For Bonnie and Butch Chambers, it is the Waterfowl Festival’s volunteer spirit that keeps them coming back to help with the event year after year. It is their own volunteer spirit that has earned them a place in the Waterfowl Festival Hall of Fame.
Those selected for the honor have demonstrated at least ten years of significant support for the Festival and have had a major impact on the world of wildlife art or conservation. Working for more than twenty years with countless dedicated volunteers, along with a lot of well trained canines, the Chamberses have been instrumental in staging one of the most popular Festival attractions and contributing to the cause of wildlife conservation and the heritage of waterfowling.
Bonnie and Butch Chambers have been co-chairs of the Festival’s Retriever Demonstrations since the crowd-pleasing event was first held in the early 1980s. Bonnie started out as a volunteer at the Duck Stamps exhibit in 1973, when the Festival was only a couple years old. She also worked as secretary for the organization for a few years in the late 1980s.
When the Talbot Retriever Club was asked to put on an exhibition for visitors, she and Butch took the lead in coordinating the event. With retrievers of their own, both have served as Retriever Club president, vice president and board members over the years.
Butch is recognized as one of the top competitors and judges in the America Field Trial arena. He has judged numerous All-Age stakes and has competed and judged at the national level. They are sponsoring members of the Maryland Waterfowlers Association, Delta Waterfowl and Ducks Unlimited.
Both Bonnie and Butch continue to work with the Talbot Retriever Club to stage the Retriever Demonstrations, where trained canines entertain crowds by splashing into ponds to retrieve dummies thrown from or hidden on shore.
Dog handling holds enough challenges in itself. Staging an event like this presents an array of challenges of a different type, and Bonnie and Butch have taken them all in stride. One of the biggest can be finding an appropriate site. Crowd-friendly ponds are not in great supply, but the team has successfully staged the show at three different ponds over the years as availability of different sites changed.
Weather is another challenge constantly faced at an outdoor event. “As long as people come out to watch, we’ll do it,” Butch Chambers said. “Invariably, Waterfowl Festival is the beginning of winter, but the dogs don’t seem to mind.” He can recall only one or two demonstrations that were canceled due to weather.
In addition to furthering the Waterfowl Festival’s conservation mission through their volunteer efforts, Bonnie and Butch also practice wildlife and habitat conservation close to home. They own tracts of land that are managed as wildlife habitat, and their home sits on a large tree farm in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Their dedication to the Festival, waterfowling and conservation have earned the couple this year’s induction into the Hall of Fame. Bonnie Chambers described herself as amazed when they heard of the honor. “There have been so many people over the years who have done such great things for the Festival,” she said. “It really has been the Talbot Retriever Club. We’re just the people behind the scenes.”