Get to know the town: Irvin Ambrose

MILFORD — Irvin Ambrose, 70, is retired, but was recently honored by Governor Jack Markell with a 2016 Governor’s Outstanding Volunteer Award despite battling leukemia.

The former teacher and principal from the Capital School District spent much of his recent years volunteering with the city of Milford and Downtown Milford, Inc.

He moved to Milford with his wife Marilyn after living near Dover and growing up in Pottsville, Pa.

Learn more about Irvin Ambrose in this week’s get to know the town feature.

Tell us about your volunteering?

“When I retired, I came home and got up with Wilmington College at the time. I did some work with student teachers. All the time this was happening, I was a member of the Planning Commission which is volunteer.

“After about 11.5 years of that, I ran for council. I served three terms here. Then in 2009, I was off of council and Scott Angelucci recruited me for Downtown Milford, Incorporated. He was the president, so I was on the board. I think I was on the board for a month. The next month, the vice president resigned and they asked me to be vice president. I was vice president for the next year. Then the year after that, I was president for three years. Then I went back to be the vice president to help the person who was going to take my place as president. So, if you count that up, it’s like 7.5 years. But I’ve got a whole lot more longevity with the organization because when I was on council, I would go to their meetings to stay current.”

irvWhy stay involved?

“I’m a firm believer that a town or city is as good as its downtown. We’ve really made major strides. Now, there were grants written for the sidewalks and the street lights, you know, the old fashioned looking street lights. Then you had parks and recreation, Gary Emory, working on the Riverwalk. The Riverwalk is a really nice draw to the downtown and they always said if you bring them down once they’ll come down.”

How do you feel about downtown now?

“If someone comes down to the farmer’s market, they can walk down the street to the candy store and to Dolce’s. When my grandson comes down, we’ll have a pocket full of breadcrumbs to feed the ducks and we’ll always walk down to the candy store or to get some ice cream at Dolce. It’s changed. It’s good. When we first got down here, the downtown was very nice. But then they started building up the shopping centers.”

Tell us more?

“Like Leggett’s, they just moved out to the shopping center. They were going to lose their customer base anyways. Ames… Roses was out there. Then we ended up with a bunch of pawn shops and everything. But now, DMI got involved. And they got involved long before I got involved in the organization.

“Things gradually moved up and I think right now we’ve got a very nice place. When the guy who bought Lou’s Bootery gets around to fixing it up, he’ll have retail on the first floor and the second and third floor will be luxury apartments. By the time he gets that thing up and operational, Touch of Italy will be in and operating. So you come down the steps, you walk across the street and you get dinner which is the advantage of urban living.

“I think, no I don’t think, I know the prognosis for downtown is very good. Things are going in the right direction.”

Do you still volunteer?

“It’s a chore for me to go places. So I tend to stay here or go in the kitchen. That’s the extent of my travel.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?

“I think probably, and these were done simultaneously, ensuring the continued financial support of the city for five years and securing our office, a permanent home, because I really worked hard on those two things.”

How did the office come to be?

“The old water treatment plant down by N. Washington St. There were two small offices in there. The city let DMI use one of the offices and the chamber the other office. It was quite a deal for us because we had no rent and no utility. Then they decided they were going to upgrade the water facility, so we were out cold. We found a place on N. Walnut St. and we were there for about a year or so. Then we worked with the city because they bought the house behind the parking lot. We came to an agreement that we could use building for $1 per year and be responsible for all of the upkeep and some of the utilities.

The new executive director at the time wasn’t from around here so we kept the office downstairs, put a door at the top of the steps, did some remodeling…. And the only thing we asked of them was to help pay some of the utilities which worked out nicely for them.”

What else have you helped create?

“We have this one paid employee and about 200 volunteers. We have another group of people who are trying to get people who have older homes in that area to help them fix it up, show them where grant money is, maybe help them financially… yea, that was my idea. Lacking a coat of paint. If they’re willing to paint their place within a certain time limit, they reside within a certain area and they use five gallons of paint, we’ll buy five for them so they have 10 gallons to start. Or we’ll buy three if they used three. We’ve had two people take advantage of that.

What do you think of volunteering?

“It keeps you busy. Anybody who is a member or committee chair, the executive officers… I don’t know that I would have been able to be president and do the things I did if I had a job. Because I had a job; it was DMI.”

Tell us about Milford?

“We have a lot of 501(C)3’s. You have the art league, the theatre… we have a lot of neat, interesting things that is basically run by volunteers. There was a time when one of the state officials came down to Milford to participate in something and he said, ‘Irv, I’ll tell ya: I was at a luncheon with the Governor in Wilmington and in his speech, he said if you want to see how it’s done right, go to Milford.’ So we must be doing something right.

What is it like to not be involved as much?

“When I was more involved, I was at that office almost daily. But I can’t do any of that anymore. Sometimes people give me a call and say what do you think of this, what do you think of that and that’s how I stay connected. All of the e-mails that go to everybody, they come to me, too. Thursday is the annual DMI meeting and I’m kicking around the idea of trying to go. But I don’t know. It depends on how I’m feeling that day.

“One of the things that helps an organization is that there are people around that know the culture and history. And they may not be active anymore, but if something comes up all you have to do is make a phone call. That way, you’re guaranteeing a continual flow of success.”

What has been your favorite activity?

“Getting on the Gator with the water tank in the back and it was either a Saturday morning or a Sunday morning and driving around and watering the plants. That was fun. Marilyn would start it out with me, then a friend said he would do it. If it was Sunday, we would stop at the Italian Bakery on SE Front street and get ourselves something to fuel ourselves for the journey.”

What are your hopes for DMI?

“I would like to see the continued growth and direction that the organization has taken. Their direction was a progression. Each year, we add to the things we do, the events that we have. As far as I’m concerned, I think everything is fine as long as we continue doing those kinds of things.”

What are your hopes for the city of Milford?

“The city is, I think, the efforts are downtown. And also, they’re working on the other parts of the city. The major thing that I’d like to see is the repurposing and actual use of some of these gigantic buildings we have that aren’t in use. Middle school, armory, pretty soon the old hospital… Those are some big properties. It’s going to be interesting because I don’t think anybody can predict what that new hospital is going to bring. It may be a flood of new people if just the people who are going to work it because you’re going to have Milford Memorial and Nemours. I don’t think we’re talking about a traditional hospital. I think we’re talking about a true medical center. I think it will open up all of that open land down in that area for housing development. It’d be nice to live right next to where you work.

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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