This column in Attraction, by Amelia Blades Steward, visits the faces of those who have benefited from the generous and tireless work of the nonprofits on the Mid Shore or are one of the organizations giving back in unique ways to better our world. She has been a freelance writer in our community for over 20 years and offers a glimpse into the lives of residents on the Mid Shore whom she has met along the way.
Volunteerism has been at the center of the Waterfowl Festival’s success since its inception in 1971. The event was founded by a group of volunteers who had a passion for wildlife conservation and creating an event to celebrate wildlife art and life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Following the death of one of the Festival’s founders, William A. “Bill” Perry, the Festival’s Board of Directors set up a scholarship fund in 1997 in memory of Bill. It was funded primarily from the proceeds of the Festival’s Preview Night Cocktail Decoy Auction. Since its founding, The William A. Perry Scholarship Fund has awarded more than $200,000 to students who have been Festival volunteers.
“Our family has been very proud of the scholarship program and the students it has helped over the years. Any one student who volunteers is eligible to apply for a scholarship, even if they don’t have an interest in studying conservation or the environment,” comments Denise Riley, one of Bill Perry’s daughters and a past chairman of the William A. Perry Scholarship Fund Committee. The William A. Perry Scholarship Fund is one of many ways that the Festival gives back to the community. It rewards the volunteer spirit of youth in the community, many of whom carry that spirit into their adulthood as volunteers.
Volunteerism has always been at the core of the Festival’s mission. The Bill Perry family is an example of many families whose children and grandchildren volunteer to make the weekend a success. The family coined the phrase “duck sitter,” which is still used today as the name of the Festival’s student volunteers. Bill’s wife Betty got involved and made the original uniforms for the duck sitters – a vest, pants, and a flannel shirt with a hunting license tag with the volunteer’s name. Duck sitters serve as the face of the Festival in many other volunteer capacities. These include serving as runners for the Festival office, dressing up as Webster the Goose and Willa the Fox mascots, helping with Festival events, as well as aiding with set up and clean up.
According to Pat Crane of Easton, a member of the Waterfowl Festival Board early on and the current Chairman of the William A. Perry Scholarship Fund Committee that she has served on since 2010, scholarships are awarded by a committee whose current members include Jerry Serie, Barbara Watson, Kim Newcomb, Ken Miller, and Colin Perry.
Pat shares, “Many of the students who volunteer have parents who have volunteered. College has gotten so expensive, so we know that many of the students who receive scholarships need the funds to help with those costs. It’s gratifying both to help them know the need and that so many of these kids truly love the Waterfowl Festival and give their time and their energy to it.”
Scholarships are available to high school seniors who will be attending an accredited college/university, or trade school, or to students enrolled in graduate or post-graduate degree programs. All applicants must have volunteered at least 10 hours of service with the Festival not less than two years before their application and have a 3.0 cumulative average. Students must also submit an essay about what the Waterfowl Festival means to them. Students may reapply for the scholarship annually, not receiving more than five scholarships from the Festival.
In 2020, the Festival awarded scholarships to 16 students and in 2021, the Festival awarded eight scholarships. In 2021, the Festival received a $500,000 bequest from Joan C. Richards, a photographer who exhibited annually at the Festival. The bequest directly benefits the William A. Perry Scholarship Fund. This enabled the Committee to award scholarships in 2022 ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 to 10 students.
To support The William A. Perry Scholarship Fund, the entire Perry family coordinates the Festival’s Preview Night Cocktail Decoy Auction. This event is a favorite of many Festival goers who enjoy collecting miniature carvings, which range in price from $100 to over $3,000 each. The event was originally founded around the premise that the carvings had to fit into a cocktail glass and the carvings were called “cocktail decoys.” In the spirit of the Festival, carvers donate the carvings for this fundraiser, which on average raises $10,000 to $15,000 a year for student scholarships.
Christopher Kaminskas of Easton, who has been a scholarship recipient for three years, is one of the students interested in the conservation or preservation fields. He is attending Coastal Carolina University as a Marine Science major.
“My grandfather introduced me to my love of the environment. In the summers, I spent time on the water with him. This major allows me to combine my love of water with my love of science,” Christopher states.
“The Waterfowl Festival scholarships have made it easier to pursue what I want to study. They have specifically helped me with my textbooks and lab costs. I probably would not have been able to do this major in Maryland, so it has helped enable me to attend school out of state.”
He reflects, “I worked at the Festival as a volunteer doing set-up, clean-up, helping with the Dock Dogs, and being a duck sitter. I had a fun time volunteering – it was educational, teaching me more about waterfowl and conservation. It also showed me how important environmental protection is and introduced me to my career field.”
Another student, Grant Foster of Trappe, received four years of scholarships while attending Salisbury University where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in environmental studies. He interned at the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy and the Oyster Recovery Project through the Department of Natural Resources. He is now working with Lane Engineering in the survey department.
Grant started working at the Waterfowl Festival as a volunteer when he was in middle school. He has volunteered as the mascot, as a duck sitter, and most recently for the Calling Contest and at the Sportsman’s Pavilion.
“To have something that has been around over 50 years support me in college for all four years was huge. I have gotten to know so many people involved through the Festival, and they are like family to me. I am continuing to carry on the tradition by volunteering today. They backed me for four years so the least I can do is to give back to them,” Grant states.
“The Festival wants to make sure the next generation knows what they are doing around conservation. It influenced my career choice, and I learned about conservation and the culture of our area and why we need to protect it,” he added.
For information on the William A. Perry Scholarships, visit waterfowlfestival.org/perry-scholarship-application/.
Preview Night Cocktail Decoy Auction
This year’s Decoy Auction will be held as a silent auction so all Festival-goers will have an opportunity to bid. The one-of-a-kind carvings will be displayed in the Atrium of the Academy Art Museum from Thursday, November 10, through Sunday, November 13. Winners may pick up the decoy on Sunday afternoon or have the decoy shipped.