Harford club marks 50th with benefit for Red Cross

Rubber ducks race at Valleybrook Country Club

May 14, 2011|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Tom King grew up at a Harford County swim club, in the house that is now his office and in the pools where he learned swimming, water safety, lifeguarding and instructing.

Today, King owns Valleybrook Country Club, which his father established in Kingsville in 1962.

He is marking the 50th anniversary year and the club's longtime association with the American Red Cross with a whimsical race Saturday that will benefit the relief organization. King hopes his third annual duck derby will be the most successful, with plans to raise at least $5,000 for Red Cross projects.

"This is a fun thing to do for a good cause," he said. "The Red Cross is the logical beneficiary. They certify all our lifeguards, promote water safety, help out our military families and provide disaster relief. In this economy, charities everywhere are cash-strapped. We want to help out."

The race, which is open to the public, involves small yellow rubber ducks, each rented for a $10 donation. The event is scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., well ahead of the Preakness. King will dump all the ducks, each identified with the renter's number, into the lazy river pool around 3:30 p.m. The zigzagging course could prove challenging to inanimate ducks floating along to the finish line and the prize of $300 worth of gift certificates from local businesses. Those who have a duck in the race should be aware that winning is not a matter of skill but of luck.

"We just dump them in and let the current take them around," King said.

The day will include face painting, a moon bounce and music from a DJ. The Red Cross will also benefit from a percentage of food concession sales, he said.

King spent his early summers playing in the club pools and his teenage years lifeguarding and teaching children to swim. As a pool owner, he has for years worked to advance water safety and has served on the Red Cross' Aquatics Advisory Board.

"Tom has had a lifelong relationship with the Red Cross and is heavily involved in water safety issues," said Frank Miller, executive director of the organization in Maryland. "He and his staff have provided us with great support and have really helped us."

The Red Cross spends about $20,000 annually in Harford County, much of it to help victims who have lost their homes to fires, Miller said.

The advisory board works closely with public pool owners to ensure the safety of patrons.

"We also make sure swim classes are run properly and uniformly by certified instructors," King said. "The idea is to educate the public on safety."

Valleybrook numbers about 600 members and officially opens on Memorial Day weekend. Over the past half-century the club has expanded its 20 acres to include five pools, tennis courts and picnic areas. Its stone barn has been renovated into air-conditioned spaces for its summer campers and other gatherings. Many of its families have remained members through the generations.

"The kids I swam with as a kid are now here with their kids," King said.

On any given week in the summer, as many as 90 children, ages 3 to 13, are taking swimming lessons at Valleybrook. Learning at a young age is critical, he said.

"I am passionate about water safety," King said. "It is so critical, especially in Maryland with its bay, ocean coast line and lakes. Too many never learn to swim."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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