SANDPOINT – Jerry Luther stands tall above the crowd at well over 6 feet, but his spirit is that of a child.
Luther, a Sandpoint resident, believes there is something special about youth, whether it is a time of eagerness and simple joy of life or freedom to be one’s self that comes so naturally for a child. That belief caused him to start a puppet show, and he and his handcrafted marionette ducks have made fast friends with audiences for the past three decades.
Luther, better known as the Dancing Duck Man, says his goal is to use puppetry and storytelling to create a place where children can dream.
He began the hobby in 1976 while living in Spokane. It was there he created The Hooeyman character. He, with his wife, Becky, and son, Travis, toured the streets of the Northwest selling hooey sticks – wooden toys used to demonstrate science – and putting on a medicine show routine accompanied by a small marionette duck named Bruce. They also traveled to several arts and crafts shows selling their creations.
Since the family moved to Sandpoint in 1981, Luther has become a fixture at community events. Recently, he collaborated with sculptor Leata Judd to create a new set of marionette ducks.
But even after all these years, Luther and his wife still find joy in traveling and putting on shows.
“It is about giving back because people have been so good to us,” he said.
In 2005, Sandpoint Mayor Ray Miller issued a proclamation naming Luther an official goodwill ambassador of the city, recognizing the smile he has brought to the young and young at heart.
The Luthers also have traveled to Mexico three times to entertain the children at fishing villages in an area just south of Puerto Vallarta.
“That is one of the most fun things we do,” Jerry Luther said.
Before each trip, they gather clothing and toys to give to the children they meet. One of the favorite toys is a stomp rocket, which the children launch by jumping on a small air pump. Luther said he has been so moved by the children’s enthusiasm that he is asking the stomp rocket’s manufacturer to donate some for his next trip.
He hopes to return to Mexico in the next year to reunite with old friends and make new ones. “Parents (in the poorer villages) are busy dealing with survival issues,” he said.
Retired from his position as senior research editor for MultiLingual Computing Inc., Luther hopes to travel even more to areas where children are less fortunate and to spread joy and lift spirits of those who have suffered tragedies.
“That’s the dream of the Duck Man,” he said.