The Maplewood Duck Race — held every year in Memorial Park after the Memorial Day parade and ceremony at Maplewood Town Hall — is under new management this year. Stepping in to carry on the tradition started by the Maplewood Kiwanis is the South Mountain YMCA.
The iconic Maplewood event founded in 1998 — yes, we know, it feels like there never was a Maplewood without the duck race! — began when Marge Welkir, manager of the bank that formerly occupied the Bank of America space in Maplewood Village, came to a Maplewood Kiwanis meeting and was looking for help for a crazy fundraising idea she’d heard about — racing rubber ducks down a river.
“My mom was the first to raise her hand and began researching how they were run,” reported Claire Gianni Sinclair, referring to her mother Ellie Gianni, the “duck lady” known to many who saw her sitting outside the Maplewood Stationers year in and year out selling tickets for ducks. Ellie passed away in 2013.
“My mom was NOT computer literate and had no idea how to use a computer at the time,” said Sinclair.
The event started with five races and 500 ducks in each race, said Charlie Gianni, proprietor of Maplewood Stationers, husband to Ellie and father to Claire. In recent years, the number of races has has grown to six and the number of ducks has been increased to 700 per race to keep up with the demand for tickets (each ticket buys a duck).
At first, race prizes for the top 12 ducks per race came just from merchants, said Gianni, but as the popularity of the race grew, sponsorships did as well.
Sponsorships range in price from $100-500. The $100 level gets your name on the signs at the duck ticket sales booth; $250 for a sign in the brook; and $500 for a starting line, ending line or “prime location” banner. You can also be a prize sponsor and get listed on all raffle tickets for $25, $50, or $75. Some regular $500 sponsors include Village Trattoria, Roman Gourmet, the South Orange Maplewood Education Association and the Maplewood Country Club. (To find out more about sponsoring this year’s race, visit here.)
According to Gianni, the beneficiaries over the years have remained the same: South Mountain YMCA, the Department of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly Department of Youth and Family Services), the South Orange and Maplewood libraries, local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, local food pantries and the Valerie Fund among others.
In recognition of the race’s contributions to the Y and the importance of the race to the South Orange-Maplewood community, the Kiwanis have now handed over the reins of the race to the South Mountain YMCA.
Gianni said that the Kiwanis group is also passing the baton to the South Mountain YMCA because there has been a decline in membership in the Kiwanis due to retirement, deaths and lack of interest and/or time. Plus, the Y “can reach many more people.”
“The South Mountain YMCA has been thrilled and honored to be a partner in the running of the Duck Race over the years and couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to continue this ‘quacky’ tradition that is not only fun, but serves to significantly impact our community,” said James Goodger, Executive Director of the South Mountain Y.
“Traditions are wonderful things and you can be sure the ducks are in good hands with our dedicated staff and volunteers, and there will be plenty of new ‘quacky’ surprises in the build up to the big day!”
Goodger is hoping that the community rallies behind the event.
“Our goal is of course to put on a great event for the entire family and to raise as much money as possible through sponsorships and ticket sales, but most importantly we want everyone to know that all proceeds support youth and families.”
Fun facts about the Maplewood Duck Race:
- In all of the years since 1998, it has rained only ONCE on the Maplewood Duck Race — in 2004. (It’s probably tempting fate to report this.)
- In the early years of the race, the Kiwanis rented the giant duck costume used to promote the race. Therefore, if you look back at old photos, the duck changes quite a bit from year to year. About 10 years ago, the Kiwanis purchased a costume and one local hero, Janice Saleo, has been the duck every year except one (she was sick) when Claire Sinclair stepped in. This year, the duck costume may pop up in some new venues around the towns (watch out, South Orange!) and have multiple wearers, including some of the very game staffers at the Y.
- The first Maplewood Duck Race raised $3,000 and the second $5,000. The amount has since grown steadily and now averages between $18-20,000 a year.
The South Mountain YMCA will soon be announcing information and locations for purchasing duck tickets. Visit www.metroymcas.org/south-mountain-ymca/south-mountain-ymca.
With reporting from Claire Gianni Sinclair.
Enjoy a photo gallery of recent Duck Race photos (2012-2015). Photos by Claire Gianni Sinclair. Click on images to enlarge.