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More than 600 brave revelers took the plunge into Lake Michigan last year for the annual Jan. 1 Jacksonport Polar Bear Swim at Lakeside Park. / File/Your Key to the Door Weekly
More than 600 brave revelers took the plunge into Lake Michigan last year for the annual Jan. 1 Jacksonport Polar Bear Swim at Lakeside Park. / File/Your Key to the Door Weekly


The Jacksonport Polar Bear Club holds its 27th annual plunge into Lake Michigan at noon Jan. 1, with hundreds of people splashing into the frigid waters off Lakeside Park in Jacksonport. About twice as many will cheer the swimmers on from the shoreline.

The plunge is now one of the better-known ones across the country, and a re-enactment, filmed on location, was a focal point of the 2009 movie “Feed the Fish,” which starred Tony Shalhoub and was filmed largely in Door County.

The first plunge took place Dec. 26, 1986, because J.R. Jarosh couldn’t run faster than his father, Joe, losing a bet with him that required J.R. to brave the waters.

That first effort was witnessed by just two people, J.R.’s brother Jon and John Wickstrom, and otherwise little noticed, although Door County Advocate correspondent Martha Lambiotte mentioned it in her column of Jan. 15, 1987, and dubbed Jarosh “the first member of the Jacksonport Polar Bear Club.”

Jarosh plunged in again by himself the next two Decembers, but things began growing with Jarosh’s dip into the lake Dec. 28, 1989. This time, about 20 people gathered to watch as Advocate columnist Heidi Reiche (now Heidi Hodges) and Richard Herschleb joined Jarosh in braving the waters, and a Green Bay TV station came up to film the event.

The next year, 12 people came out to become members of what was now an official Polar Bear Club, among them WFRV-TV Channel 5 sports anchor Larry McCarren for his “Challenge the Rock” segment. Then, for the seventh plunge, Jarosh switched the date to Jan. 1, 1993, and it’s been held every New Year’s Day since.

The number of participants has risen over that time, growing from the low 100s into the 200s through the 1990s, then jumping to about 600 for the 2000 edition and reaching about 900 in 2010.

Jarosh said those thinking about taking part who haven’t before should visit the club website, which has an “Tips and Forms” page. The required liability release for swimmers is downloadable from the site, which Jarosh said will save time if filled out in advance. T-shirts, caps and other memorabilia are available. While swimmers need to be careful of the temperatures, Jarosh said the Jacksonport Fire Department does what it can to make sure they remain unharmed.

The Jacksonport Polar Bear Club Plunge takes place promptly at noon Jan. 1 at Lakeside Park, Wisconsin 57 in Jacksonport. Registration begins at 10:30 a.m. There is no charge to participate, but participants and onlookers are asked to make a donation or bring one nonperishable food item for Feed My People. All swimmers must sign a liability release form before participating in the event. After expenses, all funds raised by concessions and memorabilia sales go to the Jacksonport Fire Department and Feed My People.

For more information, visit or or call (920) 823-2288.

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