Walking in the rain with Wally: Duck race struts its new look

Wally the Duck leads the way as a band marches behind him during the Pequabuck River Duck Race on Sunday. The rain didn’t keep patrons away from the event in Forestville even if the rubber ducks didn’t get a chance to ‘race’ this year. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)



The 15th annual Duck Race, Sunday, May 5, saw a new spin on the staple community event. The Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce set out to create a community festival, engaging all Bristol residents for the entire day, as opposed to just the race.

President of the chamber Cindy Bombard said that by 11 a.m., almost 4,000 tickets had been sold, and they were still selling tickets until 1 p.m.

A rainy day for the Duck Race isn’t out of the norm, but this year, the rain posed a tricky situation.


Due to the historic rainfall in April and early May, explained Chamber marketing and communications director Katie D’Agostino, the river was deemed too unsafe for community volunteers to enter. Each year, volunteers help ensure that all 5,000 rubber ducks don’t get stuck on debris, in order to reach the finish line.

“Plan B is always to put the raffle tickets in a drum and pull the winners the old fashioned way which is what we did,” said D’Agostino. “We even used Facebook Live for the entire prize draw so that the community could see what was going on.”

As always, the first 36 ducks, or tickets, out of 5,000 were crowned the winners, and each of the top 36 walked away with a prize.

Taking home first place, and $1,500 sponsored by The Ultimate Companies, was Dave Rackliffe. Second place, $750 sponsored by Yarde Metals, went to Sandy Marino. Third place, a 43 inch television sponsored by Sandy’s TV & Appliances, was awarded to Lindsey Smith.

New this year was the introduction of a live mural artist, Nick Stafko, owner of Black Pearl Custom Artwork, based out of Southington. He described Black Pearl Custom Artwork as being a team of about six artists, all skilled in different disciplines, working collaboratively to produce customized pieces such as logos or murals.

Stafko, who is currently studying criminology with a minor in art at Central Connecticut State University, started the company a few months ago, but has been a mural artist for the past nine years. He explained he worked as an apprentice under an artist who is now sponsored by Disney, and through that apprenticeship he learned all of the techniques behind spray paint art.

Stafko met with City Arts and Culture Commissioner Lindsay Vigue, who he said gave him “a lot of creative freedom.” He explained that Vigue envisioned something that allowed festival attendees to interact with the art, something that was three dimensional, and something that could be painted live during the festival.

One of the original ideas would have featured an umbrella, rain, and a splashing puddle. But, the finished product features a rubber duck surfing a tidal wave, as an opening door attempts to contain a set of kraken-like tentacles.

“Not only can people stand in it and be involved in it, which is usually different for art – most art can’t be involved with – and then on top of that it’s three dimensional, so it kind of comes out at you. When you’re involved in it, it actually looks like the door is opening and the wave is actually coming out of it,” said Stafko. “It’s a two dimensional thing but when you’re involved in it, and [in] the pictures it’s gonna look three dimensional. So that was a big point of it, having the people get involved in it, which a lot of art doesn’t do so it’s a unique opportunity.”

Stafko explained that due to the weather, the majority of the spray painting that was needed for the mural was done off-site, but, he could still be seen throughout the day hand painting details into the mural.

Race goers Piper Allen, 9, River Fellows, 8, and Arthur Allen, 3, said taking photos with Wally the Duck was their favorite part of the day, and Piper Allen really enjoyed getting lollipops.

Fellows explained that they all were able to purchase tickets, but they had to complete their chores in order to earn them. Piper Allen and Fellows carried a four leaf clover with them for good luck. Had their ducks won first place, Piper wanted to donate her winnings to the homeless, and River wanted to bake a 20 layer cake, after buying the “world’s most toys,” of course.

Members of the Miss Bristol and Miss Forestville Scholarship Organization operated a booth that offered raffles, the proceeds from which would benefit their organization. Miss Forestville Jaymie Bianca, and Miss Forestville’s Outstanding Teen Irelynn Janelle said they were excited to be attending the Duck Race.

“I was so excited to attend the Duck Race because I knew it was one of the most exciting events in the Bristol community,” said Janelle. “I’m so excited to be here and be able to help out.”

Bianca, who was born and raised in Bristol, said she hasn’t been able to attend the Duck Race for several years. “It means a lot to be able to come back,” she said, “and even though the weather isn’t being as cooperative as I’m sure we would all have liked, it’s a wonderful day, and it’s still great to spend the day in my hometown.”

Also lending a hand during the festival was the Bristol Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). CERT member Kimberly Ploszaj explained she and members Sean September, Deborah Dorsey, and Sue Radke, would be assisting with traffic control of the area, and operating a first aid and information booth.

“[CERT is] modeled after a federal program, FEMA, which is emergency management, and we assist the city mostly through the police department, fire department, with different activities,” said Ploszaj.

But, she explained, CERT’s main focus is providing shelter for residents in times of emergency.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.


Eleven year old Jake Maldonado (left) boxing with Ascension Athletics Instructor Jerimiah Vega, in a demonstration.
Trisha Connelly (left) and Lindsay Vigue have some fun with the 3-D mural that Nick Stafko painted.
Artist Nick Stafko of Black Pearl Custom Design, puts the finishing touches on his 3-D mural.
Bristol’s CERT- Community Emergency Response Team was represented at the Central Connectcut Chamber of Commerce’s Pequabuck River Duck Race last Sunday. (L to R) Katie D’ Agostino, Dee Babkirk, Kimberly Ploszaj, Sean September, Deborah Dorsey, Sue Radke, and Wally the Duck.