The art of the Polar Plunge

In 1996, when Polar Fest and the Polar Plunge were born, there were about 70 plungers. Last year, in its 13th year, there were 155. This year? Why not 200?...

Jumping into the icy waters of Detroit Lake
The first ever Polar Plunge in 1996 had about 70 plungers jumping into the icy waters of Detroit Lake. The Polar Plunge has grown steadily since. Last year, there were 155 plungers.

In 1996, when Polar Fest and the Polar Plunge were born, there were about 70 plungers. Last year, in its 13th year, there were 155. This year? Why not 200?

"There has been a gradual increase in jumpers and people coming to watch the jump," said Boys and Girls Club Executive Director Pat Petermann.

The monies raised at the Polar Plunge go to the Boys and Girls Club. It is the club's largest fund-raiser of the year, and constitutes about 25 percent of the club's yearly budget. Last year they raised about $53,000, and this year, they've set a goal of $60,000.

"It's a challenge, with the economy, and I understand that," he said. "But, it's one that we can pull off with the community's support."

The plunge is Saturday, Feb. 13, in front of Lakeside Tavern on Big Detroit Lake.


"If we want to continue the meals and snacks, all the activities we do, picking kids up at school (and busing them) and getting the teen center in a different location," Petermann said, the club needs to continue with the large goals.

In the last three years, daily attendance at the club has increased 110 percent, with the average number of meals increasing 47 percent. In 2009, the club averaged 110 kids each day and served more than 13,000 meals and snacks.

Four years ago, BTD stepped up with a Race to $10,000, a challenge to businesses that BTD would match up to $10,000 in donations. Organizer James Voigt said the first year they pounded the pavement to promote the idea. It got easier as the years progressed, and last year the challenge basically sold itself.

"It was like a walk in the park," he said.

Several businesses donated right away and the matching grant was fulfilled in no time. Petermann said the club has $24,000 before the jumpers' pledges even started, thanks to the businesses and the matching challenge.

This year, due to BTD having to scale back a little, Foltz Trucking is sharing the matching grant, with $5,000 coming from each business.

"They wanted to keep that momentum going," Voigt said.

"Looking at our economy, if we hadn't done that work four years ago, we wouldn't have it (the $10,000 challenge) now," he added.


New last year was the Party Under the Tent at Lakeside Tavern. Like any new addition, there were some glitches, which will be solved this year. Petermann said Lakeside owner Chet Collins has agreed to close down Lakeside to the general public the day of the plunge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and have the party indoors.

People will have to have a $30 ticket to get into Lakeside. Ticket includes watching a live feed of the plunge in the warmth of the restaurant, chili, brats and drink.

The food will still be outside under the tent, located on the deck, but people can listen to the DJ inside the restaurant and watch the plunge on the televisions inside as well.

It has also appropriately changed names to Party in the Tavern.

"There will be raffles and other games the last two hours after the plunge," Petermann said.

Voigt said that although kinks had to be worked out for the Party in the Tavern for this year, he feels that in a couple more years, they'll be able to look back and tell stories of how it all began, like they do now of the Race to $10,000.

Ticket holders are also eligible for prizes and raffles. Prizes include a 42-inch plasma television, AstroStart including installation, a Twin Cities getaway package and a Tikka T-3 25-06 shotgun with 2x7 Nikon scope.

Limited tickets are available at 847-5700.


As for Polar Plunge jumpers, there are prizes there as well. Costume contest winners will take home $100, second place $50 and third place $25. Judges for the costume category are Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon, County Auditor-Treasurer Ryan Tangen and local artist Hans Gilsdorf.

Voigt, who will be plunging for the sixth time this year, said he jumps because standing with his toes at the edge of the ice is his pledge.

"To me, the jump signifies a personal commitment. That's my own personal take," he said.

One piece of advice though?

"Don't let your head go under (the water). I did that. Once," Voigt added.

For more information, or to register, call 847-5700 or go to .

Duck man
Bruce Nelson of Detroit Lakes won the 1997 Polar Plunge costume contest, jumping as "Duck Man."

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