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a recipe for healthy babies: 10th annual march of dimes signature chefs auction
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner

Fifteen years ago, a persistent NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation volunteer with a desire to start an event that was unique and special to the area approached a local business owner to ask for a donation. The result? Half of a gun.

Although DNW Outdoors owners Dennis and Kay Noell were conservative with their donation on the front end, after attending the inaugural event, the couple fully committed to the fundraiser – Duck Classic. Now heading into its 15th year, Duck Classic has raised millions of dollars for the foundation’s causes and heads into this year’s event with not only DNW Outdoors as a longtime partner, but with national sponsorship and record numbers, too.

“Duck Classic was started out of a need to fund the programs offered by the NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation,” said Kim Provost, the foundation’s longtime director of events. “At the time, we had two programs – our Medicine Assistance Program and HopeCircle. These programs were created to fill an unmet need in our community, and due to demand, we found ourselves quickly looking for ways to generate funding. The Duck Classic was created to meet this need.”

NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation’s big waterfowl event was started by Jim Boswell, NEA Baptist’s CEO at the time. He brought on Mark Carpenter to help launch his idea of a charitable event that revolved around duck hunting, and the rest is history.

“Jim and I were friends, and I often came over from Fort Smith to do some duck hunting with him,” said Carpenter. “One time, he said (NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation) was doing a fundraiser, and they wanted it to be different than the usual type of golf fundraiser. I was familiar with a fundraising event in Tennessee where people came in for a one-day hunt with guides and had participated in it before, and I thought it could really work here.

“I thought we could use the natural resources of NEA, that being ducks, and put together a duck hunting event similar to the Governor’s One Shot Turkey Hunt in Tennessee. … We wanted to do something different to raise money for the foundation. NEA has a rich duck hunting heritage, so we focused on that to create this event.”

The first year, the Duck Classic was held at the Colonade and raised $18,000. Carpenter recalls that 150 people attended the banquet, and 12 four-man teams participated in the hunt. Last year, 1,700 people came to the Friday night dinner and auction, and 32 teams participated in the hunt.

“We are so excited to be celebrating 15 years of Duck Classic,” said Provost, who has been involved with the past 14 of those. “Thanks to the support of our community, this event has raised $3.84 million to help those in need in our region.  

“Personally, I am deeply grateful for the multitude of volunteers who help with the event. It takes an army to make Duck Classic happen, and I am truly thankful to those who give of their time to make Duck Classic a success.”

That dedicated army of volunteers, many of whom have been working to grow Duck Classic for years, includes Auction Chair Erica Huffstetler, Landowner Recruitment Chair Clint Parton, Dennis Noell, Kay Noell, Ed Vickery, Bob Snell, Mike Webb, Clint Parton, Bob Harrison, Clay Hubbard, Brad Parsons, Mark Carpenter, Zach Fahlberg, Robbie Johnson, Randy Thompson, Cameron McCarty, Jon Wilbanks, Trevor Young, Joey Speir, Tim Smith and Danial Reed.

“People enjoy being able to participate in an activity they love for a great cause,” said Provost. “NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation offers services free to our community with the goal of improving the overall health of our residents.”

The foundation currently supports six free programs: Medicine Assistance Program, which helps patients obtain free medications; HopeCircle, which provides a community of hope, support and educational programming to families living with a catastrophic illness; Wellness Works, an exercise and nutrition program for those with chronic illness; Center for Healthy Children, an exercise and nutrition education program for children who struggle with weight problems; ShareHope, a support program for those who have dealt with the tragic death of a baby through pregnancy loss, stillbirth or in the first few months of life; and the most recent addition, Center for Good Grief, a comprehensive bereavement center for those who are grieving the death of a loved one.

It’s programs like those that make it so worthwhile to support the Duck Classic, according to the Noells, longtime event supporters and partners.

“When I first met with Dennis at DNW and I told him what we were doing, he said he got hit up all the time and he wasn’t able to donate,” said Carpenter. “But, I kept coming back, and he eventually agreed to donate half a gun if we would buy the other half. He and his wife attended the event, and he came up to me that night and said ‘I’m all in.’ He and Kay are major, major contributors to the success of Duck Classic.”

The Noells were indeed all in. From hunting and guiding to providing the space for the landowners dinner and hunter check-in, 14 years later, DNW Outdoors and Duck Classic now go hand-in-hand.
“The second year, they wanted us to become more involved, and we decided it was a cause that really fit with our business and could really help us give back more to the community,” said Dennis.
“… It was just a great fit right off the bat.”

Kay agrees and says that the Duck Classic and DNW are like a marriage.

“We are tied to this,” said Kay of the event. “We are heavily dependent on each other and the community. The community has been so great to support this event. The people in NEA understand the value of our natural resource – ducks.

“It was a no-brainer for us. We knew it was something we needed to be a part of, and as it grew, we wanted to become more involved. They put all of our customers in one room. They do a great job with the charitable programs they have, and the money stays here locally. That’s so important. … I don’t think it can be replicated. It’s the perfect fit and the perfect partnership.”

DNW Outdoors has helped bring many national sponsors to the event, such as Under Armor, Banded, Drake and Frogg Toggs. Those major corporate sponsors helped Duck Classic gain recognition across the country, which has led to two TV shows over the years and an event that now brings in hunters from 13 different states. The 2016 Duck Classic grossed $600,000 for the foundation.

In addition to the highly anticipated live and silent auctions, a large fundraiser for the foundation is the Grand Classic Raffle. Several local sponsors team up to provide a raffle prize that outshines all others: a duck truck donated by Glen Sain and tricked out by DNW Automotive, a Polaris Ranger donated by Barton Powersports and two guns. Only 600 $100 tickets are sold for a chance to win the amazing package.

“Some people thought this would be short-lived, but I think because of the passion of the people on the committee and the generosity of the community, that has not been the case,” said Carpenter. “It’s just such a great event for the community. One of the things we pride ourselves with is that we try to make sure the drawings are high grade guns and stay first class with that perspective. We make sure our donors and landowners and sponsors all know we appreciate how much they do for us, and I think that’s really helped us over the years. Without these people, this event would not happen.”

The 2017 NEA Baptist Charitable Foundation Duck Classic banquet will take place on Dec. 7, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Arkansas State University Convocation Center. The hunt will take place the morning of Dec. 8. For more information about the 15th anniversary Duck Classic, visit duckclassic.com or call (870) 336-1421.