Hometown Hero: Phil Aeschleman of Hockessin Hardware

Gateway Garden Center

by Lisa Maguire

Three years ago, Phil and Jen took over the True Value Hardware store in Hockessin. This was a significant career change for Jen, a registered nurse, and Phil, who worked in the international shipping business for 25 years. Still, it fulfilled their dream of becoming small business owners.

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In the time since, Hockessin Hardware has seen an influx of new inventory, like the ever-popular Eagles Tiki Totem posts, and a variety of fun and educational events, such as Ladies’ Night.

When you walk into the store, you’re warmly greeted by a Hockessin Hardware employee, and you can always find someone eager and ready to help. In fact, it’s exactly the atmosphere you’d expect from your community’s family-owned hardware store.

It’s this strong sense of community that Phil Aeschleman talked about most when recounting the events from Hurricane Isaias on August 4th.

You’ve probably already heard about the rescue that took place in Lantana Square, and maybe have even read Phil’s story on WDEL or seen videos or photos of the flooding on DelawareOnline. If not, it’s easy to see that the sense of community felt by Phil on that day was no less than remarkable.

Phil hadn’t been at the store long when the water started to rise in the parking lot outside of Hockessin Hardware. After the state-mandated closure, Phil, like many small business owners, was panicked by the threat of additional inventory losses or flood damage. It would be another massive hit during an already difficult year.

Thinking quickly, Phil and his team put bags of sand out in front of the store to try and absorb some of the water at the curb. The plaza has a bit of a slope headed from Hockessin Hardware to the front of Two Stones Restaurant. While setting up their barricade, Phil’s team noticed a car with people outside of it, clearly in need of help. They were yelling for a hammer to break the car’s windows to free a man who was trapped inside. 

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One of the Hockessin Hardware employees ran inside to grab a hammer, and Phil turned to him as he was running back to the car. When Phil turned his attention back to the car, the employee, just 17 years old, had vanished. Phil’s immediate instinct was to look for him underwater, which was about knee-high where he was standing.

As Phil dove under to look for him, he was swept up by a current and immediately began to fear the worst. His body was thrust quickly away and through a deep spot of water and then up against what he realized was metal. As he was pushed upward into the top of the nearby culvert, he was able to catch a breath before being carried through the 240-foot tunnel to the creek on the other side. While the literal light at the end of the tunnel was reassuring, he knew that a winding and rushing creek waited for him at the outlet.

As Phil barreled through the opening, he spotted his employee, who was holding on to a tree. He was able to lock arms with Phil and pull him to the side where they could wait for help. While holding on to the tree, Phil could hear and see three other people who had all been sucked through the same tunnel as they had.

Luckily, a man had gone around back to check to see where the culvert leads and heard the calls for help. He ran to the front of the shopping center, got the necessary assistance for the victims, and assured Phil’s daughter, who also works at the store, that her father was okay. She’d watched the entire ordeal from the covered sidewalk in front of Hockessin Hardware.

While time seemed to slow down during the event, Phil said that start to finish, from when he couldn’t find his employee to the time he shot out the other side of the culvert, seemed like it couldn’t have been any more than a minute and a half.

Phil sang the highest praises of our hometown’s fire department as well as the many unnamed heroes that stepped in to try to help each other and the man trapped in the car (he, too, was eventually sucked into the same culvert that Phil went through). Fortunately, Hockessin Fire and Rescue freed the man from the car within seconds of the inside becoming lodged and fully filled with water.

If you’re one of the people that pitched in that day or know anyone who is, please write to lmaguire@hachealthclub.com – we’d love to recognize you as a hometown hero too!

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