‘Polar Bears’ Plunge For Fun, A Good Cause

Some of the 120 participants Saturday in the seventh annual Pie Eyed Petey’s Polar Bear Plunge did it for the fun of it and because it was for a good cause, benefitting the food pantries of North Webster and Syracuse.
Chad and Whitney Olson of North Webster jumped into the icy water of Tippecanoe Lake because it was their “punishment.”
The Olsons are youth leaders at the North Webster Church of the Brethren. They challenged the kids in their youth group, which includes kids from sixth to 12th grade, to a food drive before Thanksgiving. The kids’ challenge was to fill a basket 10 times before the November holiday for the North Webster food pantry.
“They filled it in two weeks and kept going,” Whitney said.
Along with $230 in cash donations, the group collected 157 canned food items, 101 boxed food items, 21 jars of peanut butter and 34 miscellaneous items like toiletries.
“We were able to feed 18 families,” Chad said.
Since the kids met the challenge, the Olsons had to do whatever challenge the kids put them up to. The kids gave them the task of the Polar Bear Plunge.
“This was our punishment,” Whitney joked before going in. “We haven’t done this before, but we’re not complaining because the kids raised (money and food) for a good cause.”
At least eight of the kids watched the plunge from the sidelines. While the youth group members were too young to participate, the Olsons carried a little bit of them with them when they jumped into the lake. Their shirts had the painted handprints of the kids on the back, along with the kids’ signatures.
Another group participating in the plunge Saturday because it’s for a good cause was the Lake City Roller Dolls. Member Angie Fincher said 15 women from the rolling derby team were expected. However, since Fincher broke her ankle, her husband, Mike Fincher, was jumping in for her.
“There’s always a ton of food and lots of money donated” from the team, Fincher said.
It’s the fourth year the Lake City Roller Dolls has taken part in the event, and this year they were wearing 1980s attire.
“Just to be bright and vibrant,” Fincher said beforehand.
Dustin Robbins, Cicero, and his group of about 11 friends have participated in the Plunge the last five years.
Robbins described the suits they were wearing – bought online at shinesty.com – as “classy.” “It’s a gentleman’s event,” he joked. The suits ranged from Robbins’ sky blue with roses attire to green and shamrocks worn by Jamie Stallings.
The website states, “We created Shinesty for one reason and one reason only: to bring you the most outlandish collection of clothing the world has ever seen. When worn correctly, the right clothing can make Mike Tyson’s albino tiger purr like a kitten, blow the minds of boringly-dressed onlookers, or be a major contributing factor in the creation of a small human that looks strikingly similar to you. Whether you are searching for a rare retro piece, enough neon to blind the ’80s, or simply something that would make Chuck Norris weep with pride, Shinesty is here to help. Shine On.”
Robbins said they take part in the Plunge every year “just to do it. Something to do in January. A reason to hang out in a bar for 13 hours.”
Jon Ford added, “The camaraderie.”
The group were friends since high school mostly, Robbins said.
“I could be Dustin’s dad,” joked Stallings, who came all the way from Williamsburg, Va., for it. He’s originally from Indianapolis.
Ford said, “A number of us have been coming up here for years. We have cottages on the lakes.”
Abby White now lives in Indianapolis but grew up in Leesburg. White and her three friends, including Krista Drumm, were dressed as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Saturday was Drumm’s fourth year for the event and White’s third.
“It’s for a good cause and it’s fun,” White said.
Drumm said, “We bring in someone new every year. Last year it was my husband. This year it is Dustin (Abby’s fiance).”
Allison Combs, Marion, and her cousin, Austin Dickerson, North Webster, were participating for the first time Saturday.
“My cousin and I agreed to do this last summer when it was blazing hot. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe not now,” Combs said.
She said Dickerson always wanted to do the Plunge, but couldn’t get anyone to jump in with him until Combs agreed to it.
For the event they dressed like Lloyd and Harry from the “Dumb & Dumber” movies.
“We’re jumping in the lake in the winter. Can you get any dumber?” Combs said, laughing. “It’s for a good cause so we’re happy to do it.”
Brittany Kovar and her boyfriend, AJ Hazelwood, both of Warsaw, dressed as polar bears for the fun. They bought the polar bear suits from Halloweencostumes.com, she said. It was her second time for the Plunge, but his first.
Brittany’s dad, Larry Kovar, Leesburg, dressed as a Ninja Turtle. Saturday also was his second time.
Over her polar bear costume, Brittany wore a Down Syndrome shirt.
“I’m wearing a Down Syndrome shirt because I’m a nanny for a kid with Down Syndrome,” she offered.
Karen Harrington, Leesburg, was jumping in the water for the third time. She and her four friends all were dressed as superheroes.
“No specific reason. It’s just a tradition now,” she said.
The Plunge also was being filmed for a documentary. Eileen Oaks, with The Watershed Foundation of North Webster, said WNIT was producing a documentary on the watershed during all four seasons. It is tentatively titled “As the Waters Flow.”
“It’s going to be about how unique and special our watershed is,” Oaks said. “It will feature all the lakes in the area and capture the natural beauty surrounding us.”
After taking the plunge, first-timer Bradley Slone said, “If I could find a better way to describe it, I would describe it better than a shot of energy, a wake-up call. It was the biggest wake-up call yet. My body is so numb, I can’t feel anything, but I feel pretty comfortable.”
Pie Eyed Petey’s co-owners Roy and Barb Hamer said the event couldn’t be possible without the volunteers.
“We’ve got probably 25 volunteers,” Roy said. “They were down here (Friday) and today getting ready for it. They’ve done it before so they know their jobs. We got a lot of repeat volunteers. We’re very appreciative of everybody.”
Hamer was happy with the turnout of 120 participants, and hundreds more watching from the sidelines. “That’s a good number,” she said.
She gave a “big thank you” to the North Webster EMS, Kosciusko Dive Team and Indiana State Police who all were there. The Kosciusko Dive Team said the water temperature during the plunge was 30 degrees – the same as the air temperature at that time.
Barb Hamer thanked Carey Excavating “for helping us out,” as well as “all of our friends, neighbors, patrons for helping us out. It was a great day. I am happy. It was a great day.”

(Story By The Times Union)