Jacksonville girl gets more than victory from visit to Duck Dynasty headquarters

Linda Hicks/Contributing Writer Published December 29, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Mary Kate Denis, 17, of Jacksonville, left, aka Willie Robertson, winner of a Duck Commander celebration held in Monroe, La., poses with another contestant portraying Duck Dynasty star John Godwin.

JACKSONVILLE — Mary Kate Denis of Jacksonville lined up at the Duck Commander celebration in Monroe, La., with the hundreds of Willie, Uncle Si, Phil, Jase, Korie and Miss Kay look-alikes to patiently await her turn on stage. Wearing a suit from Goodwill, a red, white and blue plaid shirt, a fake beard, a patriotic bandana and water boots, she walked away as the winner of the 15- to 17-year-old age division for her portrayal of Willie, a favorite on the television show Duck Dynasty.

Her win, she said, was all about the swagger.

“I didn’t just stand there in my costume; I had attitude with it,” Denis said. “I assumed the role of Willie. Actually, I’m a lot like Willie. We both have type A — take charge — attitudes.”

Duck Dynasty is an American reality television series on the A&E network. The show depicts the lives of the Robertson family, who became wealthy from their family-operated business, Duck Commander, operated in West Monroe, La., that makes products for duck hunters, including the duck call named Duck Commander. The Robertson men — brothers Phil and Si; and Phil’s sons Jase, Willie and Jep — are known for their long beards and their religious views. The business began in a family shed, where Phil Robertson spent 25 years making duck calls. His son Willie is now the CEO of the company.

Denis, 17, traveled on a Little Rock Tours bus with her grandmother, Ann Denis, to the event, held Dec. 14 at the Monroe RiverMarket. She held little expectations of actually meeting any of the stars on the show, yet she dreamed of meeting teenage heartthrob John Luke. She not only met him, but she was able to take a “selfie” with him.

“It’s official; we must get married now,” she joked. “I think there will be a mechanical bull in our wedding.”

As it turned out, the judges of the contest were Sadie, John Luke and Will — all children of Willie and Korie Robertson, all Duck Dynasty-clan members.

Denis said she doesn’t view herself as being star-struck. But, she said, she loves the show, as well as “all rednecks,” and it reminds her of her family.

On the trip, she actually met most of the Robertson family — except for Si and Jase. She thinks John Luke is cute and Sadie is pretty, but Phil is her favorite, especially after the weekend. Denis attended church Sunday morning at the Robertson family’s home church, White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ. At her grandmother’s request, Phil counseled with Denis, and she was baptized.

“He’s the real deal — down to earth,” Denis said. “The family is not fake. What you see is what you get with the family.”

She said she talked with Phil one-on-one for about an hour before the baptizing. Standing up, she said, he “towered” over her. The focus of their conversations, she said, was strictly on her faith.

“He asked me if I had been immoral, and he seemed impressed at my answers,” she said.

Denis had been planning on being baptized prior to the trip. Due to some circumstances, she had not been able to follow through with the baptism in her home church. The experience in the

Robertsons’ home church, she said, made the baptizing “extra special.”

Denis attends Alisa Academy in Sherwood, where she is president of the school’s National Honor Society. She received the state Youth Volunteer of the Year Award in 2012.

Although she didn’t know the definition before watching the show, she regularly refers to some of her friends as “yuppies,” a phrase used on the show by Phil. Asked for a definition, she said, “A person from a subdivision that gets uptight about things they shouldn’t.”

As far as Denis’ future, she plans to attend college after graduation. She also anticipates that she may see some members of the Robertson family again.

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