It was a good week, Rich Roth’s family says. But in the two previous weeks, his sons had to carry their father up the stairs.
The Copley resident and retired financial adviser visited the hospital a month ago to remove a stone in his gallbladder. Instead, he walked out with a diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer and a six-month prognosis.
“It’s inoperable,” Roth, 63, said of the tumor near his pancreas. “They gave me sort of a short sentence.”
But Roth was smiling Saturday, showered in the support of his family, which includes seven siblings, his wife and their five children. They called themselves “Rich’s Rascals” as they celebrated with him at the 10th annual Polar Bear Jump at Portage Lakes State Park in New Franklin.
“He’s always supportive of my crazy events,” said Roth’s daughter, Courtney, 25, who often participates in fundraisers.
In her second year attending the Polar Bear Jump, Courtney and her twin brother, Chris, joined more than 700 others who dived into the icy water for a good cause.
Roth’s extended family of more than 50 was among thousands of observers who turned out for the Polar Bear Jump, which has raised about $300,000 over the past decade for national and local charities such as the American Cancer Society, Akron Children’s Hospital, the March of Dimes and Haven of Rest Ministries.
This year’s proceeds benefited the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank, which hopes to provide more than 400,000 meals through the fundraiser. Event organizers say they surpassed more than $80,000 in donations.
“We make a point to try to quantify what we do,” said Dan Flowers, president and CEO of the food bank. “It only takes one meal to change someone’s life. But, hey, a half a million meals is nothing to shake a stick at.”
Flowers took the first leap off the dock this year with his 12-year-old son, Andy, who relished in what some parents coined “condoned insanity.”
“I feel like an instigator,” Andy Flowers said, standing next to his father and more than 20 food bank volunteers. The group huddled along the shore, surrounded by scantily clad participants, shivering observers and temperatures hovering around 25 degrees. Others dressed up in comic-book apparel or donned bathrobes or towels.
Among the crowd were concession-stand workers serving hot dogs and hot beverages, tailgaters playing cornhole in the parking lot, and music that cut through the cold air.
“If it wasn’t for this thing you’re about to do,” Flowers said, “it would seem like a normal day in the park.”
Among the largest contributors this year were FirstEnergy Corp., which matched donations raised by 20 employees, bringing the total to $21,000. Employees of the Akron-based legal firm of Kisling, Nestico & Redick LLC raised $10,000.
Each year, the Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club organizes the event and selects a recipient. Co-founder Kelly Pariso said he takes pride in holding the self-proclaimed, all-time event jump record of 18 plunges over the past decade. But, he said, he’s more proud of the charitable gesture and the growing number of participants, who sacrificed their warm bodies this year to feed those in hunger.
“When you look at the big picture, $1 buys a family of four a meal for a day,” he said, considering how many dollars the event would rake in. “That’s very impactful.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.