On the eve of yet another Texas/OU weekend, it’s time for the arrival of one of the Red River Valley’s most storied annual traditions.
And no, I’m not talking about tomorrow’s big college football game between the Longhorns and the Sooners down at the Cotton Bowl, an annual gridiron grudge match played between the two rival universities since 1900.
Instead, I’m talking about another tradition in this region, one that I was introduced to in 1987 as a 20-something year old college student at the University of North Texas.
That particular year, on a chilly mid-October evening, I attended my first ever Ducks Unlimited dinner at a hangar at Denison’s Grayson County Airport as the facility was known back in those days.
Already an enthusiastic duck hunter since my days at Denison High School, I was immediately taken by the wall-to-wall camouflage, duck decoys, wildlife and sporting art and brand new hunting gear that sat perched on fold-up banquet tables put into the local hangar as the national organization celebrated its 50th anniversary that year.
When I walked out of the dinner that night, I knew that while that evening might have been my first ever DU event, it would certainly not be my last.
Now some 30 years later, I’m a married man of 25 years along with being a proud father to a daughter who graduated from the University of Texas at Austin earlier this year (is there any doubt who we’re rooting for in the Cotton Bowl this weekend? Hook ‘em Horns!).
And that’s not to mention my two duck hunting sons, one a student at Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the other a student at Stephen F. Austin State University.
While marriage and raising a family have provided several major changes over the last three decades, come this next week, I intend to keep one thing very much the same.
Lord willing, next Tuesday evening, I’ll make a pilgrimage to the local airport again to get my annual DU fix as the Texoma Ducks Unlimited chapter opens the doors for its 42nd annual fundraiser.
According to Jim Lillis, a retired DU senior regional director from Sherman and one of the original founders of the Texoma chapter, this year’s local dinner will be on Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Ray Davis Hangar at North Texas Regional Airport at 4700 Airport Road in Denison.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. and the Texas Roadhouse catered dinner will begin at 7 p.m. That will be followed by the silent auction, the live auction, and the event’s superb raffles and games.
Like the previous 41 fundraising dinners held by the local wetland and waterfowl conservation group, this year’s Texoma DU dinner will feature plenty of DU collectible items, artwork, and sporting firearms. There will also be plenty of decoys, sculptures, hunting gear, and even a trip or two.
Much of the merchandise mentioned above will be 80th anniversary items as the Memphis, Tenn. based organization celebrates eight decades since a group of far thinking sportsmen founded the organization while the Dust Bowl raged and decimated vital wetland nesting grounds across the northern Great Plains and southern Canada.
All told, DU’s hard work since then has conserved more than 13 million acres of habitat across the continent since the late 1930s when duck populations plummeted to near all-time lows.
While much of that work has focused on vital breeding grounds up north, recent decades have also seen plenty of work on migration corridors and wintering grounds down the various flyways including a number of projects in Texas, Oklahoma, and even a few right here in Texomaland.
Each year, much of DU’s wetland conservation work takes place in large part thanks to the countless local dinners that are held in places like Denison and Sherman.
While the basic fundraising formula remains pretty much the same from banquet to banquet, there are a few subtle differences from year to year. Lillis noted that one such change this year will be the inclusion of several items donated by the estate of the late Ray Matthews, a longtime Texoma DU supporter and a tireless worker for the ducks who passed away in 2016.
“Ray loved the Texoma Ducks Unlimited chapter and was a past area chairman and treasurer over the years,” said Lillis. “His family has donated a number of items back to us.
“Part of the donations from the estate this year will include some highly collectible Terry Redlin artwork, some DU decanters from the 1990s, some sculptures, and even a wooden flying mallard decoy by carver R.D. Wilson. Ray’s influence will continue on and help our chapter for several more years to come.”
For those interested in attending, ticket prices to the 42nd annual Texoma DU event are $50 in advance, $60 at the door. Greenwings (youth 17 and under) are $25. Sponsorships are $250 (Bronze Sponsorship); $650 (Silver Sponsorship with a table reserved for five people); and $1,250 (Gold Sponsorship with a table reserved for 10 people).
Each ticket gives attendees the chance to win door prizes, the evening’s catered Texas Roadhouse dinner and beverages, and a one-year’s membership into DU including a year’s subscription to the award winning Ducks Unlimited magazine.
Tickets can be purchased at Risk Shoe Store, from local dentist Dr. Mark Smith, from area chairman Eric Kloppers, and from other Texoma DU committee members.
They may also be purchased online before the Oct. 16, 2017 deadline at the following URL: http://www.ducks.org/texas/events/47233/texoma-dinner.
For more information on Ducks Unlimited, please visit www.ducks.org or call Eric Kloppers at 903-815-2229, Kris Spiegel at 903-820-8882, or Jim Salling at 903-463-1151.
See you next Tuesday evening at NTRA, just in time for one of the year’s can’t miss Texoma traditions as several hundred quacker backers get together to raise money for the ducks.
Funds just as necessary today as they were way back in the 1930s.