New Castle News

February 18, 2013

Photos, Video, Story: Nearly 70 jump into Lake Arthur for Polar Bear Plunge

Sam Luptak Jr.
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Moraine State Park was a winter wonderland Saturday.

The temperature was 22 degrees, although winds of 15 mph or more made it feel more like zero. A six-inch layer of ice covered the surface of Lake Arthur. And yet, in spite of the frosty winter weather, nearly 70 people took a plunge into the lake.

It was the third annual Douse for a House Polar Bear Plunge sponsored by Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity. Prizes were awarded for best costumes, and hot coffee was provided to all who participated. Best of all, the event raised more than $22,000 that will go toward a house for a needy Lawrence County Family.

Sheree Cunningham, executive director of the Lawrence County Habitat for Humanity, conceived the event after witnessing a similar one while visiting friends on the Jersey Shore. That event drew thousands of participants, and she wondered why such an event wouldn’t work in Lawrence County.

So she came home and began organizing it.

“We took the plunge,” Cunningham laughed. “This has become our signature event.”

She expressed gratitude for all the support she and organizers receive from the community. The National Guard provides heated tents, Moraine State Park provides the venue, and others provide food, T-shirts and even ambulances on standby.

Cunningham is not just the organizer, though. She and six members of her family also raised money and took the plunge, including the day’s oldest plunger, her 78-year-old father, who participated for the second year.

One first-timer was Jamie Grego, a teacher in the Mohawk Area School District. She was reluctant at first to participate but eventually joined the team from the district.

“I will be back again next year,” she promised. “It was fun and exhilarating. You can’t think about it, you just have to go.

“It is very cold. Even though they cut the ice away, you can still feel it below you and bumping into you as you go in.”

Bryce Enscoe, 12, and Thaylor Phillips, 10, from New Castle were both there just to watch others take the plunge.

“I think they are insane for doing this,” Phillips said. “I am freezing my butt off just standing here watching them.”

Enscoe had a different view.

 “They are doing this to help people,” he said. “They are all really amazing. This seems fun. I hope I can do it next year.”

A team of seven dressed in multi-colored costumes and nicknamed the Skittles team by onlookers represented Steelite International. Members took the plunge arm in arm as the crowds cheered them on. Folks in tuxedos, dog suits, Speedos and hunting outfits all followed them in to the water.

In the end, Cunningham deemed the event a complete success.

“I am amazed at how generous people are,” she said. “I think they think, ‘I’m glad it’s not me’, so they hand over money to support just so they don’t have to do it.”