EUGENE, Ore. — It’s happened every year for the past 24; the tickets get sold, the ducks get dumped and the winners get their prizes. The only thing that really changes for the Great Rotary Duck Race is the person in charge. It’s a role affectionately known as Mama or Papa Duck, a nickname that came about in 1991 when Diana Bray was at the helm.
“Surprise to us, we were blessed to find out we were pregnant with my daughter during the campaign,” said Bray, a longtime Rotarian. “So because I was pregnant during the campaign, thus came the name Mama Duck because I really was a mama during that time. She was born in July.”
Since then, there have been 21 Mamas, Papas — even an Uncle Duck one year.
“Embryo Duck is the person in waiting, so to speak,” Bray said. “It’s just kind of hung on over all these years.”
Over time, the Duck Race evolved.
“It’s bigger than one person,” said Bray, “so we’ve decided a flock of ducks is going to lead the campaign this year and it’s working out great. ”
“There’s a core group of about six of us who have come together and said, ‘Let’s run this as a team,’” said Dale Hartley, former Papa Duck and president of the United Rotary Clubs of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County.
The Duck Race is an event steeped in tradition, so organizers still wanted a Mama or Papa for this 25th anniversary Celebration. Their choice — Burnell Ambrose — came easy. Every year, Ambrose sells more books of tickets than multiple Rotary clubs combined.
“I sell tickets too,” admitted Ambrose. “I just don’t advertise that I sell tickets. But I never turn anything down.”
His process starts with a letter, mailed out to family, friends, customers, coworkers … everyone he knows.
“This year, I think I’ve got the best letter I’ve ever had. It’s so exciting,” Ambrose said. “I intend to sell them and sell them and sell them. I’m going to invite people to match me, if I can. I’m going to buy four books myself and ask people to join me.”
“He as an individual person is so committed,” Bray said. “Yet he’s not raising children anymore, he’s not living the day-in, day-out life, but you see the passion he has and out much he cares about the cause. I think it motivates other people at an individual level.”
That motivation Bray mentioned is about getting other Rotarians to sell tickets. But they need you to buy them. To buy tickets or check out this year’s prizes, come to the Great Rotary Duck Race Kickoff Celebration on July 17. It starts at 5:30 p.m. at Valley River Inn.