Woodland Beach Wildlife Area Named for Conservationist and Longtime Wildlife Professional Tony Florio

Smyrna-Clayton Sun News – June 24. 2014

A dedication ceremony Monday honored Florio, who finished his long career as Delaware’s Wildlife Section administrator with the Division of Fish and Wildlife in 1986.

The Woodland Beach Wildlife Area northeast of Smyrna was dedicated on Monday to Tony Florio who retired as the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Wildlife Section administrator in 1986. Pictured at the ceremony (from left) are Tony Florio, his wife Pat, and their children, Gwen, Kathleen, and Roger.

smyrna-newspaperLongtime Delaware wildlife professional, conservationist, writer, and artist Anthony J. “Tony” Florio was honored Monday when the Woodland Beach Wildlife Area where he worked and lived was dedicated in his name.

Fittingly, Florio, his family, friends, Division of Fish and Wildlife co-workers, and fellow conservationists gathered in Florio’s former backyard at the Thomas Sutton House on the wildlife area to unveil the new sign bearing his name.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Deputy Secretary David Small and Division of Fish and Wildlife Director David Saveikis joined a host of Division of Fish and Wildlife staff, past and present, at the event. During the ceremony, beneath the blue skies of a perfect summer day, tree swallows darted in and out of a nearby nesting box, feeding their young in front of about 160 guests.

“Tony is one of those special people who has been able to interpret nature not only with the tools of scientific inquiry, but with his creative talents as an accomplished writer and artist,” said Small. “We are lucky benefactors of his legacy of natural resource conservation and his insightful observations of our landscape, people and wildlife captured so wonderfully in his drawings and stories.”

SuttonHouseASaveikis recalled how helpful Florio was to him when Saveikis started working as a Fish and Wildlife biologist in 1980. “He was an inspiration who helped me develop as a biologist and conservationist, and I am honored to share this special day with Tony and his family,” Saveikis said.

Florio thanked the friends, family, and co-workers at the ceremony and remembered those who have passed away. “Very few people have had a career so personally rewarding.  I’ve been blessed.  So many people have been so helpful to me through the years,” said Florio.

Florio received tributes from the Delaware Senate, presented by Sen. Bruce Ennis; from the State House of Representatives, presented by Rep. Harvey Kenton and Rep. David Wilson on behalf of Rep. Bill Carson; and from Gov. Jack Markell and Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, read by DNREC Deputy Secretary Small.

The idea for naming the wildlife area in honor of Florio came from Wayne Lehman, Division of Fish and Wildlife regional manager. Early in his career, Lehman worked with Florio.

WBeach4-001“I was inspired by all the work he had done,” said Lehman. “Tony was a great conservationist, and I thought this would be a fitting way to honor his greatness by dedicating this wildlife area in his name.”

Also recognized at the ceremony was Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs spokeswoman, for all of her work in the naming process and in organizing the ceremony.

How Florio’s career began

Originally from Orange, Conn., Florio was an undergraduate studying forestry at the University of Connecticut when he began working on a grouse census project with a Connecticut wildlife technician named Norman Wilder. In 1948, Wilder was chosen as director of the Delaware Board of Game and Fish Commissioners’ Conservation Division. His first hire was the newly-graduated Florio in January 1949. In 1957, Wilder became the first director of Delaware’s fledgling fish and wildlife agency, today known as the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife.

“Norman Wilder took me under his wing and was my mentor, my guidepost, and many times, my salvation,” said Florio. Florio wrote an Outdoor Delaware article in 2011 celebrating the 100th anniversary of fish and wildlife conservation, recalling Wilder’s accomplishments during the 22 years they worked together.

“Under Norman’s leadership, the mold was created that would produce the long-term shape of fish and wildlife management in Delaware,” Florio wrote. “His was a far-sighted vision, and spot-on, especially with regard to wetlands, the heart and soul of the magnificent Delaware estuary.”

In August 1954, Florio and his new wife, Patricia, settled into the Sutton House, located on the first tract of the Woodland Beach Wildlife Area east of Smyrna, which had been purchased by the state in 1953. They would live in the 18th century brick house for 32 years and raise their three children in “splendiferous isolation” there, surrounded by scenic waters and marshland in the heart of Delaware’s Bayshore Region.  Florio and his family became widely known in the fish and wildlife conservation community for their stewardship, which frequently included rehabilitating numerous species of juvenile and injured wildlife.

“Pat cheerfully put up with all my faults and foibles,” said Florio, who added that living in the Sutton House presented many challenges, from frequent power outages and occasional lack of heat inside, to the muddy roads and bothersome insects outside.

“There’s no way I can ever convey my everlasting love and gratitude to her,” said Florio, who also talked about how proud he and his wife are of their three children, Roger, Gwen, and Kathleen.

Accomplishments and milestones

Florio began his fish and wildlife career as a wildlife technician doing fieldwork and mapping newly-acquired state wildlife lands and new ponds. He was especially involved in developing waterfowl and mosquito impoundments at Woodland Beach, Little Creek, Ted Harvey, and Assawoman wildlife areas, as well as many waterfowl ponds on public and private lands.

As an artist, photographer and writer, Florio illustrated calendars and became a frequent contributor to the agency’s magazine, the Delaware Conservationist, first published in 1957 and continuing today as Outdoor Delaware. Florio finished his long career as Delaware’s Wildlife Section administrator with the Division of Fish and Wildlife, retiring in 1986.

During Florio’s 37 years of state service there were many milestones. In 1970, the Delaware Board of Game and Fish Commission became the Division of Fish and Wildlife as part of Governor Russell W. Peterson’s newly organized Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. In 1971, Governor Peterson’s landmark Coastal Zone Act passed into law and continues to protect the state’s coastal areas. Having gained support from federal and state funding, as well as private partners such as Delaware Wild Lands, wildlife lands statewide grew to encompass more than 60,000 acres, with public hunting and access areas, boat launches and fishing piers. And the foundations were laid for many of today’s programs that help conserve Delaware’s natural resources, from the Waterfowl and Trout Stamp programs to the highly successful project to restore the state’s wild turkey population.

As for the wildlife area that now carries Florio’s name, Woodland Beach Wildlife Area today has grown to 6,320 acres and includes three major tracts: the main tract, McKay Tract and Matarese Tract. Its amenities and attractions include a 60-acre waterfowl refuge; fishing and crabbing from the pier that extends from the town center of Woodland Beach on the Delaware Bay; a 1.5-mile nature trail; and the Aquatic Resources Education Center (AREC) for students and teachers, which includes three catch-and-release stocked fishing ponds and a 940-foot boardwalk interpretive trail over tidal marshlands behind the center.

In retirement, an author and traveler

Following his retirement, with the encouragement of June Sayers of the Smyrna Clayton Heritage Association, Florio wrote, illustrated and published “Progger: A Life on the Marsh,” a memoir of his Woodland Beach years that includes a slice of the area’s rich history.

He and Pat now make their home part of the year in Vermont, and travel extensively. Their travels include frequent visits to Delaware, where they always make sure to travel along the Bayshore’s most scenic byway – Route 9, which was for so many years their road home, and which remains a pleasure and inspiration.

“The Delaware Estuary is second to none, and to know that the path forged by Norman Wilder is today being traveled with increasing vigilance gives me much satisfaction,” Florio said. “Certainly there have been and will be hiccups along the way – but my optimism for the future lies in my admiration and confidence in the new generation of conservationists, who will, in my firm belief, find the path that leads to both economic and environmental success.”


A Eulogy to our Mother

by Alice Florio Magner

Mary Florio was someone different to each of her children, her sisters and brothers and her friends.

Listening to her children discuss her, you would think we were talking about a person the others didn’t know. Her two oldest were always “put upon.” I remember  when she would ask my older brother Anthony to bring in wood for the stove on which she cooked all our meals and for the furnace which heated our home. He would grumble. Especially if he was gluing tiny pieces of balsa wood for his model airplanes. Mother would kindly say, “That’s all right, I’ll go and get the wood myself.” In a flash he would be out the door without a cross word.

My sister Phyllis missed many outings with her friends because she was the “built-in baby sitter.” This situation instilled in her the love of books she has to this day. Also, because she was “in” so much, Phyllis became our private seamstress, a talent taught to her by our grandmother DiBianco. We all benefitted from that talent. Ask Anthony how he would take his time picking out the feed bag which would make the best shirt.

My sister Betty was a wonder to behold on her horse. My Mother loved seeing her ride. She was such a good sport person as a young woman. Always very focused on what she wanted from life. When she saved a young girl from drowning, the family heard about it from neighbors. Mother always used Betty as an example when she talked about self-esteem and what a person could become.

My sister Lee will admit that she has secregtarial skills, cooking skills, and plays a great piano thanks to her Mother. She was encouraged to go against her brothers and sisters and attend Commercial High which was not the popular choice. Mother laughed at us and stood by Lee. A piano was always in the house and Mother encouraged her to play. “She can play by ear” was Mother’s praise of Lee. And, we all agree, that Lee carries on the tradition of being my Mother’s culinary heiress.

My sister Mary Anne and brother John were the youngest in the family and there was a large gap in ages from the original five. We all helped Mother pamper, play, and scold these two. My Mother had time for May Anne and trotted her off to photographers every chance. Her clothers were bought with great care. She was my Mother’s toy. But John was her favorite child. She had time to enjoy his piano playing, to be proud of his excellence at school and his very nature suited everything she loved in life. They would argue and talk and always be on the same “wave length.” When Mary Anne died, it was John who suffered her doting ways, her fear of the unexpected, and her need to keep him close.

We all knew her by her generosity. She shared her marvelous cooking with everyone. Ask Patti Levey Lebow about her pizza. I will hear her singing in her kitchen in my mind forever. She shared her winnings from the lottery to Hai Alai with all. My trip to Ireland and England was underwritten by my Mother. My Mother was quick to forgive. When we moved to Orange, she received many phone calls of a “derogatory nature.” “They have nothing better to do with their time” she would say and quietly hang up the telephone. She never indulged in petty gossip. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” was her constant reminder to us. Her family and friends meant everything to her, and she was loyal to each of us. Her flair for life was especially felt by me when we would sit on the bench near the pond and she would smile and say so softly, “We are on a boat at sea.” She always could think of a verse when asked a question and can see her with her friend, Christine Stebbins, at my dance recitals. She always had red roses for me. She encouraged me to be myself and always stood by me in the choices I made in life.

Rosiland Russel said,

“The joy of life is a women’s best cosmetic.”

I believe my Mother to be the most beautiful person I have ever known.

A Prayer for John

Lord, please prepare a garden
For thy faithful servant John.
He will tend to it
With the hand of a master.
Its weed and pests
He will smite with staff and hoe,
And banish them forever
To the firey pit.

He will present thy disciples
With finest of fruits,
A joy to behold
And a joy to partake of,
Pure and sweet,
Free of insecticide and herbicide;
Grown organically with
Loving and caring hands.

A tribute to the skill which
You bestowed upon him as a child
Now he has come home,
To minister forever, to your Eden.


-Anthony J. Florio (2/23/98)

My Story, by Lena Florio Peacock

As a young girl growing up on a farm, there were more than enough chores to keep everyone in the family busy.  I, however, for a lot of the time, found myself helping mother (as she liked to be called) in the kitchen.  Consequently, she named me her “Josephine,” i.e., her little worker bee.  And so I washed the dishes as she used them, scrubbed the pots when she was through with them, and cleaned up after her until the kitchen was cleaned.  And through it all, I managed to learn a lot from her and still love to cook and bake.

Speaking of baking, I practiced baking cakes only when mother left to go downtown to shop.  No sooner was she on the bus, I busied myself, found a recipe, and even at eight years old turned out some pretty decent cakes.  However, when mother returned, she was more than unhappy with me.  I believe she was quite possessive of her kitchen and perhaps did not approve of my intrusions.  However, as I grew older, I learned how to make her wonderful pizza, even adding my own special touches.  She then complimented me on my creative ability and loved the variations I concocted.

Mother loved to hear me play the piano.  She would invite our company upstairs to the den and ask me to play (by air, of course) all the old songs.  Cousin claire sang along and everyone was pleasantly entertained.

The Heroism of Florio, The Hartford Current, 1925

Recently there was laid to rest Giacamo Florio. He went down into a dyamite pit to rescue an unconscious fellow worker who had been overcome by the gases there. He placed a rope around his comrade’s waist so he could be drawn to safety.

But Florio’s heroism cost him his life. He was found dead by the gases at the bottom of that pit which had overcome the one he saved.

Thus is the spirit of self-sacrifice often exemplified in our everyday life, but fortunately not often with such tragic results. It is the humble status of this worker that has focused general attention on his brave deed. Florio knew the dangers of going down into that pit, but he was willing to take a chance with his own life in order to save another. The rope that would have saved him he wound around the body of his stricken friend.

There is more than a lesson in heroism, however, in the case of this man, Giacamo Florio. He wa not an educated man. Perhaps he could not have come into this country under the application of the high literacy tests that some people favor.

Yet Florio had something no literacy test can discover, that no retroactivity quota can guarantee, that no Nordic strain can monopolize – he had character.

Florio had the one thing alone upon which admission to this land of opportunity should be predicated. He was a faithful, industrious workman. He was brave enough to risk his life to effect a rescue. What more does America want? It is our Florios who have done the hard, rough, dangerous work in building our nation’s prosperity, and never in its hour of peril has our country lacked Florios as defenders.

Yet there are certain pseudo-Americans who would bar the Florios. In the name of real Americanism, shame on them!

I Remember Mama (Auntie to the Florios)

by Janet DelRocco Pallman

My Mom loved to tell me stories of her childhood.  She was born August 9, 1900 in Maiori, Italy.  A beautiful mountainside town, overlooking the Gulf of Salerno.  Today it is a Beach Resort destination…known as the Pearl of the Amalfi Coast.  I know this because of old post cards I saved from our Zia Maria (Uncle Patsy’s wife) who few of you knew.  She was quite attractive and a strong woman, but that is another story.  I kept the post cards she had sent us from Maiori when visiting her family years ago.

Maiori…this is where the DiBianco family has its roots.  Our Grandmother, Elizabeth Imperato had a twin sister…who immigrated to London…that is all I know. Our Moms had cousins here…but I can’t seem to connect them properly.  As for our Grandfather, Vincenzo DiBianco, he was a shoemaker…my Mom reminded me that he made the shoes from scratch…and I guess he was quite good at doing that.

My Mom had five brothers…Carlo, Rocco, Dominic, Pasquale and Alberto.  She also had two sisters, Mary and Susie who were her lifelines.  They didn’t always agree on everything but they were inseparable.

One of my Mom’s early memories was the scent of lemons from the surrounding trees.  The house they lived in overlooked a beautiful yard that had peacocks walking in all their splendor.  The lady who owned them would call to my mom to come look at them.

Since my Mom was the oldest of the girls, she was put in charge of taking care of her siblings…I’m guessing she was about eight years old…I don’t think the older boys were there, but our Grandmother would lock them in the house, so she could go to church.  I’m assuming she was very religious and alone with her children…with no husband around to look after them.  Not a great life.  Maybe that’s why she never smiled.  She had been doing this for years…by the turn of the century, southern Italians were starving.  No jobs for the people and little to eat.  Our Grandfather had to get money for his family so he sailed to South America, settling in Argentina, making and selling his shoes and sending money home.

He made eight voyages.  I don’t know how much time he spent with his family before he was going to sail again, but always managed to get our Grandmother pregnant.  He finally made one more trip and it was to America.  He was so enraptured with what he saw here…he said “YES, THIS IS WHERE I WILL BRING MY FAMILY”.

Our Grandfather was crying so hard. He had lost his wife and two sons…but now he had no choice…he would take the rest of his family to America. My Mama said “Si Papa…They would all go with him.”

The Aftermath of The Quake – A Miracle

Such havoc followed after the earthquake, the Tsunami, which was recorded as 40 feet high, kept returning with gradually smaller heights over the next two hours. It was followed by heavy rains, hail storms, wild fires and aftershocks. About 100,000 or more people lost their lives. The Red Cross, Sailors from the Russian, German and American Fleets were called in to help with the search and cleanup.

Back to our Grandfather, at home with my Mom and her brothers and sisters. They knew a great disaster had happened. For days there had been no word about anyone. He was so desperately trying to find out about his wife and sons. He saw someone he knew…..he shouted down to him “the church, what about the people in the church?” The man shouted back up to him, “tutti sono morte.” They are all dead. You realize this whole story was told to me in Italian, through my mother’s tears.

A Miracle
It was days before the astounding news came to our Grandfather….his wife and sons were alive, they had survived, with the help of (you guessed it) the Parish Priest. As the Saga continues, my Mom remembers it all as it was told to her by her dear Mother. ..and every time my Mom told the story, she always cried and the story never changed. Our Grandmother had made it to the church that morning.

Outside in front of the church, the ground was opening up, people were panicking and then…stay with me now…oooh shzoom (tsunami) came. The people were trying to run into the church, which was already packed.. They were all crying and praying. The Priest looked at our Grandmother, with her sons, put his finger straight up to his lips, to tell her to be very quiet and to follow him.. ..he took them to a secret door and through a narrow corridor, which led to the outdoors. They quickly climbed to higher grounds. He had saved our Grandmother and her sons.and of course, himself. Now I know why she went to church every morning…and so the reason why she did not want to leave Maiori.

And finally, My Mom’s last memory of the earthquake was King Emmanuel of Italy, on a white horse…GIVING OUT BREAD TO THE PEOPLE!

The year is now 1909 and still our Grandmother could not be convinced to leave Maiori. I am such a romantic who would like to think that our Grandmother and the Parish Priest were in love and maybe that is why she did not want to leave.

By now, our Grandfather finally had the perfect solution to his problem. He knew how much his wife would miss her daughter Angela and so one day he innocently asked my Mom if she would like to go to America with him.  Of course she said yes, she loved him so.

They left one day, never telling our Grandmother of their secret trip. Once in America, after a time, my Mom missed her Mother so much, all she could do was cry, she was so sad.  Our Grandfather told her not to worry, he would go back to Maiori and bring the whole family with him.

And so, true to his word, he finally sailed away and eventually returned to America…bringing not only the whole family but a new addition,  a baby brother, Alberto six months old. A sad ending for our Grandmother….but a new beginning for the Di Bianco Family settling in a new home on Frank Street in New Haven, Connecticut.