Members of the El Campo Country Club can enjoy golfing, fishing and time outdoors, but one member makes time to visit the location every day for another activity – feeding the resident duck.
Almost every afternoon, George Matthews makes his way onto the nine-hole golf course, driving a club golf cart out to the pond by hole two. Matthews is a calm, polite man, but he drives his cart with abandon, fearlessly taking the small hills of the golf course even if that means the vehicle briefly teeters 45 degrees to one side.
Matthews’ duck is a brown and gray feathered mallard. He’s got bright orange feet and a green head that shines iridescent blue in the sun. He is simply named “Ducky Ducky,” and that’s what Matthews calls when he arrives at the pond.
“Not real complicated,” Matthews said about the duck’s name, chuckling.
In front of other people, the duck is reluctant to come close, staying near the water, even when Matthews enticingly rattles his bucket of feed. The bird acts differently when alone with Matthews, and he has videos on his cellphone to prove it.
In one clip Matthews took, only the scenery of the pond is visible in the first frame, except for one small dot in the distance. The green-headed spec makes a beeline in Matthew’s direction, waddling as fast as its little flipper feet can manage. Once the duck is nearby, he sprinkles a handful of cracked corn on the grass.
Sometimes the duck starts running toward him before they can even see each other, Matthews said. He has other photos of the duck on his phone. Some of him in the water, swimming, others of him pecking at corn on the ground.
Matthews takes his duty seriously, coming every day to feed the duck corn or duck feed pellets. Serious doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy the job though. Driving around the golf course on his cart, Matthews waves to the other golfers, stopping to talk if someone seems up to it.
Why Matthews makes this daily trek has a pretty simple explanation: A former club member used to be in charge of the duck caretaking, but he moved to Tennessee about three years ago.
“He asked me if I would take over the duck feeding,” Matthews said. “I told him, ‘yes, I could do that.’”
The original duck was a different bird than the one Matthews feeds now – it was all white with a yellow bill.
Caring for that original duck involved a little bit more than feeding and visitations, Matthews decided. He wanted to make sure the bird was happy, so he got to work finding him some roommates.
“I raised eight ducklings from little bitty,” he said. “I got them on up to teenager size or so, and I took them out to the country club.”
After Matthews released his young ducks at the club, a couple of his friends contributed a few more ducks. The small flock now had birds of all colors – a couple were brown, some were white and one was black with unique red markings on its face.
The group of birds used to wander freely around the golfing green, to management’s chagrin, but they mostly lived near a small pond at hole number five. The water is crystal clear there, and the ducks enjoyed bobbing underwater to eat vegetation growing along the pond’s bottom.
At the peak of his duck rearing career, Matthews had a brood of 11 ducks. Then, one day, the pack started shrinking – one unlucky duck at a time.
“One by one they disappeared, except for this last one (Ducky Ducky),” he said.
The mystery of what happened to the ducks has never been solved. They may have flown away to find a new home, or they could have ended up as a tasty snack for some opportunistic predator.
“I looked for feathers, carcasses, some kind of remains, and I never could find any,” Matthews said. “Somebody told me that they had seen some Mexican eagles flying about.”
Perhaps wise to the danger that was lurking at hole five, Ducky Ducky has since moved to the safety of hole number two. His new home has a few trees growing nearby, and he spends time preening his feathers and basking in the sun.
Before Matthews was drafted for his job as duck caretaker, he was an Earth Sciences teacher at El Campo Middle School. For 30 years, he taught El Campo preeteens the principles of geology, astronomy, oceanography and meteorology, ultimately retiring in the mid 1990s.
His wife, Kay, also worked in education before deciding to go back to school for nursing. The couple has two grown daughters who both work in the nursing field.
“I always joked that I lived in a ‘nursing home,’” Matthews said.
Teaching Earth Science for so long could be what sparked his love of spending time outdoors, Matthews said, or maybe it was the other way around. He loves to fish and golf, and does both at the club where he visits Ducky Ducky.
When Matthews visited last week, he said he saw the mallard visiting with a female duck. Ducky Ducky seemed to be eyeing her. It seemed to Matthews like the beginning of a love story.
“I think it was unrequited love though,” he said, since she kept wandering away.
Matthews had a recent bout of health problems, going to the hospital shortly after one of his visits to the club. He is still recovering, but has since made the trip to feed Ducky Ducky.
He’s waiting for his doctor’s approval to walk around and play golf again, but in the meantime, he’ll keep feeding the ducks with the help of his speedy cart.