In 1934, three years prior to the establishment of the Del Bay Retriever Club, the Long Island Retriever Club held the first AKC licensed field trail. A young man hooked on duck hunting and retrievers read of the pending field trial and decided to attend. This man was Alex Spear. Alex found the trial extremely exciting, seeing dogs of different breeds retrieving birds on land and water under controlled conditions. At the trial he met the handlers, admired their well trained dogs, and returned to Delaware to report on the many events of the trial to the group of hunters who frequently met at the sporting goods store in Dover. As a result, some of the retriever owners began to train as a group each week. The idea spread. Often as many as twenty retriever owners could be counted in nearby fields working their dogs.
In early 1936 the Eastern Shore Chesapeake Retriever Club, which had recently formed in Easton, held a trial in Denton, Maryland. Quite a few dogs from the local training group participated and some were successful – bringing back ribbons and trophies. More importantly, the owners brought back the desire to form their own retriever club. In the spring of 1937, a meeting was held at the Mapledale Country Club near Dover. Club names were discussed. The Delaware Bay Retriever Club was the first name proposed; but the group later settled on the Del Bay Retriever Club. The founding fathers were Willard Boyce, Bill Holden, Morris Jarrell, Reds Lofland, Dr. W.L. Parrot, Alex Spear, Lawrence Thompson, and Robinson “Bob” Walker.
At the first meeting, Bob Walker was elected President; William C. Holden, Vice President; and, Willard D. Boyce, Secretary and Treasurer. Bob remained President until his untimely death in November 1938. Bob was highly respected by the Club’s members and friends. It was through his constant efforts to hold bigger and better trials that the Del Bay Retriever Club became such an early success. The Club’s first field trial was held in the fall of 1937 with two more held in the spring and fall of 1938. The fact that the Club continues to prosper today is a living memorial to Bob Walker’s untiring persistence and ceaseless determination.
The Club has changed from time to time over the years. In fact, for one short period, its name was changed to the Del Bay Field Trial Club. This was done in order to host sanctioned trials for breeds other than retrievers as many of the early Club members owned various breeds.
The Del Bay Retriever Club is a member of the American Kennel Club as well as both the National Retriever Club and the National Amateur Retriever Club organizations. These two National Clubs each host annual competitions for the top qualifying dogs throughout the country. Using the grounds at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Smyrna, Delaware.
Del Bay has hosted four (4) of the National Retriever competitions since they began in 1941. This past year, many Club members chaired various committees for the 2009 National Retriever Championship which was held on private properties in the Dover area. Several Club members have qualified for these events numerous times. In fact, a few members have won the week long National Amateur competition. Others have been finalists, and still others have judged one or more of the two events. Of special note, A. Nelson Sills won the 1964 National Amateur and went on to judge both the 1967 and 1975 National Opens.
Over the past 70+ years since the Club's inception training techniques and the performance levels achieved by retrievers has advanced considerably. Modern training techniques and tools have led to better and better dogs. Consequently, the Field Trial tests have gotten increasingly difficult. The reasons for the sophisticated tests are simple. The judges must separate out the very best (placing just the top four) from a large field of excellent retrievers. This level of competition has led to field trials as a sport unto itself. The level of difficulty and the daily training demands in the Field Trial sport has advanced over the years to the point where many hunters and beginning amateurs could not compete successfully. Consequently, in the 1980s, the Del Bay Retriever Club expanded its scope of trials to include the newly established AKC Licensed Hunting Retriever Tests. These tests, in which the dogs compete against a standard rather than against one another, have provided an opportunity for many beginning field trailers, amateur trainers and hunters, as well as a large number of professional trainers, to be involved in test designed to more closely mimic hunting situations. In fact, the Del Bay Retriever Club proudly hosted the first Master National Hunting Retriever Test which was held in 1991 on the C&D Retriever Trial grounds in Glasgow, Delaware. There were 98 entries and 21 finalists, including a couple of our own Club members. In fact, the Del Bay Retriever Club remains quite active as a member club of the Master National organization. A few Club members are typically finalists and some have been selected to judge the annual events.
The history of the Del Bay Retriever Club would not be complete without a grateful acknowledgement of all the outside support it has received over the years. Del Bay has been extremely fortunate to have tremendous support from the Delaware Department of National Resources, the Army Corps of Engineering, and the staff at the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge as well as many private land owners in both the Dover and Glasgow areas. During the 1960s through the 1980s, Club member Jesse Mitchell worked tirelessly with the Army Corp of Engineering developing and maintaining the C & D Retriever Trial and Training grounds in Glasgow, Delaware. These grounds are now maintained by an active group of Club members.
Presently, the Del Bay Retriever Club has approximately 100 members. Traditionally, the Club hosts an annual dinner in January, 3 Field Trials, 2 Hunt Tests, multiple training days, a Health Clinic Day, a Canal Clean-up day, and a semi-annual meeting/training day/workshop.
The Club’s purpose is to further the advancement of all purebred retrievers by encouraging their proper breeding, showing and training; to do all in its power to protect and advance the interest of all purebred retrievers and to encourage sportsmanlike competition; and to conduct field trials, hunting tests, and other appropriate activities under the rules of the American Kennel Club. Indeed, throughout its history, at present, and for the foreseeable future, the Del Bay Retriever Club has and will continue to accomplish these objectives, largely due to devoted members and dog lovers much like Alex Spear and Bob Walker.