Cass County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatcher Jesse Binns was bright red in the best costume, a sunburned lifeguard. Binns in two years has raised about $1,100 for Special Olympics, also jumping for Edwardsburg Ambulance and Cassopolis Fire Department.

Archived Story

Cold cash from quick dip

Published 9:46pm Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Richard Simmons flipped his wig.
Michelle Sedlar feared she lost her shorts.
An actual polar bear made his 11th fur-freezing dunk.
Leader Publications press foreman Bob Bell, 42, of Niles, pronounced it “a whole different new kind of cold. I thought I knew cold.”
Bob Herwick of the Ontwa Township-Edwardsburg Police Department was drafted, leaving no time to prepare mentally.
“My first time was a little on the shocking side,” Herwick said. “I’m usually on the fire department rescuing the ones who do it. My ‘buddies’ wouldn’t let me out of the freezing water. They were dunking me back in, but it’s all for a good cause.”
His instant rivalry with the fire department generated almost $600 in 20 minutes.
Area 17 Special Olympics’ second annual Polar Plunge Saturday in frigid water of “Pleasant’ Lake means more than $10,000 in cold cash.
The number of plungers more than doubled from the first year, which certainly helped fundraising.
“Last year we had 16 plungers and raised $6,500,” Coach Laurie Newton said. “We had 39 plungers this year. Awesome!”
The polar bear, White Pigeon native Johnnie Stevens, came the farthest, from Waukegan, Ill., on the Wisconsin border, for his third swim this season and 11th overall. His Navy base has one every year.
The top fundraiser, also dressed as a polar bear, was Barb Brown, Area 17 director, who has been involved in Special Olympics for more than 35 years and area director for 25 years.
Cass County Sheriff’s Office 911 dispatcher Jesse Binns looked like he was keeping warm in the the best costume, a radiantly red sunburned lifeguard.
“I did it last year” and has now raised about $1,100 for Special Olympics also jumping for Edwardsburg ambulance and Cassopolis Fire Department.
Graig Stacey portrayed curly-haired fitness guru Simmons for “Sweatin’ to the Coldies,” a team in workout togs from Van Buren Intermediate School District in Lawrence which also included Dana Garzella and her 9-year-old daughter, Shalyn, Tina Berchiatti, Carol Gokey and sign language interpreter Renelle Hansen.
“This was my first time,” said Michelle Sedlar, 22, from Dowagiac. “It was very cold. I told the firemen I hoped my shorts were still on. I was so cold couldn’t tell. I have a second cousin who plays for the Bobcats basketball team. My husband, Josh, was going to do it by himself, so I said I’d do it. He didn’t tell me he suckered two more people. But I didn’t back out. I’ll do it again.”
The Incredibles, Matthew Behnke and Whitney Munger, won for best jump, er, dump. He waded in carrying her in his arms, then let go.
Whitney, an outreach specialist for Southwestern Michigan College, plunged both years on behalf of her athlete brother, Jacob.
“I was Miss Southwest in 2010 and my platform was Special Olympics, so I really got involved — State Winter Games, Summer Games. District Games for basketball, bowling and hockey. I liked it. The worst part is your feet get so cold.”
“It does take your breath away,” Behnke said, “but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.”
Stoically spoken like a costumed superhero who is always being told he looks like his secret identity.
“It’s an ongoing joke with our friends,” she said.
The oldest female, Pamela Huffman, 56, dressed as the Statue of Liberty.
“Zorro,” Tim McDaniel, the oldest male, made his second plunge.
“Last year I was the little boy from ‘Christmas Story’ with 16 layers of clothes on. I decided that was not a wise choice because then you have to take off all 16 layers in freezing weather, standing outside. It’s breathtaking. When you come up, you can’t get your breath. This year it might be worse because you have to wade out instead of jumping in.” Friends made his costume.
Behind the black mask and swordplay, McDaniel teaches physical education in Lawrence and is a 35-year Special Olympics coach.
“My staff is living vicariously through me. They did fundraisers for me and a dinner at the school,” McDaniel said.
Area 17 encompasses three counties, Cass, Berrien and Van Buren.

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