LAKE WINOLA — They got the invigorating thrill of the cold when they jumped into the chilly waters of Lake Winola, which was partly covered in ice.
“It’s a good way to start the new year,” said Seth Bellio, of Kingston. “It gives you the shock to the new year.”
Bellio was one of many plungers in the annual Lake Winola Polar Plunge. He remembers when he and his friends Dave Vecerkauskas and Ian Dunsmuir used to partake in the Pocono Polar Bear Plunge at Hennings Pond in Albrightsville. When the Pocono Polar Bear Plunge ended a few years ago, they started to come to the Lake Winola Polar Plunge, which is currently in its third year.
“Plunge is the new year,” said Bellio.
The Lake Winola Rotary started a polar plunge to raise funds for a different cause each year. This year, proceeds went to Miles for Michael, a non-profit organization which financially supports families battling cancer. It was named for the late Michael Joyce, former president of the Joyce Financial Group, who died of head and neck cancer in 2006. During his 14-month battle, he asked his friends to provide support to other families who need to travel a long distance from home to seek treatment. Shortly after Joyce’s death, Miles for Michael was established in memory of him.
“My uncle realized that cancer not only has an emotional toll but also a financial one as well, such as food, gas, and hotel expenses,” said Michael’s nephew Bill Joyce, who volunteers for Miles for Michael.
Miles for Michael gives pre-paid credit card for families to help with these expenses. The Lake Winola Rotary contacted Miles for Michael a few days before the polar plunge to let them know about this benefit.
“One of the Rotary members played in a golf tournament for Miles for Michael,” said Dale Baumes, Lake Winola Rotary president. “We thought it was a good idea.”
Bill Joyce is glad the Rotary chose Miles for Michael for this year’s benefit.
“We’re thrilled,” he said on behalf of Miles for Michael. “It’s a tremendous help. The money that’s donated, 100 percent is going to families fighting cancer.”
The cost of the polar plunge was $35 per person. Baumes’ father Kevin emceed the event. He always wears a curly wig when he’s taking the plunge. This year, he wore a black wig; last year, he work a pink one. Dressed in a Mr. Plow jacket, Lake Winola Rotary member Paul Davis took the plunge as Homer Simpson while his wife Michele, dressed as Marge Simpson, also took the plunge.
“I thought it was great,” Paul said about the polar plunge. “I’m looking forward to next year.”
Members of the Lake Winola Fire Company were nearby to ensure the safety of the plungers.
“We’re here to make sure people are safe and out of the water,” said assistant fire chief Michael Dzika. “It’s also a good training for us.”
New this year, the plungers and everyone else kept warm inside the Lake Winola Cottager’s Association pavilion. For the first two years of the plunge, the indoor hangout was the Boathouse Bar & Grill. This time, people gathered inside the pavilion for free food and beer.
“It’s (pavilion) a bigger space,” said Dale Baumes. “It’s easier access for parking and it’s family oriented.”
Keystone Konfections, located in Tunkhannock, provided free coffee, hot chocolate and donuts. People were also greeted by the bakery’s new mascot Sprinkles the Cupcake.
“We’re very happy we can participate,” said Keystone Konfections manager Linda Brown.
At the end of the event, this year’s king and queen of the polar plunge were crowned by Dale Baumes. Wilkes Barre resident Pete Evanofski was given the title as king.
“It’s a great job from the Rotary,” he said. “It’s a tremendous fundraiser. I’ll always be a part of it.”
Donning a green boa, Lake Winola resident Meredith Miner-Reese received the honor of becoming queen of the plunge.
“I’m honored,” she said. “Being a long-time resident of Lake Winola, it’s about time they’ve made me queen.”
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