Steamboat Springs I remember it well. The year was 1988. The place was the In-Season Bakery, now Creekside Cafe & Grill. The occasion was a meeting of Routt Memorial Hospital Auxiliary leaders to discuss an idea for a new fundraiser.
Over coffee, longtime auxiliary member Jan Vail shared an article in a Kiwanis newsletter about an intriguing event that had been held in another Colorado town. The two key ingredients were a river and some rubber ducks.
It didn’t require much conversation to elicit an enthusiastic chorus of “yes,” and thus our own Yampa River Rubber Ducky Race was born. Vail and Anne Severson teamed up as co-chairs, and Kiwanis members and Boy Scouts were recruited to assist with race logistics.
The first year, the auxiliary was happy to sell 500 tickets at $10 each. I remember that some thrifty hospital employees split the cost of a single ticket with other co-workers, while a few businesses bought blocks of 10 tickets, ponying up $100 to support the cause.
Proceeds helped to build the Sunshine Room for activities at the nursing home, then known as Routt Memorial Extended Care Center.
I think everyone was surprised by the size of the crowds that lined the Yampa River and followed the flow of the ducks from Yampa River Park, now Dr. Rich Weiss Park, all the way to the finish line past the 13th Street Bridge.
The event was fresh, fun and family-friendly, as it remains today.
“There are two things I adore about Steamboat Springs: Halloween night and the Rubber Ducky Race,” said Sandie Ihlenfeldt, event publicity chair. “Everyone who loves this event is helping the hospital to grow, $10 at a time.
“We are so grateful to people who buy tickets, our consistent sponsors who have donated prizes for years and new businesses who support this event.”
Rubber Ducky Race co-chair Jaki Oakland said this year’s proceeds will go to Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Family Birth Place. The auxiliary is excited to help purchase a high-tech warmer that will enhance newborn care.
“When you walk through the hospital, there isn’t a department or area that hasn’t been positively impacted by the funds raised over the years,” Oakland said.
“From the blanket warmers in the Emergency Department to the infection-detection equipment in the laboratory to the comfort of the chapel and the family waiting room, Rubber Ducky Race proceeds have made life better for the patients and employees of the hospital.”
Last week, as I looked through the auxiliary scrapbook maintained by Joan Gibbs and YVMC volunteer services coordinator Mindy Fontaine, I came across several keepsakes from the first race in 1988. Among my favorite is a hand-lettered invitation to the kickoff party at Anne and Jim Severson’s home, where auxiliary members learned more about the new event.
I recognize the handwriting as my own, along with the slogans “Wanna Buy a Duck?” and “What a Quack-Up!”
Today’s publicity efforts are much more sophisticated, drawing on Ihlenfeldt’s considerable talents as a designer. Other elements of the race have evolved, as well, though several ingredients remain unchanged.
The race succeeds because of the efforts of dedicated Auxiliary members and support from community members, it still costs $10 to “adopt” a numbered duck, and people continue to cluster at the finish line, eager to find out if they have won a prize.
Auxiliary members are selling tickets at Ace at the Curve today and will be stationed at a City Market sales table this week.
On Saturday morning, the 24th annual race will be set up at the Fifth Street Bridge beginning at 9 a.m. Ticket sales will stop just before 10 a.m., when an expected 2,500 duckies will be dumped into the river.
Spectators then will dash to Lincoln Park, across from the Depot Art Center, hoping to see their lucky duckies in the lead. If the past is any indicator, I will not claim a season ski pass or any other prize, yet I still will feel like a winner.
Christine McKelvie is the public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at email@example.com.