It started with a dare and evolved into one of East Dallas’ most beloved and quirky fundraisers — a mid-winter plunge into an icy pool at the Fraternal Order of Eagles lodge, located just east of the Arboretum.
Pay $10, support a good cause and enjoy bragging rights. Think Polar Bear Club at Coney Island, the bunch who take a dip in the cold Atlantic, and you’ve got the idea.
On Feb. 9, head over to the FOE pool for the annual Hypnotic Donuts Polar Plunge, so named because it was the brainchild of longtime Hypnotic manager Josh Griffin. The popular doughnut shop does not profit. It’s a fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association Dallas and Northeast Texas Chapter.
The local tradition was born one blustery winter’s day eight years ago when Griffin was hanging out with buddies at the FOE pool and dared them to jump in.
“It started as a gentleman’s bet,” Griffin says. “The idea was to jump in the pool and swim from the deep end to the shallow end.”
It was cold. Half the crowed cheered, and the other half stared like the participants had lost their minds. Griffin and pals suspected it might work as a fundraiser.
“After seeing the reaction and feeling the adrenaline from the first jump, it just felt natural to include as many people as we could,” he says. “What better way to convince people to do something crazy than to tell them it’s for charity.”
The FOE lodge was an ideal location because it has a long history of helping those in need. Past FOE members include presidents John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Lance Roberts, member and trustee of FOE 3108, the local lodge, says the plunge is a perfect example of the organization’s work.
“It’s proven to be a very popular event,” he says. “We normally see 70-100 participants who pay $10 to jump into our Olympic-size pool and swim the length. It’s always lively and entertaining. The crowd is boisterous. Cheering helps those hesitant to jump in.”
Crowds vary year to year, but he says it’s common to have a couple hundred spectators.
So who’s brave enough to jump? Over the years, hardy souls, male and female, have ranged from wee ones as young as 3 to folks in their 80s. Some wear bikinis. Others opt for bright red long johns.
“I’ve seen costumes, capes and more Speedos than you can imagine,” Griffin says.
Everyone’s reason for jumping is unique. John Ramos has taken the plunge three times, each time to honor his grandfather, one of the original Polar Bears at Coney Island. The chilly water is nothing new to Ramos because he had his first experience at age 16 with the bathers in the Atlantic Ocean.
When Ramos first heard about the local plunge, his grandfather had died, and Ramos decided he would jump in his honor.
“I wear my grandpa’s polar bear swimsuit every time I jump,” he says.
He shares the tradition with his daughter, Joplin. She first jumped two years ago at the age of 5 in memory of her great-grandfather.
“I was definitely nervous at first,” she says. “It was so cold that I wanted to turn back.”
But her dad gave her a ride on his back for the first swim, and she toughed it out with a solo swim the second time.
“I felt proud of myself and cozy because my grandma brought me a onesie pajama,” she says.
Ramos adds, “We’ll jump every single year until Joplin is 16, and then we’ll go to Coney Island to become an official Polar Bear.”
Marcia Phillips is another neighbor who’s braved the cold water, but her reason was intensely personal and ultimately transformative. When she jumped for the first time last January, her marriage was ending, and she faced a single life with two young boys. She enjoyed the fellowship and support she found at the FOE pool, so she decided to support the event.
“Jumping in terrified me,” she says. “But it was an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and show my sons that we can go through scary situations and triumph.”
How was it?
“The cold water made my heart jump and took my breath away, but I’m so glad I did it,” she says.
Phillips has since joined the FOE Ladies Auxiliary and has chaired events benefitting neighborhood causes, such as the Magdalen House and the Peace Pantry at Lipscomb Elementary.
“I’m always amazed every year we pull it off,” Griffin says. “East Dallas does not disappoint.”
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