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Monday, March 1, 2021

Shipley Road resident known as the Sign Lady leaves legacy of mirth, inspiration

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The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price
The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price

The Shipley Road “Sign Lady” who for 40 years delighted so many passersby with funny and inspiring signs she posted on her North Wilmington property has died.

Lorraine Smulski Twardowski, a Delaware native known for those signs and her wide-ranging community connections, was 73.

Each sign was created by hand-drawn or painted on drugstore poster board. But it was Twardowski’s moving messages that caught the eye of motorists. “The sayings were inspirational, uplifting, seasonal, personal, and comical,” her family wrote in her obituary. “They will be missed.” 

 

But you can still see them. Her family placed more than a dozen along her property Monday, with drivers slowing to read them and some even stopping to photograph them.

Some examples: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” “Love is a flower that never fades.” “Stand for what is right, even if you stand alone.” “Thank God for the freedom of prayer.” “Gardeners know all the dirt.” “Home of the free because of the brave.”

And in the driveway was a new sign created by Twardowski’s niece, Carrie Price. Attached to a pole wrapped in purple ribbon, it said: “Heaven called. The Sign Lady answered.” That’s how many first learned that their beloved author had passed.

The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price
The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price

“You followed her life, and the lives of her daughter and grandchildren through them,” said friend Donna Baldino. She recalled that holidays also inspired signs, offering “messages for our brave soldiers” and, for the Fourth of July, “a celebration of our freedom.”

Baldino, a real estate agent for Keller Williams, also used the signs to guide potential home-buyers. The signs faced Shipley Road, and the  Twardowski’s historic home, called Woodbound, sat back in the property on Woodbound Drive.

The signs reflected Twardowski’s welcoming personality, said Carol Raffaelli, a next-door neighbor who called Twardowski her best friend.

“She was filled with with encouragement, hope and kindness,” Raffaelli said. “The signs made people feel good. That’s who she was.”

Raffaelli thought the homemade signs were inspired by a rustic sign given to the Twardowskis that named their property, Woodbound. That sign was later stolen.

 

Twardowski maintained space in her attic to create the signs, Raffaelli said, and she also stored all the old ones there that weren’t damaged by weather.

Twardowski graduated from Wilmington High School in 1965 and worked for the DuPont Co. and Delaware Technical Community College, when she met her husband, Charlie.

She left full-time employment for what her family called the most important role in her life: motherhood. After 12 years of tests, surgeries and other fertility issues, she became one of the first women in the country to successfully deliver an in vitro fertilization baby.

 

After the 1984 birth of Tamara Joy, she became an advocate for other couples with similar issues.

Twardowski loved watching her daughter play volleyball all over the country and formed many friendships with the parents of teammates. She shared her love of theater and the arts with her nieces, and later younger relatives, by treating them to monthly plays at the Delaware Children’s Theatre.

Her volunteering was often focused on children. She was a board member of the Delaware Committee for UNICEF for over 25 years and led her daughter’s Girl Scout troop for nine years. She gave a lot of time to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church and Padua Academy libraries and cafeteria and read books at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price
The late Lorraine Twardowski, the sign lady of Shipley Road, put inspiring handwritten signs up on her property that became landmarks for drivers. Photos by Betsy Price

She was an eucharistic minister at IHM, and her faith guided her through her 20-year battle with breast cancer.

“Such a gracious, kind and uplifting person,” said Baldino, who knew her through IHM.

Her activities also included volunteer work with SOS Vietnam, with the aged and orphaned and for various charitable drives. She was a member of Americans of Polish Descent Cultural Society for over 35 years, which led to the hosting of Polish triplets through high school, college and grad school. 

 

The Delaware Federation of Business and Professional Women named her Wilmington Young Career Woman and Delaware Young Career Woman Runner-up in 1969-70. She also was named Beta Sigma Phi Girl of the Year. At Delaware Tech, her favorite story involved helping Bob Marley’s mother with the immigration of the future star.

Her hobbies included gardening, photography, poetry, writing, dancing and yard sales.

In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations be made in her name to Read Aloud Delaware (www.readalouddelaware.org) or the Cancer Support Community (https://cancersupportdelaware.org/contribute/).

 

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