Former Duck Derby volunteer captures event’s grand prize

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A former Duck Derby volunteer became the latest grand prize winner of the Advocates for Children’s annual benefit. Cartersville resident Susan Simonton “adopted” 50 ducks in a Very Important Duck package, with one claiming the $10,000 top award Saturday.

“Rachel called me on the phone and told me, and I was in shock at first,” she said, referring to Rachel Castillo, Advocates’ CEO and president. “Bottom line — I have worked with Advocates and been on the board, [and] been in charge of water activities for the Duck Derby since the beginning until about two years ago.

“… So it sort of feels like, wow — payback. You do good deeds and you don’t expect anything in return. But I think I got something in return.”

Serving in the education field for 24 years, including being South Central Middle School’s first principal in 1989, Simonton now is semi-retired from her work as a financial planner/investment advisor. Supporting Advocates prior to the Duck Derby’s launch in the early 2000s, Simonton underscored the important services the nonprofit provides for children who “need someone looking out for them and caring for them.”

“The biggest thing the Duck Derby has ever done, I think from my humble opinion, is raise awareness,” Simonton said. “People got excited about the Duck Derby.

“It just sounded like such a neat idea. I think a lot of people learned about Advocates because of the Duck Derby and that’s still the case.”

Debuting a new look and location this year, the Duck Derby showcased a man-made waterway at Sam Smith Park in Cartersville. On Friday, yellow rubber duck sales topped 17,000.

Led by Simonton, the Top 11 Duck Derby finishers included Julie Peace, second place; Samson Salono, third; Alison Biles, fourth; Cathy Menerey, fifth; Frank Pratt, sixth; Jamie Row, seventh; Julie Casler-Tyrrell, eighth; Chris and Brandy Seats, ninth; Carole Anne Craton, 10th; and Fincher Services, 11th. The last duck belonged to Dan Kramer.

Featuring about 60 entries, the earlier VID contest awarded prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 to the Top 3 finishers: Chris and Brandy Seats, Phillip Ray and Matt Sellers.

“We are over the moon ecstatic with how everything turned out Saturday," said Melissa Warren, Advocates' events manager. "The forecast I think kept a lot of guests away, but it was still a beautiful day, very limited rain. We were not dealing with the monsoon and the lightning that we thought we were going to be faced with.

“So knowing that the weather played in our favor lightened the load for us that day. We were ecstatic to have people who braved the chance of coming out just to see it. Everything essentially worked flawlessly as far as the new race format.”

After the VID race, the main event featured three qualifying heats featuring nearly 7,000 ducks each. Volunteers scooped the fastest competitors in the three races, with the last contest consisting of a few hundred.

Formed in 1983, Advocates for Children assists more than 3,000 area youth and families each year. Along with operating Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter, the organization provides numerous programs that aid in the awareness, prevention and treatment of child abuse.

Overall, the Duck Derby related events — also including the Duck Dash 5K and Fun Run — generated more than $101,000.

“The Duck Derby is one of my favorite things that Advocates for Children does,” Warren said. “It’s where I came in contact with the organization, and it truly has such an enormous reach in the community through our Quacky Cash, senior sales contestants, and our sales teams — businesses, merchants, manufacturers — here in our community.

“We are able to reach so many people that we would never be able to even through social media or an email blast. There are new people who learn about our organization from supporting a friend or supporting a friend’s kid. We are so thankful for the way that this community always seems to rally around us and make this event a success.”

As Warren noted, the Quacky Cash contest played a key role in this year’s benefit.

According to Advocates’ news release, “Seven local high school seniors competed in our Quacky Cash competition with one of three cash prizes presented to the students who sold the most ducks. To be eligible, these seniors had to sell at least 500 ducks and be a resident of Cartersville/Bartow County.

“The top spot went to Woodland High School senior Taylor Tyree who sold 2,455 ducks. Next up was Colbi Ballard, of Cartersville High School, selling 1,938 ducks, followed by Kaylee Jones, also of Woodland High School, selling 1,350 ducks. Combined, the seven high school seniors contributed 9,139 ducks — 53% — to the overall total.”