Leprechaun Plunge raises $33,600 for charity

by Town Reminder

Leprechaun Plunge raises $33,600 for charity

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer, kwill@turley.com

SOUTH HADLEY – What’s a dip into the freezing waters of the Connecticut River if it’s to raise funds for a charity?
Locals dove, belly-flopped and tiptoed their ways into the river Sunday, March 13 during Brunelle’s Marina second-annual Leprechaun Plunge.
More than 100 individuals participated in the plunge, collectively raising $33,600 for six charities, the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund, the Springfield Shriners Hospital, South Hadley Youth and High School Athletics, the Joe Kareta Scholarship Fund, the Donnie Baker Scholarship Fund and Jessie’s House. Additional funds are still flowing in, said Luke Brunelle, co-founder of the plunge.
Crowds of spectators lined the soggy ground surrounding the boat launch area, and at 1:30 p.m. sharp, the plunge began. Decked out to the nines in green and orange face paint, shamrock patterned tights, tiny leprechaun hats and hand-crafted T-shirts, the brave plungers emerged from the water just as quickly as they went in. Many had braced for the cold water but their faces of utter shock of the water’s temperature made it clear those pep talks could not prepare them for the cold. A hot tub was available for plungers to warm themselves in after emerging from the river.
Regardless, plungers said they would do it again next year. “It was not bad,” said Valerie Fonatine of Chicopee, who raised money for Shriner’s Hospital. “I’ll be back next year.”
Dennis Augustus of Springfield turned the plunge into a family affair. He and four other family members, including Sarah Wendel of Albany, NY and Joe Augustus of Hubbardston, pledged to plunge and raised $400 for charity.
“It was fun,” said Wendel. “The anticipation was worse than going in.”
Dennis Augustus agreed, adding, “The water was a little bit colder than I expected.” But all members of the family gave a resounding “yes” when asked if they would plunge again.
Following the plunge, a celebratory dinner of corned beef and cabbage was held inside the Brunelle’s Marina showroom. There, awards were presented to deserving recipients.
Prizes were awarded to individuals who raised the highest, second highest and third highest amounts of money, as well as corporations who raised $1,000 or more.
A tie for first place was had for the Pot of Gold prize between Matthew Baker and last year’s winner Ryan Gustufson. Both individuals had each raised $2,700. The prize, of $500 sponsored by All Star Dairy, was given to both men. However, the title will be given to Baker, as his sponsored donations were the first to be completely handed over.
The Lucky Irishman prize of $300, sponsored by R&M Landscaping, for the second highest amount of funds raised was also awarded to Ryan Gustufson.
Third place, the Over the Rainbow prize of $100, sponsored by 21st Century Pools & Spas, was awarded to Karen Motyka.
Those corporations winning the Grand Shamrock prize, a cruise for 25 people on the Lady Bea sponsored by Brunelle’s Marina, was awarded to Team Joey from White Wing, Jeff Gorham Drywall, Century 21 Hometown Associates, Sports Authority regional managers and Joanie’s Cleaning Service.
“The plunge was amazing,” said Brunelle. He said their goal was to raise double the amount of funds collected last year, which was $18,000. “We came doggone close to it,” he said happily.
Having held the Leprechaun Plunge for two years now, Brunelle said he and his team would like to implement changes for next year.
For starters, he would like some sort of bleacher seating donated for temporary use. Currently, many locals crowd the edge of the water to get a good view.
Secondly, Brunelle would like to possibly partner with Mount Holyoke College or others in the area for parking. For the 2011 event, cars lined Alvord Street for miles in each direction, forcing police to implement a temporary parking ban on one side of the road. Brunelle suggested using a shuttle to bring people back and forth to the marina and their cars.
Thirdly, he would like to see challenges between local restaurants and bars next year, to get a friendly competition going. And finally, he would like to streamline the registration process.
“It seemed like a very successful event,” said Brunelle.
The success continues well after the plunge, as donations continue to trickle in. Just before Brunelle gave a phone interview for this article on Tuesday, a man walked in to donate $25 to the Dana Farber fund. “That just is amazing,” said Brunelle.
Look for a Leprechaun Plunge-themed float in this Sunday’s Holyoke St. Patrick’s Day Parade.