By Mike LaBella Staff Writer
The Haverhill Gazette
---- — They’ve reached the half-million dollar mark, and have rubber ducks to thank for much of their success.
The Haverhill Rotary Club just passed $500,000 in donations to about 60 local and regional charities, with much of the money raised in recent years through the club’s Rubber Duck Regatta, which began in 2009. The $500,000 was raised in the last 10 years.
A fun event that is growing in popularity, this year’s regatta took place Sept. 15, when 10,000 rubber ducks were dumped over the side of the Basiliere Bridge into the Merrimack River. The ducks drifted downstream as crowds on both sides of the river eagerly waited to see whose would reach the finish line first and win its owner the $10,000 cash prize.
There was one moment of drama when a fast current and choppy water swept about 600 ducks over the finish line barrier. Duck wranglers in boats chased the errant flock and captured the ducks in nets.
In the days leading up to the event, Rotary Club members were feeling elated, as ducks were flying off to their adopted parents in greater numbers than ever before. The online site where adoptions could be made displayed a thermometer showing the number of adoptions. Club members watched as the red line went higher and higher before peaking at the goal of 10,000 adopted ducks just hours before the event took place. It was the first time since the inception of the regatta that all 10,000 ducks were adopted, Rotary Club President Frank Novak said.
“People kept coming and the best we could do was to take their names, numbers and emails in a non-binding reservation for next year’s regatta,” Novak said. “It’s not often that a service organization sells out an event of this size. I’d like to think that it is because of the dedication and commitment of the Rotary members and also for those that we provide a benefit to. I guess that’s why our international slogan is ‘service above self.’”
Rockingham Toyota Scion Honda of Salem, N.H., donated this year’s grand prize of $10,000 cash and has served as major sponsor for each of the event’s four years. The lucky ducks who came in first in previous regattas won their owners new cars donated by the dealership.
“It was thought that this year’s cash prize would have a wider appeal and it appears that it was in fact true,” Novak said.
This year’s Duck Regatta raised more than $38,000 for charities, after expenses, which Novak said is the largest amount raised since the first event. John Cuneo, director of Community Action in Haverhill, started the Duck Regatta in 2009.
This year’s grand prize winners, Cheryl Bonitz and Marie Krug of Haverhill were notified they’d won within the hours of their duck crossing the finish line.
At an appreciation luncheon for sponsors and volunteers, held Oct. 25 at the Haverhill Country Club, guests were shown an endless loop of pictures taken during the various stages of preparation for the event to the finale, along with images of sponsors and supporters, and a video of this year’s duck drop.
Novak said the Duck Regatta helps support a range of charities in the area, including the Haverhill YMCA and YWCA, the Greater Haverhill Boys & Girls Club, and Girls Inc.
“It’s not about the club. It’s about the people who helped by making donations as well as the volunteers who were the nuts and bolts of the operation,” Novak said. “Without the efforts of our club and other clubs in the city, the needs of many deserving organizations would go unmet.”
Rabbi Ira Korinow of Haverhill won a seven-day 2013 cruise for two from Boston to Bermuda on the Norwegian Dawn. The trip and travel money were donated by Pentucket Bank and transportation to and from Boston Harbor was donated by Black Tie Limo.
Paul Hinds of Groveland won two premium State Street Pavilion tickets (and parking) to the Sept. 25 Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays game, donated by S&R Construction. Virginia Eastman of Danville, N.H., won a golf foursome at Haverhill Country Club, donated by the club. Laurie Dimitrov of Chelmsford won a golf foursome at Apple Hill Golf Club, East Kingston, N.H., donated by the club. King Davis of Haverhill won a manicure and pedicure, donated by The Nail Shoppe in Bradford. Al Veillux of Lawrence won a gift bag, including jacket and various coin collections, donated by Pentucket Bank.