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Plungin’ into philanthropy: Polar Pig returns Saturday with funds raised going to hospice

Kari Lucin / Sun file photo Dennis Sand, also known as “Fluffy the Parrot,” cannonballs into the water at Stutsman Harley-Davidson, as part of the Polar Pig — Walk the Plank fundraiser in this February 2013 file photo.

Taking a dip in an outdoor pool on Feb. 1 might be crazy, but if so, those leaping into the water Saturday at the Polar Pig —Walk the Plank fundraiser are crazy for a cause.

That cause is the Jamestown Regional Medical Center’s hospice program, and in the last seven years, the event has raised more than $84,000.

“It means we can continue providing the best hospice services to our community, and it provides security for the hospice program,” said Maren Radi, a registered nurse who serves as the hospice coordinator for JRMC.

The annual event, sponsored by Harley Owners Group, starts at 11 a.m. Saturday at Stutsman Harley-Davidson, with the Polar Pig Splash itself beginning at 1 p.m.

Registration for the chili cook-off begins around 10:30 a.m., and the chili cook-off itself begins at 11 a.m., according to Don Wegner, activities director with the Harley Owners Group.

For $5 a bowl, people will be able to sample 15 to 20 kinds of chili, with a prize for the best chili given by District 8 of American Bikers Aiming Toward Education. All money from the chili cook-off also goes to the hospice program.

The Polar Pig event will also include a live auction for the first time this year, along with the traditional silent auction. Many local businesses and individuals donate items for the auction, and most likely there will be 50 to 60 items this year, Wegner said.

The highlight of the event, though, is widely considered to be the Polar Pig Splash itself, in which community members don wacky costumes and jump into a small pool of water outdoors in the dead of winter.

“I started it back eight years ago,” Wegner recalled.

That year, it was 20 below zero, and warmed up later — to 10 below.

As of Monday evening, Saturday’s high temperature was expected to reach 9 degrees, despite the cold snap afflicting the region.

When the Polar Pig got started, JRMC’s hospice program wasn’t as well-known as it is now, Wegner said.

“It’s definitely grown. We would like to see it grow more, because there’s more patients out there that could benefit from our services,” Radi said.

Most of the hospice staff will be at the event Saturday, she said.

Part of the fun of the Polar Pig is seeing the costumes — giant parrots, clowns, pigs, cows, firemen, nurses, patients and Dr. Seuss characters have all walked the plank of the pirate ship mock-up Wegner made for the event.

Prizes in the form of plaques are given for the wildest costume, the biggest splash and spirit, which is measured by cheering.

Anyone who raises $100 for the cause may jump, but a lot of people raise more, even thousands, Wegner said.

And while about 50 or 60 people turned up to watch the show the first year, more recent Polar Pigs have drawn hundreds.

Last year, the event raised $19,000 for the JRMC hospice program.

“It’s something that’s kind of quiet. People die from cancer and stuff all the time, and (hospice) is a good program,” Wegner said. “… it just seemed like the right thing to do.”

For more information, to donate auction items or volunteer for the Polar Pig, call Wegner at 320-7866.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at (701) 952-8453 or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com

Kari Lucin

Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.

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