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Fred Sears receives state chamber’s Marvel Cup

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Jason and Graham Sears accepted the 2022 Josiah Marvel Cup on behalf of their father, Fred Sears, from the Delaware State Chamber President Michael Quartana, left.
| PHOTO COURTESY OF DSCC/DICK DUBROFF
Dick Dubroff / Final Focus Photography

WILMINGTON — Throughout his long tenure in the banking world, city politics and nonprofits, Fred Sears II has plenty of accolades to his name. Now he can name one more: the coveted Josiah Marvel Cup.

Sears was recognized for his service to the state through 40 years in the banking industry, serving in tandem as the president and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation. He also served as a Wilmington city councilman, and later helped mayors, governors, New Castle County executives in their office transitions.

The state chamber’s highest honor is named in memory of the late Josiah Marvel, who reorganized the state chamber and served as its first president in 1913. It has been awarded every year since 1951.

After two years of virtual events, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce returned to its normal form and held its annual gala at the Chase Center on the Riverfront this year. Hundreds of people flocked to the Wilmington Riverfront Chase Center to network and celebrate returning to the event after a long hiatus.

Since the gala was postponed from January, Sears was unable to attend and recorded a message from California. He joked that since he serves on the Marvel Cup Nominating Committee, he made a comment during a meeting discussing the rescheduled date that it may be hard to get the winner back in town from Florida or elsewhere. Sears’ sons, Jason and Graham, and his grandson, Charlie, accepted the award on his behalf.

“Mike [Quartana, the DSCC president] just turned to me and said, ‘no, Fred, it’s you,’” he laughed. “It was just a total surprise, maybe the biggest surprise of my life to receive this honor. I’m humbled and embarrassed to receive it.”

Fred C Sears II | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSCC

As a surprise, longtime friend and University of Delaware classmate President Joe Biden recorded his congratulations in a video played during the dinner.

“Fred, you’ve stood by me in some of the most important moments in my life — the good and the bad moments. I’m honored to call you a friend and I’m grateful for all you’ve done for the state of Delaware as well,” President Biden said in the video. “And I can’t thank you enough for your role in helping make the Beau Biden Foundation a reality and all you’ve done to help carry Beau’s legacy forward.”

A sixth-generation Delawarean, Sears attended the Friends School and later graduated from University of Delaware with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Later on, he returned to earn a master’s degree. He started his career at a branch of the Delaware Trust Co. near the Chrysler plant in Newark, working mainly with auto plant workers at the time.

From there, Sears went on to later work at Wilmington Trust, Beneficial National Bank, Applied Bank, TD Bank and, ultimately, Commerce Bank, in which he played a key role in bringing to the state and serving as Delaware Market President.

Amid his financial career, Sears started to serve in other key roles in Wilmington, such as the finance director and economic director for the city. During his tenure as director of the Port of Wilmington, he is credited with signing the first banana contract with Dole Fresh Fruit, who is one of the port’s largest customers today.

In 1976, Sears was elected to serve on the Wilmington City Council and he held that office until 1984. After he left office, he maintained a hand in Delaware’s politics by serving on the transition team for Mayor James Sills Jr., co-chairing transition teams for Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and then-New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, and chairing the Budget and Finance subcommittee for Gov. Jack Markell. He also chaired the Wilmington Economic and Financial Advisory Council.

During his career, Seats had served on roughly 40 community nonprofit organizations, including the Beau Biden Foundation, ChristianaCare, Delaware Alliance of Nonprofit Advancement, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, Diamond State Port Corporation, Leadership Delaware, REACH Riverside, Rodel, Wilmington Housing Partnership, the United Way of Delaware, and more. 

In his third act, Sears leveraged his background in phinathophy to serve as the Delaware Community Foundation president and CEO from 2002 to 2015. During his tenure, he tripled the foundation’s charitable funds to $285 million. 

The foundation also opened its Dover office and established the Next Generation program, which develops young professionals into nonprofit leaders. Since 2004, Next Gen’s chapters up and down the state have helped direct over $300,000 in grants to community needs in Delaware.

Sears also helped launch the Beau Biden Foundation, with the blessing of the Biden family, Within two days of its debut, it raised $125,000. He also shepherded the creation of the African American Community Empowerment Fund — known today as the Council on Urban Empowerment.

In his acceptance speech, Sears said it was an honor alone to sit on the Marvel Cup Nominating Committee for years, knowing at least 45 winners and many are friends. Reflecting on his life, he added that he was “probably destined to be in Delaware and doing something special for Delaware.”

“It’s a privilege to say this and accept the award, but it’s also been a privilege to work with seven governors, seven New Castle County executives, seven mayors and our current federal delegations. Having the privilege to serve over 50 boards and commissions to help them raise dollars is always an honor,” Sears said. “I’m still involved in programs and organizations, and I meet many more younger people with energy and excitement — and that alone gets me excited.”

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