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Springfield’s ’Mama Duck’ still tending to her young ones

Carolynn Mostyn
Suburbanite correspondent
Schrop Intermediate custodian Sue Hennigin feeds a group of ducklings that she helps raise until they are able to go off in the wild.

SPRINGFIELD TWP. For longtime Springfield Local Schools employee Sue Hennigin, being a mom comes naturally as she has two daughters, three granddaughters and a flock of ducks.

We have all heard of Mother Goose, but Hennigin is affectionately known as “mama duck” at Schrop Intermediate School. Hennigin takes care of the ducks that build nests in the school’s courtyard each year. She said there are usually three to six different nests. At about 28 days after the hatching of ducklings, she feeds and waters the babies until they fly off in the fall.

Just like humans, Hennigin said sometimes the older ducks get a little aggressive and she needs to play follow the leader and take them to the marsh behind the school.

“I really enjoy taking care of them especially when they are young,” Hennigin said. “I teach them how to eat out of my hand and when school is in session. I always pick one or two classes to go out and interact with the ducks.”

She and the classes have a question-and-answer period and then students get to feed the ducks and run around the courtyard as the ducks run with them.

“I also have baby pools for them, sometimes eight pools at a time,” Hennigin said. “Last year we ended up with 48 ducks at one time with anywhere from 10 to 12 ducks per nest,”

Each year, Hennigin says they lose a few from hawks and owls taking them.

Recently, a mother and four ducklings left. This year has been different for everyone at school, including the ducks. There were no children for the ducks to run with this year with schools being closed. Hennigin said she would often take her granddaughters – – Abby, Ali and Lily – with her to feed and play with the ducks but, no visitors have been allowed in the school. She must keep her granddaughters updated through photos of “our babies as they call them,” said Hennigin.

Hennigin was born and raised in the township and is a 1973 graduate of Springfield High School. She has been working with the schools for 35 years as a bus driver then custodian. She began at the high school and has also worked at Schrop, Milroy, Spring Hill and back to Schrop in 2014.

“I love my job, got the idea of decorating when I was at Schrop in the 90s,” she said.

Hennigin has lasting memories of the district and remembers in 1992 when the district moved Milroy to Schrop.

“I can remember one winter my husband and my girls were helping me make decorations in the lobby not paying attention and we got snowed in,” she said. “It was a big snowstorm.

Hennigin said she then started making things every month, calling it “my school calendar.” She also began to add things to the courtyard for the kids and staff to enjoy.

Hennigin also takes care of the gardening at Schrop. She mows, trims, takes care of flower beds, trims trees and whatever else is needed.

Hennigin and her husband, Paul, camp at Tappan Lake as their getaway. They have a pool in the backyard of their Springfield home so they can have the grandkids over to spend time. She is also an at home gardener tending to her flower gardens. Hennigin said she is looking forward to retiring some day soon to take care of her gardens and spend more time with “her girls.”

She began taking care of the Schrop ducks the year she came back to Schrop and went out and bought wading pools for them and then took care of them until they were old enough to fly away. She said she has to force them out of the courtyard, or they would never leave.

“They hear my voice first thing in the morning and come running to the door for their food and fresh water in the pools,” Hennigin said.

She said it is funny because while at Tappan, she also finds herself by the water taking care of a family of ducks.

Schrop Principal Lisa Vardon said Hennigin is quite the treasure to have at their school.

“She not only is our custodian, but so much more,” Vardon said. “One of the things that she loves to tend to is the courtyard. She not only makes it beautiful so that classrooms can go outside and use it for an outdoor classroom space, she also takes care of the ducks that choose to come back year after year to have their babies in the same spot. Many of the ducklings follow Sue around as if she is their mama. The students love to watch the ducklings grow until they are strong enough to leave.”

Vardon said Hennigin also posts information in the hallway about the different stages of development that the ducks go through so that students can read and learn more about them.

The ”mama duck” has led all of her ducklings to the safety of wetlands in anticipation they will be back to raise their families in the Schrop courtyard once again.

A group of ducklings follow their mother at Schrop Intermediate.