From left, Jane Huner, Stan Huner, Jay Wilkinson, and Kellie Jones stand in line for food during the Ducks Unlimited State Convention at the Natchez Community Center Saturday. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)
From left, Jane Huner, Stan Huner, Jay Wilkinson, and Kellie Jones stand in line for food during the Ducks Unlimited State Convention at the Natchez Community Center Saturday. (Sam Gause | The Natchez Democrat)

Natchez hosts Ducks Unlimited state convention, earns high praise

Published 12:02am Sunday, July 27, 2014

NATCHEZ — The convenience of everything being within walking distance combined with the turnout at the Ducks Unlimited State Convention this past weekend wooed Ducks Unlimited state chair members enough to plan another state convention in Natchez in 2016.

With more than 150 people occupying the floor in the Natchez Community Center Saturday night for the Ducks Unlimited Awards Banquet, state chairman David Victory stood against the wall, black lab at his side, and gushed about a weekend he called successful. Natchez has been so accommodating that Victory and other chair members decided to pencil in a return date Saturday morning, along with another big commitment.

“We had that discussion today in our business meeting,” Victory said. “The decision was made that we will be back here in 2016, with our goal being that we would come back here every other year.”

Victory, who has been to several state conventions in the past two decades, said Natchez elevated the state convention to new heights.

“I’ve been involved with Ducks Unlimited since 1994, and I don’t ever remember a state convention this big,” Victory said.

Along with the strong turnout, Victory and Ducks Unlimited had plenty to celebrate. In the past fiscal year, Mississippi produced roughly $800,000 to help preserve wetlands. For the 2013 calendar year, Mississippi’s fundraising dollars increased up to 26 percent, which was the second highest in Mississippi’s seven-state region.

Victory said Ducks Unlimited plans to put $2.6 million into the state in 2014 and has a goal to raise $1 million in the 2014 calendar year.

“It appears that’s a goal we’re going to attain,” Victory said. “That’s what this night is. It’s a celebration for what we’ve accomplished.”

Bruce Lewis, who served as the president of Ducks Unlimited from 2007 until 2009, practiced law in Natchez for roughly 40 years. Lewis was happy to see a town that he called home for so many years host a popular event.

“I’ve been to a lot of state conventions all over the United States and for Mississippi to have these many people here is really great,” Lewis said. “I’ve been to some state conventions that only had 30 people.”

Ducks Unlimited president George Dunklin Jr., who first visited Natchez when Lewis was president, was enjoying his second trip to Natchez by touring the city and observing antebellum homes.

“I love Natchez,” Dunklin said. “It’s so beautiful. I drove around today and saw some of the plantation homes, and it’s so great to see how people here have really worked hard to restore the historical value. It’s really cool.”

Natchez native and Ducks Unlimited member Wesley Steckler said he supports local Ducks Unlimited banquets and was happy to participate in his first state convention in Natchez.

“I love the fact that we had a strong turnout tonight,” Steckler said.

Dunklin, who said the continental numbers were the highest they’ve been since U.S. Fish and Wildlife started counting ducks in 1955, praised the company’s numbers. Though Dunklin said the numbers were crucial, he admitted the enthusiasm and energy that Mississippi has provided has been just as vital.

“We all have the same passion,” Dunklin said. “We all have a commonality and that’s the passion for the wetlands.”