by Robert Kimmel
Two oversized yellow-plumed duckys have become fixtures, poised atop the starting bridge over Andre Brook at Patriot’s Park before each heat of the annual Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns’ Rubber Ducky Derby. For the ninth consecutive Derby, late last month, they drew the crowd’s attention as they dropped hundreds of the little rubber duckys from baskets into the brook below, signaling the start of each race.
The same two Rotary persons beneath those large costumes have been masquerading as ducks since the first Derby in 2008. It isn’t an easy task, but both find it rewarding.
“A parent came up to us last year and said that her little one had been coming to the Derby races ever since she was two years old and had it on the calendar and had been counting down the days when she could come and see her two favorite ducks,” said Mimi Godwin. “So for JoAnne Murray and me that was the best reward of all.”
Godwin and Murray are the two organizers of the event and are also the two persons concealed within the costumes. “I think it has become a beautiful tradition, both for the Rotary, the Y, but also for the community, and we are so glad we can do this, “ Godwin added.
“It is a wonderful feeling to see how the kids run up to us and witness how they react,” Murray noted. When not in costume, she helps run an insurance business in the village, while Godwin is president of the school board
Murray explained that it was Godwin who came up with the idea of a Rotary-sponsored Derby in 2005 after touring through a Vermont town in which a Derby happened to be taking place. It took some convincing and three years before the Rotary Club of the Tarrytowns inaugurated the first Rubber Ducky Derby in 2008.
Locating an appropriate bed of water for the Derby also became a chore, according to Murray. The Hudson River was out of the question. Finally, two of Tarrytown’s dedicated citizens, Gerry Barbelet and Tom Basher, suggested Andre Brook in Patriot’s Park. Barbelet, a former Village Treasurer, volunteer fireman, and Rotary member, and Basher, who just recently retired after a long tenure as a Village Trustee and also as Deputy Mayor, got it right.
Once the decision was made to have the Derby, the Duckys had to be acquired, and to ensure they did not flop over and float upside down, more expensive weighted ones had to be purchased, according to Murray. Then came the two duck costumes, costing a total of $2,000. Murray said the duck adoption revenue from 2008 Derby just covered the initial expenses. Subsequent Duck Derbys have produced funds, raising as much as $15,000, which the Rotary directs to charitable causes.
“They are heavy like a fur coat,” Murray explained, describing the duck costumes. “Putting on the ducky head is a balancing act on our necks,” she said, and “you feel it the next day.” The duck’s feet are also not a “fun thing” to wear. Importantly, both Godwin and Murray require rehydration about every half-hour during the four or so hours during the festivities and races. During one Derby day, the temperature hovered around 75 degrees most of the afternoon, Murray said, and if it were not for the presence of the volunteer ambulance corps whose cooled down vehicle the pair take refuge in periodically, it wouldn’t be possible to remain in costume.
Both Godwin and Murray lauded the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps whose members often follow them around to ensure that they have had plenty of fluids. The pair’s performance is not restricted to the four-hour Derby itself. They often promote and raise enthusiasm for the Duck Derby days before its occurrence, such as their presence last month in the villages’ St. Patrick’s Day Parade. However, as they have emphasized, children’s amused, delighted reaction to their presence produces their rewards.