Rosalie Walls: Return Day president wears many voluntary hats

Q & A Rosalie Walls switchboard 2

Rosalie Walls worked for more than three decades with the telephone company.

GEORGETOWN – Rosalie Betts Walls wears many hats as a community volunteer.
Perhaps her most visible hat is that as Sussex County Return Day president, a position she has held since 1990.
Born Nov. 28, 1934 a small farm home in the Stockley area of Georgetown, Ms. Walls has been a lifelong Sussex Countian.
At age 18 she eloped with her husband, Carl R. Walls, who passed away in July 1989 from an inoperable brain tumor.
She has three sons, Harvey, Kevin and Tony; eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Ms. Walls was honored as 2012 Delaware American Mother of the Year.
Over the years, her organization and membership affiliation include Sussex County Return Day; Georgetown Historical Society; Historic Georgetown Association; Georgetown Non-Profit Alliance; Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce; Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum; CHEER, Inc.,; County Seat Red Hatters for CHEER Inc.; Anona Council No. 11 of Pocahontas; Sussex County Pomona Grange/Delaware State Grange; Delaware Hospice; Sussex County RSVP (Retired & Senior Volunteer Program); MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving; Delaware Mothers of the Year; Delaware Jaycee Wives/Georgetown Jayncees; Sussex County Historic Preservation Association; Caesar Rodney Telecom Pioneers.
Ms. Walls was appointed Notary Public for the State of Delaware by then Gov. Michael Castle and reappointed by then Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, still utilizing that empowerment for legal needs of Delaware Hospice patients.
Her awards and honors include Diamond state Telephone Company 1975 Good Neighbor Award; Bell Atlantic Life Member 1993-94 Pioneer of the Year; Greater Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Chamber 1993 Member of the Year and Georgetown Chamber’s Perpetual Volunteer Award in 2012; Town of Georgetown 2007 Volunteer of the Year; Delaware’s 2003 Volunteer of the Year for Community Service; Dover Air Force Base Honorary Commander, 2012.
When not on one of her volunteer missions, Ms. Walls can often be found at the Georgetown Historical Society’s Nutter Marvel Carriage Museum, where she serves as rental chair.
Here is Rosalie Betts Walls: Community historian and volunteer.
Where did you go to school?
“The first six years I went to little Stockley School. I had three other people in my class, and the same teacher for all six grades! Then when I got to the seventh grade I had to come into what I thought was the largest building in the country, because I really hadn’t been out of Stockley too much. That was Georgetown High School, before it evolved into the Indian River School District. At graduation I was one of the class speakers. We didn’t have like valedictorian and … salutatorian. There were actually four of us that were selected. My subject that I spoke on was education; they assigned you what you were going to have to speak on.”
Talk about your decision to work and not go to college?
“While I was in the 11th grade at school, there was a lady that came down from the Diamond State Telephone Company, right during school hours to give a test. They were going to hire some telephone operators. I had already thought that I was going to choose to be a beautician. So I was planning to go to school in Wilmington and stay with my aunt and my cousin. A couple of my classmates said ‘Oh, come on. It will be a way to get out of class. So come and take the test.’ So, reluctantly, I agreed to do that.”
I believe they chose 12 or 13 of our class. And I was one in that group. So I started working part-time in the 11th grade as a telephone operator.”
“I had 36.5 years. I may have worked a little longer but my husband at age 55 developed a brain tumor, so I had to retire to take care of him. So I took a leave of absence and took care of him. He passed away in July of 1989. In August is when I called them and told them ‘I think I need to retire.’ I decided life is too short and I need just need to retire and not be traveling. By then they had closed our offices in Georgetown and we were working in Dover. We had to car pool every day. For eight years while my husband was still living I was on loan to Telephone Workers of Delaware as their executive secretary.”
You had a 37-year career with the telephone company. Are there any memorable or not-so-memorable moments?
“There was a phrase that we had to learn; if you answered the call and they made a person-to-person call … you had to say ‘Sir, if I ask for that person the call will become subject to person-to-person rate. Is that satisfactory?’ I got the saying mastered pretty well. Well, the very first day that they put us out on the live switchboard I can still remember it as if it were yesterday … the chief operator put us side by side right by her desk. And the very first live call that I answered the gentleman made a person-to-person call to New York City. I got through the phrase OK but when they answered in New York and I asked for the person, there was like silence and then the man in New York said ‘Well, do you want junior or senior, the old man or the young man?’ I asked the gentleman, ‘Is that junior or senior?’ He said ‘How the heck do I know? You are the telephone operator. Just get them on this line. I am too busy for all of this.’ I immediately went into hysterically crying. The chief operator, she got the call completed. She said ‘Now sweetie, you go out in the breakroom and get yourself composed.’ I went out in the breakroom. I came back and I said, ‘Miss Townsend, I think I have made a mistake. I don’t think I can handle this job.’ She said, ‘This was just your first call and they won’t all be like that.’ You’ll do just fine. I said, ‘Well, if I ever get married and I have any sons I can tell you right now they will not be named junior. I had three sons and neither one of them are junior. That was the beginning year of my telephone career.”
You have been affiliated with civic, community and historical organizations. One of them is the Grange, which has a special place in your heart?
“My parents, the only thing they belonged to was the Midland Grange. My father built the Grange Hall here in Georgetown, which is now where I go to church – Truth and Life Center. It is also where I met my husband. We were 13. I would go with my parents; they would chaperone because we would have square dances. So I met my husband at a square dance. Then when we got married in 1952; we actually eloped. We went to Salisbury. I didn’t tell anyone but my brother right before we were leaving. We had rented an apartment. I am in so many different organizations and it was amazing that my parents only belonged to that one. But you see why the Grange means a lot; my father built the building; I met my husband there and now it’s a church and that’s where I go to church.”
What’s the origin of your passion for history?

Q & A Rosalie Walls by sign

Rosalie Walls, president of the Sussex County Return Day, can be found at the Marvel Museum – when not on some other voluntary mission.

“It’s probably my connection with Return Day. One of my co-workers back in 1972 said ‘Hey, why don’t you come with me to a meeting for Return Day?’ I think probably if I hadn’t started my career with the telephone company I often thought that I may have chosen the career as like a curator in a museum or a docent. I like to preserve things.
It really upsets me when they tear a building down. We used to have two corn cribs here (at the Marvel Museum). I almost laid down in front of the bulldozer when they tore them down. Truthfully, living on a small farm is where I was born and raised. My father was a carpenter and also a farmer. When the corn wasn’t harvested, the corn crib at my house was my playhouse. It meant a lot to me. Now, I have a couple that have been given to me … I just have got to find somebody to move them here.”
You’ve been involved in Sussex County Return Day for more than four decades:
“I’ve been on the Return Day Committee since 1972. I have been president since 1990; that’s why I have ‘Stupid’ engraved up here (on my forehead)!” I have got my children and my grandchildren involved in it, too. They will keep the tradition going.”
As Return Day Committee president, you had a memorable christening?
The very first one when I took over as president in 1990, that was the year the ox stand caught on fire. We were working out of the Georgetown Town Hall. I guess what happened was the beef that we had ordered had too much fat on it, and with it dripping down … they came running in, saying ‘You better call the fire company, the ox stand is on fire.’ I had been on the committee, but being on the committee and being president are two different things. I actually thought they were just kidding me and I said, ‘Oh yeah, sure … I got up from my chair and looked out and no, they were not kidding. The aluminum was dripping down there was no way it could be used. We were in a little bit of a panic mode because Return Day was the next day. I think it was Sen. Brian Pettyjohn’s brother Mark, who I believe he had the connection … and made some phone calls. Before too late that day we had enough beef and were roasting again; we could breathe a sigh of relief. There were stories going around that we used the same meat and we did not. It was all taken out and buried.”
“Then there was the parade where one of the horses dropped dead. That delayed the parade.”
“Of course we have some really good ones. It usually rains and they always blame the rain on me. I have had people say: ‘Why do you always have it on a Thursday. Why don’t you move it to Saturday? And if it is going to rain ‘why don’t you move it?’ Well, it’s been going on for 200 years so I don’t think it’s my place to change, if we could anyway. The legislators are the ones that made it a half day legal holiday for Sussex County. Kent and New Castle people are upset about that.”
Vice-President elect Joe Biden’s appearance caused quite a stir?
“In 2008 is when Joe Biden came; we had a little trouble with security and stuff. He doesn’t want his presence here to create that kind of a fiasco. It just about did ruin Return Day though. A lot of people still have that bad taste and bad memory and they swear they are never coming back. But if we all pull together and work together I don’t think we’ll have that much of a problem anymore. History is history.”
“At one time I threatened to move it to Lewes. That was the first county seat. I don’t know if a lot of people know this but the sand that we bury the hatchet in, that actually came from Lewes because that was the first county seat.”
As a volunteer, you have so many irons in the fire, how do you make time?
“I really don’t require much sleep. I firmly believe that staying active has kept me able to do what I do. My slogan has always been: ‘If you want something done, you ask a busy person and they’ll get it done.’ I guess I have been doing it for so long that I just squeeze it in. Sometimes I might be a few minutes late. Somehow I manage to work it all in. My parents always said, ‘No matter what you are going to be, try to be the best at whatever it is.’”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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