Reba Hollingsworth: Milford girl never stops learning because she never stops teaching
Reba Hollingsworth has seen her home change immensely in her 93 years in Delaware, and her place in that history has led to her work today.
Born in Milford in 1926, she left home at age 15 to attend 10th grade in Dover as higher education wasn’t available to black children in Sussex County at that time.
Despite obstacles to getting a full 12th grade education, the young girl completed high school and attended Delaware State College, where she earned a degree in home economics education.
In 1954, she earned her first teaching position in home economics at the segregated William C. Jason Comprehensive School in Georgetown, and later moved to Dover High School, where she began a 21-year career as a guidance counselor. She later went on to earn a master’s degree and doctorate in counseling.
As she became a leader in her community, others began calling for Hollingsworth’s help. In 1987, she was appointed by then-Gov. Mike Castle to the Delaware Heritage Commission, a state entity charged with protecting and promoting the state’s history and heritage. Today, she still serves as the commission’s vice chair and is serving on the Women’s Vote Subcommittee that is preparing commemoration events for 2020 that mark the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
Richard Carter, chairman of the commission who has known Hollingsworth for more than 20 years, said that her contributions over the years have been immeasurable.
“In many ways, she’s the conscience of the Heritage Commission,” he said. “As a native Sussex Countian, I know that living in Sussex County in the 1950s was like living in the Deep South; so, when you consider the obstacles that were put in front of her, her accomplishments are all that more impressive.”
Even though she started her ninth decade in Delaware in 2016, Hollingsworth continues to maintain a busy schedule of teaching courses on parliamentary procedure ““ she is a past president of the Delaware State Association of Parliamentarians ““ and presenting on family genealogy.
She and her late husband, Berlin, established an endowed scholarship for financially challenged students at Delaware State University in 2014, beginning with a $10,000 donation. Three years later, the university established the Dr. Reba Hollingsworth Counseling Center at its Early College High School, honoring her connection to the university and her career of preparing students for higher education.
Despite her many accomplishments over the decades, Hollingsworth said that the things that bring the most joy are those that happen without headlines.
She recalled how she and her late husband, Berlin, helped get one of Berlin’s former students out of prison after running afoul of the state’s “three strikes” law for minor drug cases. Afterward, they helped get him on his feet and today he still calls upon Hollingsworth every so often to see if he can be of help to her.
This was just one of a handful of stories relayed by Hollingsworth in which she gave a little of herself in order to make a dramatic change for someone else.
“You do things that you can to help people; you’re not in this world by yourself,” she said. “My father always told us, “˜As long as you have breath, you’re supposed to do something positive with your life because you have a long time to be dead.'”