December 28, 2008 in City

Duck rescuer’s celebrity lives on

Six months after his act of kindness, Joel Armstrong is still getting phone calls
Meghann M. Cuniff Staff writer
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Joel Armstrong looks out his window at Sterling Savings on Wednesday at the first-floor awning where ducks nested earlier in the year. Armstrong watched the ducks nest, lay eggs and then hatch them. After seeing one duckling fall to the ground, he caught the rest of the them as they fell and carried them to the river.
(Full-size photo)

For Joel Armstrong, 2008 will always be the year of the ducks.

An e-mail describing how the Spokane man helped a duck and her 10 ducklings from their nest outside his second-floor, downtown office to the Spokane River in May went viral, sending his story to people across the world.

Armstrong became something of a cyberspace legend. He fielded hundreds of phone calls and messages from people who wanted to know if the story was true, and if he really existed. The e-mail became so widespread Armstrong’s story is verified on the urban legend debunker Web site snopes.com

Six months and a free trip to Orlando later, Armstrong said the phone calls still come in.

“You combine the animal aspect with a positive news story and it just really gives people the warm fuzzy,” Armstrong said last week from his office at Sterling Savings Bank on Riverside Avenue. “A lot of people said it brought tears to their eyes.”

Call it 15 minutes of fame, Internet style.

It started with an e-mail – complete with pictures – that Armstrong’s sister sent to his father a couple days after Armstrong and his coworkers rescued the ducks. His father forwarded the e-mail to about 50 of his friends.

“It just started going like wildfire,” Armstrong said.

Phone calls and e-mails poured in. His story became a phenomenon – sent from inbox to inbox like an electronic chain letter.

Some of his Sterling coworkers received the e-mail 15 times, he said. One employee forwarded him the e-mail last week to make sure he’d seen it.

The e-mail included his first name and employer, so it didn’t take more than a few minutes with an Internet search engine to find his e-mail address and office phone number.

“Some days I was getting 10-plus calls,” Armstrong said.

Calls came from Canada. A woman in France mailed him a thank you letter.

A newspaper in Palm Peach, Fla., faxed him a fan letter after the paper published a story on Armstrong’s adventure.

He did interviews with five radio stations, including National Public Radio, and received an appreciation award from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The Duck Rescue Network thanked him with an award declaring him a good duck, and the creators of the Web site duckheroes.org mailed him a “Brake for Ducks” T-shirt. One commenter on the Web site cuteoverload.com said she’d like to marry him.

Sterling Savings featured the story on its internal Web site and commended Armstrong for exemplifying their motto: hometown helpful. Fans flooded the company Web site’s suggestion box with messages thanking him.

“The marketing department loved it,” Armstrong said.

But the big time hit when he got a call from the Peabody Hotel in Orlando.

The luxury hotel, known for its live-in ducks, flew Armstrong, his wife and their two daughters to Orlando last month for a free stay.

He was twice the master of ceremonies – or Duck Master – for the hotel’s daily March of the Ducks, a trek by the hotel’s ducks across plush red carpeting to the lobby fountain. The family stayed a couple extra days and visited Disneyworld.

Armstrong said he answered every message he got. Most were surprised to hear from him, he said, including a New York City man who wrote him a letter offering Armstrong $5 per duck.

“I will, of course, buy the orange sauce on my own,” the man wrote.

Armstrong mailed him three rubber ducks and said that was the best he could do.

He doesn’t think the attention changed his life in any major way, besides his new office nickname.

“I’m the duck guy,” he said.

Meghann M. Cuniff can be reached at (509) 459-5534 or at meghannc@spokesman.com.

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