Betty & John O'Brien: Laying Down Roots in the North Atlantic

Betty & John O'Brien – Batavia, New York

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Photo © Brandon Adams

Although Ducks Unlimited saw its start in New York in 1937, the organization's local presence was not strong until the mid-1970s. About that time, Hazard Campbell invited John O'Brien to attend a local DU banquet. "When I got there, I shot my mouth off by critiquing how the raffle was being run," John remembered. "A volunteer told me, "˜OK, big mouth, you take it over.' So I did - and it raised $5,000 more than the year before."

Through Ducks Unlimited, John and Hazard's lifelong friendship continued to grow. Together, they produced impressive results, forming 33 chapters in three years, mentoring dozens of DU leaders, and creating training materials and procedures that would help establish DU's district and zone volunteer structure. John went on to serve as senior vice president for the North Atlantic and Hazard became DU's president in 1986.

"A good friend, John Cant, told me the secret to success is to surround yourself with successful people. We ended up recruiting so many, we needed to figure out what to do with them!" John said. "We settled on picking the best volunteers and asking them to support committees in surrounding communities in their efforts to raise money. We created some procedures and training materials to help them, and those materials would eventually help establish DU's district and zone volunteer structure on a national scale."

John's wife, Betty, began her volunteer career with DU in 1977, when John became New York state chair. She served as an area chair and New York state recording secretary, and she co-chaired several state conventions. "Over the years, we have met so many wonderful people and have visited and seen so many spectacular places we may never have been able to without our association with Ducks Unlimited," Betty said. "As a result, we have friends all over the continent."

Betty's dedication as a volunteer has been inspired by her respect for DU's conservation mission, and she loves that so many events and activities can be done with family. "For me, it's about all the waterfowl, songbirds, and other animals our work helps, and it's good to have our kids know these things, too," Betty explained. "If we don't instill in them the importance of these special places, they will disappear."

John and Betty's support for DU's Completing the Cycle Initiative reflects a deeply held belief in providing for the next generation. From Ungava Bay in northern Quebec to the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, the Completing the Cycle's goal of protecting habitat for future generations of waterfowl and people resonates with the O'Briens. "We want our children to be aware of how important the earth is," Betty said. "We want people to say that we are doing as much as we can to inspire as many people as we can to make a difference."

On the heels of his major accomplishments in New York, John went on to become DU's regional vice president for the North Atlantic flyway. He proudly served as a board member for Ducks Unlimited Inc. and Ducks Unlimited Canada and remains active on the emeritus board today. Even after years of traveling the country for DU, John and Betty have remained true to their roots and continue to call western New York their home.

The O'Briens' story was featured in the 2013 Ducks Unlimited Annual Report. If you live in New York or the Northeast and would like to learn more about supporting DU's Completing the Cycle Initiative, please visit www.ducks.org/CompletingTheCycle or call DU at (734) 623-2000 to speak with fundraising staff in your area.

For more information on becoming a DU Major Sponsor, please visit our Leadership Giving homepage or contact Senior Manager of Development Operations Anita Tyler at (901) 758-3871 or atyler@ducks.org.