Enhancing lives of Sussex seniors, flying among Bock’s passions

Ken Bock is the Executive Director for CHEER Inc., which provides nutrition and other services for seniors in Sussex County.

GEORGETOWN — Plain and simple, Ken Bock cherishes his job as executive director for CHEER Inc.

“We get to make a difference and get to see the difference we make in people’s lives,” said Mr. Bock, who joined CHEER following a 26-year career with the Delaware Department of Transportation. “That kind of sends you home feeling good at the end of the day.”

“Plane” and simple, Ken Bock loves to fly. He owns a Cessna 172, named Echo, lodged at the Delaware Coastal Airport in Georgetown.

“I have always been interested. I love flying. I am a licensed pilot,” he says. “When little boys were building model cars I was building model airplanes.”

Born in Center City, Philadelphia, he was raised mostly in Dover. His family came to the First State’s state capital when he was about nine years old.  “My father worked for ILC Industries, making Apollo space suits back in the day,” said Mr. Bock.

He attended school in Dover through his junior year in high school. When the space program ended, and ILC downsized significantly, the family moved to Connecticut where he finished high school.

He did undergraduate work at Farleigh Dickinson University of New Jersey. “Ironically, the job offer I accepted put me back in Dover, Del., working for DelDOT, Mr. Bock said.

He earned a master’s in Public Administration from the University of Delaware. “That I did in night school early on in my DelDOT career,” said Mr. Bock.

About four years ago, Mr. Bock married for the first time. He and wife Julia reside in Houston. They initially met during careers at DelDOT. Years later, after a long friendship, they married.

CHEER kitchen staff Lorenzo Bynes, left, Harry Cannon and Ginny Pyle make way for CHEER Executive Director Ken Bock and State Rep. Dave Wilson during a tour of CHEER’s current commercial kitchen in the Thurman Adams State Service Center. CHEER has launched a capital fundraising project for a new kitchen facility in the CHEER Community Center.

“No children, but four dogs. One was mine. Three were hers. Now they are ours,” he says.

Mr. Bock, 61, is a member of the Avenue United Methodist Church in Milford. He plays bass guitar in the church praise band.

This week’s People to Meet, Ken Bock.

Career with DelDOT

“I was in one of the smallest of divisions at the time. It was the transit division. I basically did a little bit of everything — except roads. Much of my career was involved in specialized transportation for elderly and handicapped. I grew that program substantially. Rural public transportation, the Park & Ride in Rehoboth was one of my projects. I started that bus operation in Rehoboth as well as the one in Dover. I was involved in commuter rail operations. I retired after 26 years.”

Brief retirement

“I retired for two weeks. I retired mid-December and technically I started at CHEER in Jan. 1, 2006. But the reality of it is, my first day at CHEER was as a volunteer Christmas Day for Operation Christmas CHEER. I actually came in and worked Operation Christmas CHEER. I kid people, that I left a state job with all of the paid holidays and benefits that go with that and took a job with a nonprofit organization and the first day I had to work was Christmas!”

Attraction to CHEER

“I knew a lot of the staff at CHEER because earlier in my career with the state one of the programs that I had was the program that puts buses in senior centers all over the state. I was the one that developed that program in Delaware. So, I knew a lot of the people in a lot of the senior centers.

“I always liked working more closely with the people. When I started my career with DelDOT, the first half of it was working with elderly and handicapped transportation so there was a lot of opportunity to work directly with people and absolutely see the tangible difference you are making in their lives and help them achieve a better quality of life. In my later years in DelDOT — and I had great projects — it was lot more infrastructure stuff and I was a little further removed from the people directly.

“The opportunity was available, and CHEER was looking for a deputy director. I liked what the organization — and still like what the organization does — in terms of its personal contact with people. We are not so big that we lose touch with the individuals.”

Mr. Bock went from CHEER deputy director to executive director about 2 ½ years ago with the retirement of longtime CHEER director Arlene Littleton.

CHEER and its mission

CHEER has seven senior centers. It’s nutrition program provides about 1,700 meals for homebound delivery daily during weekdays. That includes a support meal program at two independent centers in Laurel and Bridgeville.

Volunteers play an integral role.

“They are so essential to what CHEER is and what CHEER is able to do,” said Mr. Bock. “Without those volunteers, without that support, we don’t reach nearly the number of people that we do.  They are the hands and feet that deliver the services to so many people.  A lot of older people are older volunteers. They have retired here and still want to give back and stay engaged. This is a way to do that because you can commit as much or as little as you’re comfortable providing, and all of it delivers benefit.”

Growing seniority

“When you look at demographics, most people don’t realize, but in terms of age attraction and age magnet, Sussex County is one of the fastest growing area of percentage-wise growth in the country, and it rivals the traditional Florida’s, Arizona’s that you think of as the retirement meccas. Certainly, we are smaller than they are, but in terms of the percentage of growth we are absolutely right up there.

“We get so many people that are retirees from surrounding states, all of which have substantially higher tax rates on property. You have people who have had their career and raised their family, and now they are empty-nesters and are selling the large family homestead. They are finding that they can come down here, purchase a more suitable home for the downsized family with a lot less maintenance requirements and cut their tax rates substantially.

“We get a lot of those people that come down here healthy in their early senior years so to speak. But then 10, 15, 20 years in, now they are needing more supportive services. This migration here to Sussex County is not something new. This has been happening for decades. People that looked at retiring here in the 1980s and even the 1990s when they were very active and engaged in the community, they are 20 and 30 years older now and they might be a step slower and they need a little bit of assistance just to be able to maintain that independence and high quality of life.”

Extended family

“We don’t have the same kind of employment opportunities, so the adult children of these people that are retiring here don’t have the employment opportunities. So, in many cases so they are not locating here. You’ve got a lot of seniors that are coming here and don’t have that family support mechanism, at least immediately close by.  So, we are part of that extended family. And it is part of what I really like about CHEER, that we fill that serious need for that extended family and I think we do it well. I think it makes us a very viable attractive alternative to institutionalizing people, which is a little less personal.”

People and pets

Along with meals, CHEER offers assistance to homebound seniors who are pet-owners.

“They may be below poverty level and they are sharing that one hot meal a day with the only living that matters in their life. So, what does CHEER do? We solicit donations for pet foods. We give out many hundreds of pounds of pet food every year for people that need that kind of assistance.”

Flying/career connection

“My aviation/flying sort of ties to my career in life. When I graduated and got my master’s degree — after going to night school for almost six years — my graduation present to me was pilot/flying lessons. I learned to fly in Laurel, Del. When I was getting near retirement from the state and getting ready for my second career, my retirement present to me was: I bought my own airplane.”

Leisure time

“Sports-wise, I am a major Eagles fan. I don’t pay much attention to other sports.

“We both enjoy traveling. For the Fourth (of July) we flew down to Williamsburg for an over-nighter. It absolutely beats the traffic. We go to Williamsburg from time to time. My in-laws live in South Carolina, so that airplane has been known to go to South Carolina a few times. I have been flying for 25 years.

“My wife is an avid gardener; lots of lots of flowers and plants, indoor and outdoor. We both enjoy the yard and those kinds of activities. We do live out in the country.

“And we just bought a Mustang 1970 Mustang, so we are getting in the notion of old or antique cars. CHEER has a car show and it will be there this year. Walt Koopman has been badgering for many years about getting one.”

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.