NEW FRANKLIN: “Stop the music, stop the music,” Kelly Pariso said into a microphone Saturday, his bright red wig blowing in the wind as a line of more than 700 Santa Clauses, ballerinas and other adventurers waited in line to jump into the 40-degree water at Portage Lakes State Park.
As the dance music faded and quiet settled across a crowd of onlookers, Pariso turned to a shirtless man standing next to him on the end of a dock.
“We haven’t had anyone like this in 13 years of the Portage Lakes Polar Bear Club,” Pariso said, introducing Madison Hall.
Hall, who grew up in Akron, is 76.
He took his first polar bear plunge in 1977 near Seneca Lake in a cow trough filled with ice cubes and water. Hall has since smashed through river ice to take a bath while elk hunting in the Rocky Mountains and fallen through lake ice and swam to shore while working for an oil company in southern Ohio.
What dazzled his fellow Portage Lakes Polar Bears: Madison has plunged a half-dozen times with polar bear jumpers in Antarctica.
Water temperatures there, Hall said, were in the 20s because the salt in the water prevents the sea from freezing under the ice.
Unlike many of the other jumpers — who raised more than $102,000 for Camp Quality Ohio and Ronald McDonald House of Akron through the 13th annual Portage Lakes jump — Hall wasn’t there for charity.
He was there for adventure.
“I’ll be 77 the 27th of this month,” Hall said before the event. “This will probably be my last one.”
Hundreds of people cheered and clapped as Hall dived without hesitation into the water.
Saturday was by far the warmest Portage Lakes Polar Beach Club jump in its 13 years: 68 degrees and sunny, with a thin layer of ice over less than half the lake.
“Last year, there was a full-size [Chevy] Suburban and an Audi racing across the lake because the ice was so thick,” recalled jumper Keith Henline, 44, of Springfield Township. Polar Bear Club statistics show it was 27 degrees that day and the ice was 14 inches.
Henline, whose daughter Caylee was born prematurely in 1997 and died in 1998, said this was his fourth lake jump to raise money for charities in honor of his daughter’s memory.
On Saturday, he looked like a male flapper, wearing industrial coveralls covered in scores of photocopied images of money like layers of fringe.
“I’m not a millionaire,” he said. “But I do look like one.”
Victoria LaPlant, 18, and her friend Morgan Adkins, 18, tooled into the event with sunglasses on and the top down on LaPlant’s convertible.
They had never been to a polar bear jump and didn’t know what to expect.
“But this is amazing,” Adkins said. “Four days ago, there was 5 inches of snow on the ground.”
LaPlant said she was diagnosed with leukemia when she was in sixth grade. She’s cancer free now, but drove about an hour to reach the polar bear jump because she wanted to support Camp Quality of Ohio.
“It’s just a place where kids can go to be kids,” she said.
Big fundraisers this year included FirstEnergy employees, who turned in nearly $20,000, and Akron’s GPD Group, which kicked in $13,000.
No other mayors in Summit County picked up Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer’s challenge to jump.
But Neugebauer — who was the University of Akron’s mascot Zippy for a couple of years in college — kept his pledge. He shunned a costume and plunged in wearing swim trunks alongside Barberton Municipal Judge Jill Flagg Lanzinger, after they tricked Ohio Sen. Frank LaRose of Copley into going first.
Hall jumped a few minutes later. He beamed as he waded to shore toward a warming tent and dry clothes.
He convinced his cousin, Michelle Ault, 33, of Barberton to jump, too.
“He always gets me to do crazy things,” Ault said.
“But,” Hall said, “isn’t it good to feel alive?”
Amanda Garrett can be reached at 330-996-3725 or firstname.lastname@example.org.