Rainy night shoots down duck races in Waukesha

Mary Catanese
Members of the Goetz family — (from left) Greg, Marcus, Dawn and Nancy —hold up the tickets (as well as a tiny rubber duck) they bought for the Rubber Duck Race on Saturday, Aug. 2. It was canceled for safety reasons.
Published on: 8/4/2014

These ducks just can't get in the water.

For the second straight year, a rubber duck race that was supposed to take place down the Fox River over the Barstow Street bridge was canceled.

"I'm very disappointed, but it was just too dangerous," said Jeff Homar, race organizer and local artist.

Homar said because of the significant rainfall Waukesha received on Friday, Aug. 1, the night before the race, the conditions on the river were "too risky."

"We were all ready to go on Friday, but the risk was too high," Homar said.

Homar said people initially didn't understand why the race had to be canceled since the weather on the day of the race was nice.

"But once they realized that people had to go into the water to set up, and that it takes three people to collect a thousand ducks, they understood," Homar said.

Last year, the race, called the Waukesha GuitarTown Rubber Duck race, was planned for a Saturday afternoon in October. But it was canceled after the state Department of Justice informed a small community in northeastern Wisconsin that rubber duck races are a form of illegal gambling. Given this news, Homar called off Waukesha's race.

"I wasn't going to violate the law," Homar said.

However, Rep. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, introduced a law to legalize duck races, often used as fundraisers, last fall. After the bill was passed in the state Assembly, it was then approved in the Senate before getting signed by Gov. Scott Walker this spring. Organizations who have raffle licenses from the state would now be allowed to hold the races.

Given the green light, Homar scheduled this year's rubber duck race for Aug. 2, which coincided with one of the West End Artists' Art Crawls in downtown Waukesha.

Homar said interest was high — about $2,500 was generated from ticket sales and about $1,200 worth of prizes were donated. While the event was ultimately called off, proceeds are still going to benefit the Donna Lexa Community Arts Program and the West End Artists to help fund the Art Crawls.

A raffle drawing was also still held and 31 winners were selected. Winners received prizes and gift certificates for downtown businesses.

The 1,000 ducks Homar now has in his house are the property of the West End Artists and the Waukesha Downtown Business Association, which partnered with the West End Artists, since it was issued a Class A license (the state issues licenses for raffles that sell the tickets on days other than the day of the drawing).

So will Homar again try to bring out the rubber ducks in 2015?

"I'm not sure about next year," Homar said. "I was twice burned, so I think I learned my lesson."