founded by Mrs. A. Felix duPont in 1921, The Wilmington Flower Market has become one of the longest-running service organizations in Delaware. It all began when Mrs. duPont became interested in Hockessin and the Babies’ Hospital (known later as St. Michael’s Day Nursery). She encouraged her friends to donate whatever they could and approximately 25 volunteers joined her for this worthy cause by donating plants, baked goods, flowers, guinea pigs, kittens, puppies and even birds.
Due to rain, the festivities were held in old 11th Street auditorium, but never-the-less more than $1,500 was raised. These Flower Market pioneers had set a new trend in charitable activities for the thousands of volunteer workers who were to follow. It was the day in 1921 that the Flower Market tradition was born.
Always held on Mother’s Day weekend in May, the Wilmington Flower Market has grown and changed to accommodate the increased attendance and traffic conditions. Throughout its history it has been held in just three locations:
Over the years, the Flower Market has grown from a one-day event to three days. Hours were also extended to accommodate those people who might not otherwise be able to attend. Since 1985, the Flower Market has been held Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.
During the early years, luncheon was served under a tent to the accomplishment of the George Madden orchestra. Other attractions included Maypole dancing and canoe rides on the lake. In years when the weather was inclement, Market was held on the porches of homes at Park Place across from Cool Spring Park.
During the 1930’s, local shops joined Flower Market (know today as Market Merchants) bringing their wares to sell at Market. Puppet theater exhibits and children’s entertainment were also added. Also in the 30’s, the first Rotogravure (known today as The Wilmington Flower Market supplement) appeared in late Sunday Star. The advertising support from local businesses substantially increased the amount of revenues for Flower Market, making it possible for them to fill many of the beneficiaries’ requests.
The war years in the 1940’s affected the operations of Flower Market, but not the spirit of the Delawarean’s who wanted to help. While flowers, plants and seedlings were still plentiful, some of the less practical offerings were substituted with items such as garden tools, fertilizers and seeds for Victory Gardens. The luncheon was changed to a snack bar offering sandwiches, soft drinks and “take alone” desserts. A War Bond Auction and a White Elephant table were also added.
In 1949, Flower Market had grown to more than 800 volunteers when they formed a “Committee of 100” to make personal appeals to friends for cash donations. Along with the help of the Rotogravure, Flower Market distributed $40,000 to 15 child-care agencies.
During World War II chances were sold for a Chevrolet, donated by a benefactor of Market, as well as a dozen pairs of nylon hose and a carton of cigarettes. Believe it or not, the hose and cigarettes were in as much demand as the car!
Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the Flower Market continued to flourish with attractions added and deleted as the time and economy dictated.
In 1981, an official Flower Market Poster and Print was offered for sale, receiving a very positive response from the community. Now a popular tradition, a local artist is selected each year to produce the original artwork which is also featured on the cover of the supplement.
The following year, in keeping with the physical fitness revolution, the first Flower Market 5K Run/Walk wash eld. Additionally, WDEL rented a tent on the grounds to provide entertainment during the three days of Market. Broadcasting live thus making WDEL the “Official” Flower Market radio station.
1983 brought the greatest changes to the physical appearance of Flower Market when they had an underground electrical system installed in Rockford Park. Eliminating the hassle of erecting telephone poles, the Market now had a new “open” look.
Quite understandably, the weather is an important factor in the staging of an outdoor event the magnitude of Flower Market. Uncertain weather is the reason a number of pre-market events were added throughout the years. Events such as the Fashion Show, Art Show, Guest Bar tending, Wine Tasting and the Supplement are affectionately called “rain insurance” by the volunteers. If and when rain affects the attendance at Rockford Park, these pre-market events help to ensure that some funding is available for their beneficiaries.
The continued success of this large-scale operation is made possible by the combined efforts and talents of countless volunteers and our community. By working together toward a common goal, Wilmington Flower Market is able to support our most valuable resource — Delaware’s Children!