The HPS Chicken Tradition

Jim Willison and Mary Walchuk

For some time now, it has been custom for the presidents-elect of the Health Physics Society (HPS) to tour the local chapters of the HPS, sharing their vision for the Society. For members who do not travel to the national meetings, this may be the only personal contact with the leadership of the Society.

These local chapter meetings usually are organized around food (we are HPs after all) and this is what led to the saga of the chicken. After touring over 40 chapters, President-elect Ken Mossman had been subjected to a large variety of dinner-meeting entrees, most of them chicken (fried, cordon bleu, parmesan, etc.). While all were good, upon returning home Ken asked his wife Blaire to prepare something else—to "reclaim my palate for fish and steak." Seeking a suitable symbol for marking the transition to a new president-elect, Blaire suggested the rubber chicken. The chicken has been personalized by the outgoing president-elect, sometimes stuffed and sometimes dressed, as a way to represent the time in office. Over time, the chicken attire has grown more elaborate as it has been passed from one president-elect to the next.

We hope you enjoy this record of the passing of the chicken.


1993 Annual Meeting (Atlanta)
Ken Mossman to Marvin Goldman

Left to right, Ken Mossman, Marvin Goldman
Ken - "The chicken I presented to Marv Goldman was stark naked and so puny the audience could barely see it. But the tradition was launched and could only get better. Blaire and I looked long and hard for a nice-sized rubber chicken, but to no avail. Scottsdale is in the desert, but I did not think that included chickens."


1994 Annual Meeting (San Francisco)
Marvin Goldman to Bill Mills

Left to right, Ray Johnson, Marvin Goldman, Bill Mills
Marvin - "I recall our time at the podium and I was passing the gavel and chick to our new president. I mentioned that he would enjoy all those chapter visits to come and all the dinner meetings. I told him I always introduced myself before dinner as 'Hi – I'm Professor Marvin Goldman, PhD, ABC.' What? Yes ABC, Anything But Chicken!"


1995 Annual Meeting (Boston)
Bill Mills to Rich Vetter

Left to right, Bill Mills, Ken Mossman, Rich Vetter, Joyce Goldman
Rich - "Having shared some social time with me at HPS meetings, Bill Mills learned that I had a taste for Scotch whiskey. Since Bill as HPS president was supposed to mentor president-elect Rich, Bill thought he needed to provide me with some guidance on social beverages. Being a good ol' southern boy, Bill hid a bottle of his favorite Kentucky bourbon in the chicken when he passed it on to me at the HPS awards banquet."


1996 Annual Meeting (Seattle)
Rich Vetter to Otto Raabe

Rich Vetter
Rich - "My wife Jan and I shared a meal with Otto and his wife Lynne at the midyear meeting of HPS and learned that Otto was following the low-carbohydrate Atkins diet. Otto gave the waitress explicit instructions that his meal was to contain no, or at least low, carbs. When the meal came, Otto immediately noticed a side of rice on his plate. Those of you who knew Otto can guess the intensity of his reaction. Being from California, Otto was unfamiliar with wild rice, which is lower in carbs, fats, and calories. It also is a complete protein with all nine amino acids. So when it came time for me to stuff the chicken before I passed it on to Otto at the annual awards banquet, I implanted a pound package of Minnesota wild rice and a recipe for chicken wild rice soup. He didn't object."


1997 Annual Meeting (San Antonio)
Otto Raabe to Keith Dinger

Left to right, Rich Vetter, Keith Dinger, Otto Raabe


1998 Annual Meeting (Minneapolis)
Keith Dinger to Ray Johnson

Left to right, Keith Dinger, Ray Johnson
Keith - "In keeping with the practice of having the 'outgoing chicken' represent something related to the outgoing president-elect's geographical location, which in my case is New England, I stuffed a Beanie-Baby Lobster in the only orifice existing on the chicken and passed it on to my friend and incoming President-elect Ray Johnson. Ray's observation upon receiving the chicken with half a lobster sticking out of its orifice was, 'It looks like it is in the middle of a painful birth.' "


1999 Annual Meeting (Philadelphia)
Ray Johnson to Paul Rohwer

Left to right, Ray Johnson, Paul Rohwer, Otto Raabe


2000 Annual Meeting (Denver)
Paul Rowher to George Anastas

Left to right, Ray Johnson, George Anastas, Paul Rowher


2001 Annual Meeting (Cleveland)
George Anastas to John Frazier

Left to right, John Frazier, George Anastas
George - "I received my chicken from Paul Rohwer and it came, as I recall, with a University of Tennessee T-shirt, which I still have (somewhere, I saw it about a year ago). As I recall, the chicken was in need of some repair so I replaced it and when I gave it to John Frazier it came with a University of New Mexico T-shirt."


2002 Annual Meeting (Tampa)
John Frazier to Ken Kase

Left to right, John Frazier, Ken Kase
John - "When I received the rubber chicken (symbolic of the many dinners the president-elect was to have during his/her chapter visits) it was dressed in a University of New Mexico T-shirt. As my year as president-elect neared completion, I thought the rubber chicken was inappropriate because I had been treated to many excellent dinners during my chapter visits. However, I didn’t want to break with tradition. Therefore, at the awards dinner I presented my friend Ken Kase (a Stanford fan from Palo Alto) with the chicken wrapped in a Tennessee orange shirt of the appropriate size for him to wear. I hope he wore it proudly!"


2003 Annual Meeting (San Diego)
Ken Kase to Ray Guilmette

Left to right, John Frazier, Ray Guilmette, Ken Kase
Ken - "Ray Guilmette was the incoming president-elect and I knew that he and Dick Toohey typically tried to outdo each other with outrageous ties. I dressed the chicken with three ties that I thought Ray would enjoy."


2004 Annual Meeting (Washington, DC)
Ray Guilmette to Ruth McBurney

Left to right, Ken Kase, Ruth McBurney, Ray Guilmette
Ray - "My wife, Pat, and I knew that Ruth had a strong liking for colorful scarves. So we dressed the chicken in two brightly colored ones that she loved. "

Ray - "Pat also did a counted cross-stitch bookmark that commemorated Ruth's birthplace, which was Toad Suck, Arkansas. That always cracked us up."


2005 Annual Meeting (Spokane)
Ruth McBurney to Brian Dodd

Left to right, Ray Guilmette, Brian Dodd, Ruth McBurney
Ruth - "The chicken that I presented to Brian Dodd had been hanging around Texas all year, since I didn't carry it with me on the trips, and thus took on a western look. I made a felt vest and little custom cowboy boots (hard to do to cover chicken feet), and found a cowboy hat of appropriate size, along with a bandana. Although living in Arkansas and Texas for most of my life, I am not accustomed to field dressing a moose; I can dress a chicken—in more ways than one!"


2006 Annual Meeting (Providence)
Brian Dodd to Kevin Nelson

Left to right, Pat Guilmette, Kevin Nelson, Ruth McBurney, Brian Dodd
Brian - "Since we lived in Las Vegas, I figured that it was only right to dress up the chicken as a Las Vegas showgirl. Oscar Goodman—ex 'mouthpiece of the mob' and popular Las Vegas mayor until he ran up against term limits—was always seen with a Las Vegas showgirl on each arm. I gave Kevin a photo of the mayor and the showgirls and the chicken was dressed just like one of them. I had a neighbor who prior to retiring produced very expensive custom dolls, so I asked her to do the honors ... and she did a great job. The only problem was that I don't think Kevin could get rid of the 'makeup' and had to purchase a new chicken!"


2007 Annual Meeting (Portland)
Kevin Nelson to Dick Toohey

Kevin Nelson
Kevin - "Being the consummate scientist, Brian Dodd presented to me, along with the chicken, pictorial and written justification for the showgirl garb adorning my chicken. When I was preparing to give the chicken to Dick Toohey, I had difficulty removing the showgirl red 'makeup' and decided to dress up Dick's chicken in Florida beach attire with a red 'sunburn.' "


2008 Annual Meeting (Pittsburgh)
Dick Toohey to Howard Dickson

Left to right, Dick Toohey, Howard Dickson
Dick - "Traditionally, the chicken has often been dressed in the native garb of the president-elect's home. However, the chicken had made two previous visits to Oak Ridge, staying with John Frazier and Paul Rohwer, so the local angle had been covered. I, as no doubt many other presidents-elect, had actually enjoyed eating my way around the country, and I realized that since none of us is getting younger, it is important to remember to 'eat right' as much as possible. So I provided Howard with his very own 'Chicken Caesar' as a reminder, including toga, sandals, and sword."


2009 Annual Meeting (Minneapolis)
Howard Dickson to Ed Maher

Left to right, Ed Maher, Howard Dickson
Howard - "Having retired to Florida and trying desperately to become a fan of local sports teams, I resolved to root for the University of Florida football team (when they were not playing against Tennessee). The chicken resided the whole year in my Tampa, Florida, office so I felt that he (I checked) should be properly attired in appropriate garb to help me cheer for the Gators. Consequently, my chicken got a UF jersey, a child's jersey to be sure, but which was quite ample enough to cover his entire anatomy! Not surprisingly, my chicken showed up at the awards banquet wearing the only clothes he had."


2010 Annual Meeting (Salt Lake City)
Ed Maher to Kathy Pryor

Left to right, Howard Dickson, Louise Maher, Ed Maher
Ed - "The 'colonial minuteman' dress theme of the chicken given to Kathy Pryor was because the chicken had resided where the 'shot heard around the world' was fired and home of the original 'patriot.' The inspiration was quite accidental and stemmed from my discovery that the tri-cornered hat that was on my youngest daughter's American Girl doll fit the chicken perfectly! The rest was easy. I contacted a woman that worked with my wife's hospital who was known to be a master doll clothes maker. She took the chicken's dimensions (seems that the chicken and I both gained weight during the president-elect visits). Within two weeks, the chicken uniform was finished, complete with buckhorn shot pouch. Soon after, the idea of dressing a chicken 'caught fire' at my wife's hospital and it gave birth to the hospital holding an annual contest for the best dressed or costumed chicken during Laboratory Professional Week (celebrated mid-February each year). They had over a dozen entries this past February. I credit my wife Louise (shown in the picture) for all the assistance in finding the doll dressmaker and for proliferating the concept on a grander scale. Like previous presidents-elect, I wanted to keep raising the chicken bar!"


2011 Annual Meeting (West Palm Beach)
Kathy Pryor to Armin Ansari

Kathy Pryor
Kathy - "I spent my formative years in Hawaii, attending both the St. Andrews Priory School for Girls and the University of Hawaii. Our HPS chicken paid homage to the land of aloha in a haole [white] sort of way. Our daughter, Lindsey, and her friend Brittany dressed the chicken in appropriate garb. The chicken is of dubious gender, so he/she is wearing a combo aloha shirt and grass skirt, custom flip flops (which are called slippers in Hawaii), a flower lei, and a very nice straw hat to shield his/her little bald head from the sun. The HPS chicken comes equipped with a surfboard, some nice parasols, and a cheesy plastic shot glass with a grass skirt, a coconut bra, and flip-flop clad feet."

Kathy - "During my year as president-elect, my daughter bought me a rubber 'traveling chicken' (seen resting on the horse's hat in the photo above). This chicken first debuted at the Savannah River chapter meeting, and quickly became a world traveler. The chicken is prominently featured on my Facebook page and has been captured in such exotic locales as Pullman, Washington; Honolulu, Hawaii; Bethesda, Maryland; Choteau, Montana; Key West, Florida; and almost all of the chapter visits that I made. The chicken is far from retiring ... he had a lot of life left in those flabby little legs."


2012 Annual Meeting (Sacramento)
Armin Ansari to Darrell Fisher

Left to right, Darrell Fisher, Armin Ansari
Armin - "For the rubber chicken, I departed a little from tradition. I figured as the outgoing chicken is handed off to an incoming president-elect, maybe the chicken should reflect something that the incoming president-elect can relate to. Knowing how little rest Darrell was going to get in the coming year, I dressed the chicken in a sleeping robe (from Toys-R-Us) and also included a bottle of ketchup, Darrell's favorite condiment that he puts on almost everything!"


2013 Annual Meeting (Madison)
Darrell Fisher to Barbara Hamrick

Left to right, Darrell Fisher, Barbara Hamrick
Darrell - "On July 9, 2013, I presented the rubber chicken to new President-elect Barbara Hamrick at our 58th annual meeting in Madison, Wisconsin. The rubber chicken was dressed in official Green Bay Packer's green and gold colors (a solid dark green jersey with gold numbers and green pants), although the football uniform and helmet were sewn unofficially by my wife, Jeanne. She graduated from Madison High School directly across the street from our hotel, and we are both Green Bay Packers football fans. We thought that would be a nice way to honor Wisconsin. The chicken also had a cheese block on its head."


2014 Annual Meeting (Baltimore)
Barbara Hamrick to Nancy Kirner

Left to right, Barbara Hamrick, Nancy Kirner
Barbara - "Coming as I do from Southern California, I wanted to find a theme that represented my home base. I work about 5 minutes from Disneyland, also known as the happiest place on earth, and who better to represent the Magic Kingdom than Mickey Mouse, the character that started it all. Originally, I had wanted to merge the chicken with the mouse, but the more I thought about that, the more the idea just became kind of creepy, so I decided that for the traditionalists, I would give Nancy the rubber chicken, but from my home and heart, I gave her an unadulterated Mickey Mouse, so that wherever her many travels took her as president-elect, with Mickey around, she would always have a piece of the happiest place on earth as her companion."


2015 Annual Meeting (Indianapolis)
Nancy Kirner to Bob Cherry

Left to right, Bob Cherry, Nancy Kirner
Nancy - "Upon leaving the awards banquet with my naked chicken and Mickey Mouse in hand, I was speaking with Beverly Toohey about our recent vacation to Alaska on motorcycles. She then exclaimed, 'Biker Chick!' That thought germinated and became one of the '10 Things I Learned as a Health Physicist' during my chapter visits: people are often irrational about the risks they accept. We, as health physicists, have the responsibility to inform people of the risks they are assuming, but people have the right to make their own decisions. So, my 'Biker Chick' is a reminder about acceptable risk."


2016 Annual Meeting (Spokane)
Bob Cherry to Eric Abelquist

Left to right, Bob Cherry, Eric Abelquist, Barbara Hamrick
Bob - "I have read, enjoyed, and collected comic books since the 1950s. This hobby began (and continues today) when my mom noticed how much I enjoyed The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves on TV in the fall of 1953 when I was six, going on seven, years old. She bought my first comic book for me: Superman #86 (January 1954). So, naturally, I asked my amazing wife Yolanda to dress the chicken as Supergirl, and she made a nice costume for it. We dubbed the faux creature Super-Chick."

The caped chicken was dismayed at Eric Abelquist's choice of restaurants on their way to a chapter visit.


2017 Annual Meeting (Raleigh)
Eric Abelquist to Nolan Hertel

Left to right, Nolan Hertel, Eric Abelquist
Eric - "My recollection is that Nolan was/is engaged in researching radiation health effects from space radiation. Thus the rubber chicken was aptly attired in a NASA space suit to aid Nolan's research pursuits."

The chicken always wore a seatbelt when accompanying Eric Ablequist on HPS chapter visits.


2018 Annual Meeting (Cleveland)
Nolan Hertel to Eric Goldin

Left to right, Eric Goldin, Nolan Hertel
Nolan - "We went to the build-a-bear store to look for something to put on the chicken, and my wife liked the formal clothes so we dressed it in a suit. The little chicken is one of those one that you shoot like the Burks used at a family gathering recently. I had passed some of those out at my visits and, if I recall correctly, I think I said that the chicken finally had children—something like that. I think the small chicken tickled Eric."

Plan on more to come as the tradition continues!