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Audrey’s Purple Dream celebrating 10 years

Shannon McGrath leaps into icy water at last year’s Purple Plunge on 11th Crow Wing Lake. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
This year, Mattie, 19, and Bettsy, 20, Hjelseth will be among those taking the big dip. The Nevis women are honoring their sister, Gretta, 24, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in late June, undergoing surgery at the Mayo Clinic July 1.2 / 2

Akeley’s “answer to cancer” – Audrey’s Purple Dream – will once again send purple plungers and fishing lines into icy depths, with proceeds from the 10th annual event benefitting area residents whose lives have been impacted by cancer.

The Saturday, Feb. 14 event on 11th Crow Wing Lake kicks off with fishing tournament registration at 10 a.m., lines dropping at noon. The 10th largest fish wins a grand - $1,000.

Registration for the 2:30 p.m. plunge – the event’s primary fundraiser – begins at 12:30 p.m. with registration forms available online or at T&M Express.

Raffle tickets will be sold for chances to win an Ice Castle fish house valued at $8,900 and a plethora of other goods.

A $2 button purchase throws names in the hat for the $1,000 grand prize and a host of other treasures.

The event culminates at 4:30 p.m. at the Akeley VFW where fishing tournament prizes and awards are present. Button raffle drawings begin at 6 p.m. with a silent auction to follow.

Nate’s Fish (Pidde’s son) will perform live music from 8 p.m. to midnight. The band’s name is derived from Nate netting a six-foot sturgeon, and the ensuing “Have you seen my fish?” being posed on multitudinous occasions.

New this year is a “Paint the Town Purple” through Feb. 14, with residents invited to hang purple lights, make a purple snowman or whatever triggers the imagination.

Judging will be conducted with prizes of $150, $100 and $50 awarded.

Audrey’s Purple Dream is dedicated to the memory of Audrey Faye Pidde, a lifelong resident of Akeley who died in March 2005 after a battle with cancer.

The event’s founder, Melissa ‘Nib’ Niblick, organized the community fundraiser in honor of her friend. One of Pidde’s wishes had been to travel to Alaska; Niblick took on the role of fundraiser to fulfill the dream.

Pidde succumbed to cancer before she could make the journey, and Niblick died of cancer in 2009, but the “dream” lives on. 

To date, more than 70 people have been gifted with a total of $64,000 since 2006, Shannah Geimer, Pidde’s daughter, reports.

“Mom would be blown away,” she said of the event’s evolution.

A record 307 fisherfolk dropped lines last year. Two fellows driving through Akeley from California spotted the shenanigans, emptied their pockets and then jumped into the frigid water in their underwear.

The amount raised from the Purple Plunge determines the budget for the coming year. In 2014, 16 people were gifted with $11,050.

Gifts are bequeathed to those living in the Park Rapids, Nevis, Akeley, Laporte and Hackensack area. Applications for assistance are available on the website.

An endowment fund has been established, with the ultimate goal of sustainable funding.

‘Small town, big gift’ This year, Mattie, 19, and Bettsy, 20, Hjelseth will be among those taking the big dip. The Nevis women are honoring their sister, Gretta, 24, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in late June, undergoing surgery at the Mayo Clinic July 1.

Gretta had just completed her master’s degree in speech language pathology and was three days into her first job in Grand Rapids when a severe headache sent her to the emergency room. She was initially diagnosed with a massive sinus infection but an MRI revealed a brain tumor.

She was to be sent to Duluth for surgery, but after mom, Jodi, conferred with her brother, a doctor, they were bound for the Mayo Clinic.

The Mayo’s head neurosurgeon, Dr. Fredric Meyer, conducted more than six hours of surgery to remove the kiwi-sized tumor in her pineal gland.

Twelve days later, the neuro pathologist confirmed its malignancy.

After surgery, Dr. Meyer told the family he’d had doubts about retrieving the tumor without complications, likening it to a pilot light in a stove. Everything around the tumor was crucial to body functions. A nick would cause a deficit in her body.

But Gretta, albeit missing her head of hair, is recovering remarkably. The tumor has not affected her memory or brain function.

“We’re so fortunate,” Jodi said.

Nevis graduate/Mayo neuro oncologist Dr. Derek Johnson, learning of Gretta’s town of origin, expedited the radiation treatments, and subsequently buoyed her spirits.

“It’s not terminal,” he encouraged. “Fight this. I’ll be seeing you for the next 10 years,” he said of the ongoing MRIs.

Meanwhile, back on home turf, one of Jodi’s fellow nurses at Cass County Public Health and an Akeley resident, Anne Marie Nelson, completed paperwork for an APD gift.

Within days, a “generous” check arrived in the mail, to help with the cost of travel to Mayo.

“It was amazing,” Gretta said of support from mostly anonymous benefactors. “A small town, a big gift.”

She headed back to work in late January.

While Mattie and Bettsy will take the plunge to raise funds for APD, Joni will be picking up knitting needles.

She’s selling $5 raffle tickets with the winner to receive an afghan in the color of their selection. (Call her at 255-1281 for a ticket.)

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