With handfuls of corn, Jersey Joe feeds ducks daily

Barbara Hootman

“Jersey Joe” Allen feeds the flocks of ducks at Owen Park daily. He has missed very few days throughout the past three years.

“In the wintertime, there can be more than 100 ducks anxious to get the food that I bring,” Allen said. “I love ducks and love to watch them interact with me and other ducks. They give me peace of mind after a long day of work, and it is a good feeling to pull into the parking lot at the park and be met by a crowd of hungry ducks. They absolutely recognize the car.”

Allen, whose given name is Joe Francis Allen and whose nickname came during his teen years playing pool in New Jersey, moved to the area three years ago to be closer to his son, the operational manager at Chimney State Park.

“I spent 35 years in Wilmington living on the beach and working as a port agent,” Allen said. “I was around water birds a lot, since I spent a lot of time on ships and on the water. But I never was up close to ducks like at Owen Park. I went to Owen Park because I was told it was a good place to fish. And then I just adopted the ducks, as they adopted me and the corn I provide.”

He has met a lot of interesting people at the Swannanoa park, he said.

“Even if I don’t know their names, we greet each other and talk,” the outgoing man said. “Many call me ‘the duck man’ since I am there every day to feed them. I broadcast the feed along the lakeshores and keep the ducks out of the parking lot. They can go through a sack of corn quick each week. On the few days that I haven’t been able to get to the park, I feel bad that they weren’t fed by me. I know other people feed them, and I glad of that.”

Barbara Bucy is another duck feeder at Owen Park. She knows local resident Billy Edd Wheeler and his dog Gracie Peal, who visit the park almost daily. She introduced the two men, who found they had a lot in common. They love birds and like to exchange life stories.

“I had no idea Billy Edd was a famous songwriter,” Allen said. “I just knew we liked each other, had some things in common. I looked forward to seeing him at the park.”

“I was drawn to Jersey Joe when I started noticing him feeding the ducks with generous helpings of seed, night after night, usually at twilight,” Wheeler said. “Then my neighbor Barbie Bucy filled me in on Joe, saying he had missed only one night the whole year of feeding the ducks. When he saw my New York Giants windbreaker, he quickly told me he was from New Jersey. My best friend, Richard Bellando, is from New Jersey, and he also went to (the then-Warren H. Wilson Vocational Junior College), then Berea College, just like I did.

“So Joe and I had a lot to talk about. He is a talker, and like Will Rogers he has never met a stranger. When I asked if he had a middle name, he said it was Francis, like Saint Francis of Assisi. I said it almost at the same time as he did. The main thing is that I like anybody who likes birds. But Joe is one of a kind.”

“The ducks and Barbara Bucy brought Bill Edd and me together, and I made a new friend,” Allen said. “The ducks are responsible for me making a lot of new friends in the area. I even met the pastor of the church I go to while I was feeding the ducks. We all have something in common. We love the ducks. You never know what you are going to see at Owen Park, from unusual geese to odd-looking birds.”

When Allen isn’t working at Asheville Bolt and Screw or watching and feeding the ducks at Owen Park, he is visiting with his two granddaughters.

“I love to house-sit for my son and visit with my granddaughters,” he said. “That is why I moved to this area of the country, to be close to family. I plan to stay here a long time. I moved to the Grovemont area in Swannanoa to be close to Owen Park with the ducks and to work.”