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Ringing in the New Year - Polar Bear Style

Participants are 'Freezin' for a Reason' to support the Zelienople-Harmony Park on New Year's Day.

As she emerged shivering from the Connoquenessing Creek, Dominique French could jokingly be heard shouting maybe she had made the wrong choice.

“It was so freezing,” she said later while bundled up in a towel.

The Portersville resident was one of 75 people who took as part of the Friends of the Zelienople-Harmony Park’s first Polar Bear Plunge.

Dubbed “Freezin’ for a Reason,” the plunge benefits . The Harmony Inn, and the  in Zelienople also sponsored the event. As for French, she said she let herself be talked into the plunge by her dad, Gabe French, who runs the open mic night at the Harmony Inn.

Also bundled in the towel, the elder French said the water wasn’t as cold as he expected. He would know.

Perhaps in revenge for his talking her into taking the plunge, Dominique French said she made sure to dunk her dad in the cold water.

“It wasn’t actually as bad as I thought it would be,” Gabe French said as he wrung out his hair.

Also diving into the water was plunge sponsor Dave Strawbridge, owner of Fox’s Pizza Den in Zelienople. The brain behind for the event, Strawbridge said he came up with the idea for the New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge after attending a similar event elsewhere in Butler County.  

“We’re here to support the park,” he said.

A few of Strawbridge’s buddies from his bowling team also showed their support for the event—in costume. J.R. Courson, Josh Greynolds and Luke Wazenegger ran into the creek dressed as Father Time, Baby New Year and Mother Nature, respectively.

Wazenegger volunteered to wear a green dress and wig topped with a nest of toy birds as Mother Nature. Courson said the friends decided prior to the event to plunge into the creek with style.

“It you’re going to do it, go big,” he said.

Morgan Phillips, a cook at Monte Cello’s in Zelienople and a veteran of the Polar Plunge in Pittsburgh, dove into the water wearing a chef’s hat. For the St. Espirit family, it was all relative.

Patriarch Mike St. Esprit, owner of the Subway shop in Zelienople, took the plunge with twin sons Cory and Shane. Matriarch Karen St. Espirit abstained from entering the water, preferring to support her family from a dry spot near the creek.

“We thought it was a good cause,” a robe-clad Mike St. Esprit said.  

The and  and area EMT members also were on hand in case of an emergency. Harmony Fire Chief Neal Nanna said crews certified in water rescue operations were stationed on both sides of the creek.  

The cost to take a dip was $20 plus any donations from family, friends and businesses. Participants also received a “Freezin’ for a Reason” T-shirt and a goodie bag.

Alicia Flood, the treasurer/secretary of Friends of the Park, said the event raised $4,200 as of Sunday evening with more donations still on the way.

I thought it was a success,” she said of the event. “Everyone had really positive comments. What a great way to ring in the New Year.”

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