WAKEFIELD — Regional Hospice’s seventh annual Polar Plunge saw an increase in plungers and donations this year at Saturday’s event in Wakefield.
Forty-one brave souls plunged into the cold waters of Sunday Lake, including two entries in the scaredy-cat category, which requires participants to only go in up to their knees. “We broke the record for jumpers,” said Mary Oberto, of Regional Hospice in Bessemer. “We had 41, the most we’ve ever had.” Oberto organized the event with Kathy Maki of Regional Hospice.
Through pledges collected by plungers and donations from local businesses, organizations and individuals, the event has raised $14,918 so far. That’s about $4,500 more than last year’s event raised through plunge day.
The total amount will continue to rise, Maki said, because donations normally continue to come in for a couple weeks after the Plunge, which serves as Regional Hospice’s main fundraiser. All the money collected stays local and benefits area residents.
“We serve anybody with a terminal illness regardless of their ability to pay,” Oberto said.
Maki added: “Medicare, Medicaid and insurance doesn’t cover all the costs. Fundraising is to help pay for the additional costs.”
A bout of unseasonably warm weather melted all the ice before last year’s Polar Plunge, but a late winter with continued cold conditions allowed Sunday Lake’s ice to hang around for the event. The colder weather didn’t hinder registration, though. “Registration in advance was better this year than with the good weather last year,” Maki said. “We had a goal of 40 plungers and we met it.” She said she was very pleased with the “awesome” turnout.
Most participants jumped in memory of a loved one who passed away. Cynthia Grayson, of Wakefield, said she jumped for the sixth or seventh time at Saturday’s event. She takes the plunge to honor the memory of her husband, Rollen Grayson, who was treated by Regional Hospice before he passed away. Grayson said she wanted to thank Regional Hospice because they were “amazing” during her time of need. “They were so good to my family,” she said.
Safety precautions were taken, with rescue divers, an ambulance and police and fire department members standing by.
Following the jump, participants and spectators gathered at the Wakefield VFW for an awards ceremony including food, refreshments and raffles with prizes donated by local businesses and organizations.
Margaret Zaleski won Most Pledges Raised as an Adult, gathering $2,640 in pledges. Emily Johnston won Most Pledges Raised as a Child, collecting $350. Johnston, 6, also won Youngest Jumper and Best Costume as a Child. Tom DeCarlo, 87, won Oldest Jumper for the seventh year running.
The event ran smoothly thanks to the help of volunteers. “There’s a lot of volunteers here helping today,” Maki said. “It’s all our Regional Hospice volunteers.”
Maki said organizing the event also went well thanks to the help of two Wakefield organizations. “I can’t say enough about the city of Wakefield and the Wakefield VFW,” she said. “They’re great people to work with.”
Oberto added: “Coverage from the Daily Globe and the radio stations has been excellent.”
The community plays a huge role in the event’s success. “This community has been awesome,” Maki said. “They’re so supportive of so many fundraisers. There are so many in the area and they just still give, give, give. It’s just amazing how wonderful our community is.”
“We really can’t say enough,” Oberto added. “It’s all of the communities, Wisconsin as well as Michigan. And the wonderful people who come out and bare their souls, so to speak, when they jump.”
For more information, call Regional Hospice at 906-663-0308. Donations may be sent to Regional Hospice Services Inc., 100 S. Mill St., Bessemer MI 49911.