PLYMOUTH — Daphne Stapleton twirled her first baton at age 10. She started teaching at 16, when her mother, Vida Creed, told her she needed to get a job. Fast forward to 2016, and she’s retiring after 35 years of baton instruction.
“Never in a million years,” she said, in response to if she thought this would be her career. “I just started recruiting the neighborhood kids. There were about 10 to 12 that year, and then about 30 the year later. After the first five years, I never advertised.”
From then on, Daphne’s Dolls has had more than 70 students per summer. “Twirling is such a lost art,” she said. “I felt obligated to show people this is a sport — this became a way of life.”
When Stapleton was a competitive twirler herself, her father Don built a two-story building in their backyard. “He made sure I always had a place to practice,” she said, “and I’ve always had a place to teach.”
Although many things have changed in a career that spanned three-and-a-half decades, price did not. “When I started, I only charged $6 an hour,” she said. “When I taught my last class, I only charged $6 an hour. It’s never been about the money. Sports are expensive enough for kids. What I do, I did purely for the fun of it.” Fundraisers help to pay for the outfits the twirlers boast, attending five to six parades a year — the only thing she cut back on in all that time. Early on, she would travel with her girls and attend a dozen parades. As she explained, this way of life also became her children’s way of life. Flipping through a scrapbook, there is a photo of her mother pushing Stapleton’s son, Ricky. “Jillian attended her first parade in a stroller too,” she said. “This is all we’ve ever known.”
Throughout the years, Stapleton has seen her share of second generations in twirling. “The biggest compliment is that my twirlers want their kids to experience what they did with me,” she said. “All these friendships, their daughters and granddaughters have been with me for 30 years.”
The plan is to pass the baton, so to speak. Daughter Jillian Smith and Alli Dennie have been twirling together since they were little. Dennie will be taking over the business, assisted by Smith, and Stapleton will have a hand in helping as well, in transition, and when Dennie goes off to college toward the end of summer. “Alli will teach next summer at the Webster Center,” Stapleton said.
“Daphne was my very first twirling coach so she taught me all the basics of what I needed to learn to become the twirler I am now,” Dennie said, “and I am very excited to take over Daphne’s Dolls next summer.”
Dennie has helped teach the girls the past few summers so she is familiar with them. “I have already gotten to know many of them, so it should be an exciting transition next year,” she said.
Stapleton will also no longer be in charge of the Marshall County Blueberry Festival Little Miss and Mister pageant – something she has ran for the past 25 years. “Leanne Senter will be taking that over,” she said.
Senter said, “I look forward to following in Daphne’s footsteps and am grateful for all of her years of dedication and hard work!” Stapleton has offered to help in transition next year, as well, “for which I am very grateful,” Senter said. “Working together, the tradition of the Little Miss and Mr Blueberry Pageant will continue.”
It was also time, Stapleton said, to step away from Plymouth High School speech and debate as a coach. “I was with speech for 10 years,” she said. “Because of Jillian graduating, it was just time.” Speech was a family tradition. Stapleton qualified for nationals in 1983 for original oratory, and her son Ricky qualified for two nationals for duo. They are both on the speech Wall of Fame. “She didn’t really have a choice,” Stapleton said of her daughter joining speech. “She tried so hard and came so close to qualifying, and then she did her senior year. So my whole family is on the Wall of Fame. This was a good time to go out.”
The decision for Stapleton to retire was a planned, family one. Her daughter Jillian just graduated high school and is going off to college at IUPUI. Her son Ricky is working the Creed Seeding family business. She wanted to take summers off and spend time with her love, Pedro Vasquez. “Pedro and I spent every summer at baton,” she said. “With Pedro’s passing, I just wanted to stay on course.” She said Vasquez, who succumbed to cancer in August, always told her that as bad it is, there’s so much good. “That has gotten me through all of this,” Stapleton said. “I can’t believe how surrounded with love we are, and the outpouring of support has been incredible.”
Stapleton said that while she’s planning to downsize and eventually sell her home, Plymouth will be where she stays. “There is no place else I want to be,” she said. “When I go on the road someplace, I just can’t wait to get back home.”
Maybe, she said, waitressing is in her future. Maybe, after a monstrous garage sale at her Pennsylvania Avenue home, she will take a group of girlfriends to a Vegas relaxation vacation. She said, “I’m just going to take the month off, take a step back and figure it out. After the loss of Pedro, I feel at a loss. I’m at peace with my decisions, I just don’t know what the future holds yet.”
Retirement party planned — On Sept. 18 at noon, there will be a retirement picnic at Centennial Park. All past Dolls are invited to attend, and Stapleton said to not forget your batons. “There will be a competition for a trophy, and they’re going to want that trophy!” she said, “and if you’re a Doll, you’ll know where the party will be.”
#PrayersForPedro — On Sept. 10, there is a #PrayersForPedro benefit starting at 6 p.m. at the Plymouth American Legion. The band, Pablos Great Revenge, will perform at this fundraiser for the Vasquez family. There is a pulled pork dinner and silent auction. Wristbands for the event are being sold for $20.