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Audrey's Purple Plunge Purple Plunge will help area residents with cancer

Audrey's Purple Plunge is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Akeley. Plungers collect pledges and money used helps area residents who have cancer. For a full schedule of events, go to their Facebook page. Submitted photo.

Hardy Minnesotans will brave the cold waters of 11th Crow Wing Saturday to take the "Purple Plunge" to raise money for the Audrey's Purple Dream.

Plungers get pledges from friends and family, with all money raised helping local residents in their fight against cancer. There will also be a fishing tournament and many prizes, including an Ice Castle fish house.

The first event was held in 2005 to raise funds for Akeley resident Audrey Pidde, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. Her favorite color was purple. Her dream was to take a trip to Alaska, but she passed away before that dream was realized. This is the 14th year the plunge has been held in Pidde's honor.

"It started out as a benefit for my mom planned by Melissa Nieblick (known by local residents as Nib), who was a very good friend of mom's," daughter Shannah (Pidde) Geimer said. "It was just friends and family pitching in to help. We raised almost $10,000 that first year. Mom said we should do this for someone every year.

"After mom passed away a couple of months later, we decided to start the Audrey's Purple Dream Foundation, and it continued from there," Geimer said. "Randall Morrison of First National Bank in Akeley encouraged us to go with the Walker Area Foundation and become a non-profit."

Geimer has been on the foundation board since it started.

"To date, we have gifted over $112,000 to about a 100 local recipients," she said.

Applications for Audrey's Purple Dream are available on their website at audreyspurpledream.com and at First National Bank in Akeley.

"Our area basically serves Akeley, Nevis, Walker, Park Rapids, Dorset, Laporte, Hackensack and Longville," she said.

The application does not have to come from the person who has cancer, but can come from a friend or family member.

"We mail the check to the person who has cancer, but don't tell who put their name in," she said. "A lot of people have too much pride to apply. If you know someone with cancer, please direct them to our website."

Those helped range from children under a year up through elderly people.

"We want to help in any way we can," Geimer said. "It doesn't have to be a huge dream. It can be help with medical bills or money for other bills, gas or hotel rooms. They can apply for money for a trip to see a family member one last time. It can be anything."

The application is short and contains only three questions: "How did you hear about Audrey's Purple Dream? Tell us a little bit about your story, and what can we do to help you?" Geimer said.

Requests granted in the past include a trip to Florida and airline tickets for a young woman with cancer, who wanted her grandparents in California to be able to come and see her graduate.

They also helped build a ramp for a lady who had cancer. "We paid for the lumber, and volunteers from the Methodist Church in Akeley volunteered to do the work," said Geimer.

Area resident thankful for help

Shawn Karl, 53, of Akeley is one of the people who has been helped by Audrey's Purple Dream. He works with the Cass County Highway Department and was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago.

"Everything happened so fast," he said. "There was no time to prepare. When I got diagnosed, I ended up in the hospital in Fargo for five days. Then I did radiation in Bemidji five days a week for seven weeks."

One day an envelope came in the mail with a check from Audrey's Purple Dream. "I have no idea who submitted my name, but it was a big help to us," he said. His wife, Brenda, works at Mark's Market in Hackensack, but had been missing work to drive him to his appointments.

"We both just kind of looked at each other," he said. "It was a nice surprise and helped with gas and other expenses. I wasn't working, and with my wife taking days off to drive me, it was really nice to have the money."

Karl said he will be a spectator at this year's Purple Plunge. "I don't go to the party after because I have to stay away from people so I don't get sick," he said. "The cancer came back, so I'm doing chemotherapy in Bemidji. I've made hundreds of trips to Bemidji."

Karl said it is important for people to support Audrey's Purple Dream so it can continue to support local residents fighting cancer.

"If you need gas or a motel room, it all takes money," he said. "They also have volunteers who will give rides to people who need them. You think this world's going to crap, but there's still a lot of good people out there who want to help and do good things."

Karl also attended the Polar Plunge before he was diagnosed with cancer, never imagining the fund would one day help him.

"My brother, Stacy, was a jumper, so I went to watch him," he said.

Support the cause

From Feb. 1 to 9 there will be a "Paint the Town Purple" contest in Akeley for businesses and homeowners to decorate with purple lights, purple snow and purple windows. The Eastern Hubbard County fire board donated the $300 in prize money. First prize is $150, second prize is $100 and third prize is $50. This year's judges will be from local churches.

Saturday's Purple Plunge events will be held just off the boat landing on 11th Crow Wing in a huge area that is plowed for parking. Spectators can drive onto the lake at the boat access.

Registration for the fishing tournament will be held from 10 a.m. to noon inside one of the Ice Castle fish houses right next to the big Army tent. There is a $15 entry fee. The fishing tournament will be held from noon to 2:30 p.m.

Raffle tickets and merchandise will be for sale on the ice and at the Red River Event Center in Akeley from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. There will also be hot food and beverages on the ice from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. sponsored by the First Lutheran Church of Akeley.

Registration for the plunge will be in a tent on the ice at 1 p.m. The Polar Plunge will be held at 2:30 p.m.

"Smoky Hills donates the use of two Ice Castle fish houses that are heated," Geimer said. "People who are plunging go in there to change and stay in there until they get called to come out. They can step out onto carpet and then we read a little thing about why they are plunging and do a countdown. They jump in, we pull them out, and they run right back in the fish house. It goes pretty fast."

Outlandish costumes and purple clothing are often worn by jumpers. Most of the time the event has gone on in spite of cold temperatures. "We average around 20 plungers, with 35 jumpers a couple of years ago," she said.

"This year, we have a guy coming from Washington state who is the brother of a local girl. A couple of young guys came a couple of years ago visiting from Oregon and didn't even know the event was going on. They were so excited to take the plunge, they ran around the ice collecting donations. They stripped down to their boxer briefs and plunged in. They loved it and the crowd loved it."

Geimer said she has taken the plunge three or four times. "The first year I plunged it was super cold out, below zero but calm," she said. "I thought it was going to be awful. It's a shock no matter what, but I was honestly pleasantly surprised that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I did it again a couple of years later. It was a beautiful day out. A bunch of us were standing outside the warming house in our swimsuits waiting for our turn to plunge. I was thinking it wouldn't be that bad, but it was horrible because the air outside was warmer so the water felt much colder."

She said plungers are in the water for less than a minute.

"We have a certified scuba master who is in the water the whole time," she said. "We also have life jackets and kids are always tethered on a safety line even though the water isn't very deep. Our diver guides them to the ladder, and we have two or three guys at the ladder who pull them right up and get them on their feet so they can run back to the warming house. Your adrenaline is pumping so fast you honestly are so excited to get dry clothes on you don't even notice how cold it is."

She said participants wear water shoes or socks to protect their feet.

Cold weather is usually not a problem.

"We had one year we woke up to 23 degrees below zero and I thought we'd have to cancel the plunge," Geimer said. "It was cold, but there was no wind to turn you into a human popsicle, so all the jumpers wanted to keep it going and we did."

Geimer said there was only one year when the event was canceled due to the weather. "That was because of very low wind chills," she said. "What was cool about that is there wasn't a single person who wanted their money back. Everybody turned in their pledge money. We just had to cancel the plunge because we couldn't put people's lives at risk."

After the event, hot food will be served at the Red River Event Center beginning at 4 p.m. Fishing tournament prizes and awards will be presented at 4:30 p.m.

Button raffle drawings will begin at 6 p.m., followed by live music by "Nate's Fish" from 8 p.m. to midnight. The grand prize is an Ice Castle fish house.

The silent auction that begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at the Red River Event Center will conclude at 7 p.m. Items are donated by area businesses.

Buttons for the prize drawings are available at all Akeley businesses. There is also a list on the website with locations for buttons and raffle tickets.

Other fundraising events for Audrey's Purple Dream in the coming year include a 5K run the morning of June 29 during Paul Bunyan Days and a motorcycle "fund run" that will go through Akeley Aug. 10.

For more information about any of these events, call Geimer at 252-9993 or go to their Facebook page.

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