Barney keeps funds, spirits high

One doesn’t have to know Ducks Unlimited chairman Barney Maher that well to be drawn in by his enthusiasm—especially on the 20th anniversary of the local chapter’s fundraising banquet here Friday night.
“All right people,” Maher said, microphone in hand, to spruce up silent auction bids. “We know there’s plenty of deep pockets here. We just need some longer arms.”
The crowd sputtered into laughter as Maher handled a few good-natured hecklers on the side.
“Pretty lively. How old do you think he is?” was the question longtime DU carver and supporter Ray Coran posed to his table, with a smile that said he knew the answer.
“Would you believe he’s turning 80 in November?”
Indeed, the numbers don’t lie. In 20 years as the only chairman the local DU chapter has known, Maher has hosted every banquet since 1983 and spearheaded net fundraising for wetland preservation past the $440,000 mark.
Before the auction began, local DU member Larry Cousineau and Rick Wishart, director of education programs for DU’s national headquarters, presented Maher with a duck decoy and certificate for his countless hours of volunteering to the cause.
“Hey Barney, can we make a bid?” yelled someone from the audience as he held up the decoy for all to see.
“It was a complete surprise. I didn’t know I was getting it. It was nice of them to do that because it’s been fun, not hard work at all,” said Maher.
“The crowds have always been great. It’s a lot of fun to help them get into it,” he added.
Wishart has worked with Maher on some projects over the years, but Friday night was the first time he had a chance to watch him interact with the banquet crowd.
“For a man his age, he’s tremendously vigorous and energetic,” Wishart said. “He’s very connected with the community. He’s committed to the environment. He believes in the mission of Ducks Unlimited.
“That’s what you need—someone who really believes in this,” he added.
A native of Meaford, Ont. (north of Barrie), Maher was a teacher in Toronto and the Northwest Territories before moving here in 1959.
Even in the years before Ducks Unlimited gained national prominence and the role of conservation came to the forefront, Maher knew there were guidelines sportsmen should follow.
“I like to hunt. I like to fish. I’m an outdoors kind of guy,” he said. “But that old saying is, ‘If you take something out, put it back.’ That’s a pretty good basic rule to anything and that’s what we all have to do.”
And on this 20th year, surely there’s a story of DU’s origin in town worthy to tell. Perhaps a struggle to find fellow sportsmen who had the same ideals with enough gumption to get this organization off the ground?
Not a chance, said Maher.
“It’s pretty simple, really. A bunch of duck hunters got together to have a meeting. We outlined DU’s program and policy and got ourselves involved.
“They said, ‘You be chairman and we’ll help you.’ And I said OK.”
But Maher also was quick to praise his fellow committee members including Cousineau, himself a 19-year member, and DU’s newer members they’ve helped recruit.
“Every year, you try to get new people The committee has grown from eight to 19 and that’s something I’m really proud of,” he remarked.