WESTFIELD, Mass. (The Westfield News) – It was a smaller crowd than usual for this year’s edition of the city’s signature nautical winter event at Hampton Ponds, the Amelia Park Children’ Museum’s Penguin Plunge.
The event started as a small gathering of about 50 on Southwick’s Congamond Lakes over a decade ago and has raised tens of thousands of dollars during that time.
While the final haul for Saturday’s event is unknown at this time, estimates are that it will pass $20,000 and might even eclipse last year, which was the biggest plunge in the event’s history, bringing in around $25,000 to benefit the museum.
Jay Pagliuca served as the event’s master of ceremonies and said that there were around 100 plungers this year, including Westfield state Sen. Don Humason, Jr., who has participated in all 11 installments of the event, and state Rep. John Velis.
“I’ll bet there was at least 400 people watching, but we’ve had up to 1,000 in the past,” said Pagliuca, who attributed the lower turnout to the day’s windchill. “Zero degrees, people will still come out, but windy? Not so much.”
Pagliuca added that the air temperature was around 2 degrees at 8 a.m. and that it had risen to 13 degrees by plunge time. The water temperature was around 34 degrees, he said.
Regarding the total amount of money raised by the event, Pagliuca said the final tally will be announced this week but that this year’s “Penguin Excelsior” – the event’s top fundraiser – was Rick Barry, a member of the Amelia Park Children’s Museum Board of Directors.
“The guy raised over $4,000 himself and beyond that, what he does for the Plunge and this museum is just incredible,” said Pagliuca. “He deserves all the awards he gets and then some.”
Barry said he plunged in honor of his parent’s 60th wedding anniversary on Thursday and confirmed that he brought in $4,051.15 total for the event, over $800 more than he did the year before.
“This is my tenth year and it’s up there as one of the coldest (years). With the windchill factor, they said it was at -5 degrees,” he said.
As is often the case with the events of this nature, it has built a connection with participants that keep them engaged and coming back every year.
“When my kids were little, we went to the old Elm Street space, so to see the museum grow and keep growing, it’s a great way to give back a little bit,” said Pagliuca.
“Being on the board of directors, it’s a facility I’d like to see grow and it takes a community to do that,” said Barry. “It’s a great place for kids to go to learn, play and feel safe. Some of my nieces and nephews go there and enjoy the facility so to me, it’s a little more special and to give back to the community, that means more than anything.”
Media Credit: The Westfield News