By: Jillian Risberg
It’s all that it’s quacked up to be and then some!
There’s something about those yellow rubber duckies that have something of a cult following in town so there was no doubt the Great Denville Duck Race would be a success when the Sunrise Rotary Club revived it in 2010.
For a decade earlier, the Denville Recreation Department handled the event. And then it petered out because they ran out of volunteers to run it, according to James LaSala, president of the Club.
“They were running it to raise money for Project Playground and then dropped it once it was built — two years later we resurrected it,” says his wife Teresa, vice president of the club.
LaSala says they didn’t invent the Duck Race, but they saw it as an amusing idea and wanted to focus on something that would appeal to families with children.
“We get entries of all ages and people without children,” Teresa says, adding that everyone can participate in the festivities.
They stage everything at the central area of Gardner Field near the snack bar between the ball field and the pavilions.
“The DPW parks a big ‘Ducketloader,’ there and the kids bring their ducks in,” Jim says. “If they’ve decorated the ducks, we have three tables set up in front of one of the pavilions where they put the decorated ducks out for everybody to ogle and love.”
Then they award prizes for the best decorated ducks. Ultimately all the ducks end up in the ‘Ducketloader.’
“And it is wheeled out onto Savage Road and brought up to the bridge over the Rockaway River. The mayor shoots off a small cannon and all the ducks are dropped into the river,” Jim says.
That is hundreds (usually 400 to 500) rubber ducks take part in the annual race down the river and bystanders say it is a sight to behold.
Jim is spearheading his second term as president of the Denville Sunrise Rotary Club. His passion for the rotary and all that it stands for is evident 14 years in. He likes giving back in any way he can.
The club holds weekly breakfast meetings on Tuesday mornings at St. Francis Residential Community, 122 Diamond Spring Road.
Ducks are $10 apiece and available for purchase in advance at many downtown locations (the ‘Duck Depot’) including Denville Chiropractic, Denville Dairy, Denville Diner, Denville Dog, Provident Bank and Write On Gifts.
This year’s feature event sponsors are Anthony & Sons Bakery and Dover Dodge.
People decorate the ducks and show up the morning of the race and enter their duck in the contest.
“Between that arrival time and the start of the race, we do the judging of the ducks and there are jugglers there, bagpiper, music, food (including a duck cupcake), free face painting, massive bubble blowing machine, application of duck tattoos and several tables with our sponsors,” Teresa says. “We really try to keep all our focus for the kids.”
Then there are the vendor tables — a lady with competitive dogs that jump through hoops and tunnels, they really hope to have Voltaire Cycles showing some of their electric bikes and so much more.
They also run a 50-50, where they sell a bunch of the tickets that day.
According to Teresa, half the proceeds they collect go to one winner just before noon after the duck race is judged and prizes are awarded. The grand prize of the day (last year) was over $1000.
Power Play Gaming provides the primary prizes for the race itself.
“And we give out very nice prizes for the first, second and third place to the first three to cross the finish line decorated ducks, the first three undecorated ducks to cross the finish line. So we give six prizes that are fairly significant and then we give out about 40 bags to the next 40 ducks that come through the race,” Teresa says. “Total we give out over 50 prizes.”
They also give out the ‘best decorated,’ the best overall,’ ‘most whimsical’ (that category changes every year).
Longtime partner and sponsor Write On Gifts has a table full of markers, glitter and glue so children can decorate their ducks — and Teresa says they really try to work with the downtown shops.
Also, within a week or two of the event they hold ‘Decorate your Duck’ night, where they put tables out on Broadway, and people come down and decorate their ducks.
“Preparing for the event is an ongoing project that we enjoy doing because the day of the event watching the kids is just magical,” Jim says. “They’re putting them directly into the ‘Ducketloader,’ and you can see 10/12 kids at a time just staring at the ducks and pointing out the different ones (bat mobile duck, bride-n-groom duck, etc).
Rotary’s motto is ‘service above self.’ It is a global network of 1.2 million volunteer leaders committed to tackling the world’s most critical humanitarian crises and advancing goodwill and peace. Rotary spans 200 countries and walks of life, where members unite and take action to create lasting change — in our own communities, across the globe and in ourselves.
In that vain, the members are always giving back one way or another.
In terms of the rotary’s involvement in other events, Jim says they haven’t done anything on the scale of the Duck Race but they do run a golf outing every year in the fall.
“We raise just about as much money on the outing as we do on the Duck Race,” he says. “So those are our two major fundraisers. We also run a monthly blood drive with the Denville Rotary Club and last month they collected 58 pints. We are one of the largest, most successful blood drives in the state the last couple of years.”
The Denville Rotary Club runs the Denville Street Festival and Sunrise Rotary supports them in that yearly event.
According to Teresa, in addition — the elementary schools in Denville have helped them every year by sending out notices in the Friday folder about the Great Duck Race and the kids get revved up about the event.
“We also have between half a dozen and a dozen high school students that come every year from the Interact Club — a Rotarian high school club (connecting 12 to 18-year-olds who develop leadership skills, take action, build international understanding and make new friends from around the world),” she says. “The high school kids do all the tattoos and help us with other things.”
Sunrise is a smaller club compared to others in the area, but Teresa says with the 16 to 18 of them working together, the Duck Race really runs itself.
“And it’s just a beautiful gift to the community,” she says. “We raise a significant amount of money and all that money or the majority of it goes back goes back to the community.”
According to Jim, it’s all about charitable efforts — they have no administrative costs and that’s what makes it all possible.
Denville Police Department Lt. Scott Revis, his wife and kids traditionally every year create something with an amusing concept for the decorated duck contest and Jim remembers their winning theme very well.
“We won the decorating part when they (Revis’ son and daughter) put their two ducks together and made a little bench for them and called them the ‘sitting ducks,’” the detective says.
The Denville PBA is a longtime supporter of the event.
“Ever since my kids knew what a duck was — they look forward to dumping the ducks in the river,” says Revis, of Rockaway.
Year after year Jason, 6, and Aubrey, 7, love being at the river’s edge with all those yellow ducks.
Especially after their first year win, Revis says his kids are excited to keep returning to the race to give it another shot.
“We’ve tried ‘Duck, Duck and a Big Goose’ and that didn’t win – so we’ll have to try a different theme,” he says. “I like seeing them enjoying it more than anything else and it’s an excuse to spend time with my family.”
Jim says a winning couple in their 70s with a Mexican duck — brought the same duck back the following year and paid the extra $10 to run it again.
“Because it was a lucky duck,” Jim says.
Most years the Great Denville Duck Race brings in upwards of $5000+. And one does not have to be a Denville resident to take part in the fun. Kids (and kids at heart) are fascinated by the ducks.
“We have people who travel every year from out of town,” Teresa says, adding that’s how much the event appeals to folks far and wide. “We see it as a total community event that’s really awesome.”
IF YOU WANT TO GO
When: Saturday, June 15
Where: Gardner Field, 36 Savage Rd.
Check In: 10 a.m. l Race Start: 11 a.m. l Finish: 12 p.m.
Information: 908-403-6535 or email DuckRace@sunriserotaryclubofdenville.com