Host Lions in Springfield, Mo., has been handing out prizes to all for generations

For nearly 70 years, volunteers have given up a few days of their summer to gather around a small pond and watch ducks float by. While it might sound relaxing, it can be hectic and hot at times, but it’s all of a good cause.

Since 1949, the Springfield, Mo., Host Lions Club has invited attendees of the Ozark Empire Fair to “dip a duck,” and every duck is a winner. Funds raised during the 10-day fair at the Duck Pond are used to aid the organization’s charitable works.

Lion Wyman Grindstaff said where the idea for a Duck Pond came from isn’t a firm part of the organization’s history, but it’s been speculated over the years that the Host Lions saw it as a way to raise money.

“Someone might have had a connection with the fair, I don’t know, but it all started in a little tent,” Wyman said. “Some years later, someone built the stainless steel pond that we still use today.”

After a few years in the tent, the Host Lions constructed the block building along the midway that continues to house the Duck Pond today. The Host Lions own the building but lease the land from the fairgrounds.

Going to the Ozark Empire Fair is a tradition for many families in the Ozarks, as is a stop by the Duck Pond.

“We have oodles of people who come by and say they remember coming by when they were a kid,” Wyman said. “We even have older people who come in and say that their grandpa brought them to the Duck Pond when they were a kid, and now they are bringing their grandkids.”

During one of his shifts at the recent fair, Wyman said a gentleman came into the Duck Pond with his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and bought them each a duck.

“All 24 won a prize,” Wyman said with a laugh. “Every duck is a winner. The kids really enjoy it and parents like it too and will get pictures of their kids dipping ducks and getting their prizes. It’s just a fun time for the family. People know they aren’t going to get big prizes, but they know that from the proceeds, every penny is going to charity and they know it’s a good cause.”

Wyman said the Host Lions don’t claim to give out “big” prizes during the fair, but feel everyone who walks into Duck Pond deserves to have a little fun.

“Prizes depend on what’s donated,” he said, adding that it could be tickets to a Branson show or other items. Other smaller prizes are purchased by the Host Lions Club.

There are, however, a couple of coveted prizes awarded each year at the fair.

“One of the big prizes is a big jar of pickles,” Wyman said with a laugh. “We give away two of those each day during the fair, and people will come in and say they won the pickles last year and wonder if they’re going to win it again. People are tickled to get it. A big jar of pickles, what a prize, but it’s all part of the fun, and we raise a little money. There aren’t any big vacations or new cars, but it’s fun. We haven’t changed how we’ve done this; we don’t monkey with the formula. We have fixed the building, but we don’t change it and it’s something that people are familiar with.”

In all, about 17,000 prizes are awarded each year.

Funds raised through the Duck Pond at the fair are used for the organization’s charitable budget, which supports a number of charities, including the Leader Dogs, which provides service dogs at a low cost to the blind, as well as for providing glasses for those in need. The Duck Pond is the largest fundraiser for the year for the organization, and Wyman said good weather and large crowds at the 2018 Ozark Empire Fair put the organization on track for another great year.

The Duck Pond is in operation during the fair’s hours and is manned by members and other volunteers.

“We have three people there 12, 13 hours a day,” Wyman said. “We recently merged with another club, so that helped increase our numbers, but we also get help from other Lions Clubs. We give a small share of our return that goes to their charitable budgets, so it really helps the other clubs in the area as well when they help us out.”

One family volunteers each fair in honor of their late fathers and uncles who were Host Lions Club members for many years.

When children come by the Duck Pond, they’re eager to dip their ducks and see what they have won, and Wyman said Lions members also enjoy handing out the prizes.

“We go home tired, but we go home happy,” he said. “Our team all smiles and enjoys it. The kids keep coming through, and we get a whole mix of people and we just enjoy it. Kids don’t come through wondering if they are going to win something, they wonder what they will win. It might be a jump rope, a train whistle, a harmonica or a yo-yo, all kinds of things like that. For every duck you buy, you get a prize. The kids are always excited to see what they win. Sometimes at carnivals, you’re offered big prizes and come away with nothing. Here you always come away with a prize.”

As long as the fair continues, Wyman is sure the Duck Pond will as well.

“We’ve had to replace the ducks a time or two over the years because they wear out eventually, but I’m sure we’ll keep going for many years to come.”

The Springfield Host Lions Club was organized in 1921 and is the second oldest club in the state of Missouri.


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