47 local plungers raise $1,175 for Alzheimers disease research

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: PATRICIA GARNER - Misty Lewis of Forest Grove donned a red prom dress for her plunge into Hagg Lake last week as a way to raise money for the National Alzheimers Association. In all, 47 area residents jumped into the lake during a social media-driven challenge last week.Forty-seven folks from western Washington County literally went and jumped in the lake for charity last week.

Between Monday, March 17, and Friday, March 21, small groups of adventurous people drove to Hagg Lake near Gaston and plunged into its chilly waters at Boat Ramp A as part of a social media-driven fundraiser for the National Alzheimer’s Association (NAA), alternately dubbed the “Winter Challenge” or the “Fearless Challenge.”

“If you have nothing going on, come take a refreshing dip with me ... it’s gonna be a party tomorrow,” read a challenge by Forest Grove resident Misty Lewis on her Facebook page March 18.

At 8:15 a.m. Wednesday, five good-natured and hearty women answered the call, which started out “as a dare,” not a sanctioned NNA fundraiser, according to Sheila Lardy, administrative assistant in the City of Forest Grove’s engineering department. Plungers included Lardy of Buxton; Lewis, Blanca Gates and Susan Lavier, all of Forest Grove; and Lulu Aker of Beaverton.

Air temperature that morning was 37 degrees, and the water temperature was “hella cold,” according to Lewis. The women sported specially-planned outfits, including prom dresses, “princess” get-ups and a 1980s pantsuit.

The charitable ball really got rolling in western Washington County two days before that, however.

“My high school friend up in Washington originally just challenged me to jump into a large body of water in the middle of winter” after she had hopped in a lake near Seattle, said Heather Warren, a friend of Lardy’s who took the Hagg Lake plunge March 17 and, in turn, challenged Lardy on Facebook to do the same. “I told her I wouldn’t do it alone.” by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: PATRICIA GARNER - Posing after jumping into Hagg Lake near Gaston to raise money for the National Alzheimers Association March 19 are Sheila Lardy of Buxton; Misty Lewis, Blanca Gates and Susan Lavier, all of Forest Grove; and Lulu Aker of Beaverton.

Warren, a medical aide at Hawthorne House, the memory-care component of The Beehive Assisted Living facility in Forest Grove, said her boss, Beehive manager Kathleen Leatham, saw an opportunity to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease research.

“When I told Kathleen I was going to jump into the lake with (Beehive caregiver) Maria Aleman for no good reason, she said, ‘Anything we can do to help, let’s do it,’” recalled Warren. The women decided that for every person who took the plunge and provided a photo or video to prove it, The Beehive would donate $25 to the NAA. “It started off as the 2014 Winter Challenge and turned into the 2014 Alzheimer’s Challenge.”

The effort mushroomed locally over five days, with nearly four dozen people taking the challenge and $1,175 raised for Alzheimer’s research, Warren said.

“We thought it would be just a few people, but it turned out to be this big thing,” she noted. “Our group posted a video on Monday, tagged more people, and it just went from there.”

Friday at midnight was the deadline for like-minded individuals to submerge themselves in a large body of water — bath tubs and swimming pools didn’t count — and post proof of their escapades on social media. One catch was that once they were challenged by a friend or family member, they had only 24 hours to complete the task.

Elyse Evans of Forest Grove brought her daughter, Jaclyn Polich, and her son, Jake Evans, to the chilly waters of Hagg Lake at the invitation of a friend.

“I initially participated because I was called out to do so by Mindy Nerheim,” said Evans. “But additionally, the challenge is for a great cause and I have several great aunts who were affected by Alzheimer’s.”

For Warren, taking the challenge and raising money for research into Alzheimer’s sprang not from a family story, but from a work-related one.

“I started in the assisted care profession three years ago and I thought it would only be temporary,” Warren said Saturday. “After about two years I decided this is where I want to be. Being around these people on a daily basis and observing the changes they go though with Alzheimer’s motivates me to do whatever I can.

“You realize it’s a very cruel disease, and you want to help.”

Two years ago, Hawthorne House opened adjacent to The Beehive’s main building on Hawthorne Street in Forest Grove. “I’ve seen people whose dementia has progressed and who have moved next door,” said Warren. “We witness on a daily basis what this horrible disease does to someone you love. This was a chance to do something, and the momentum spread throughout the week, every single day.

“This started as a dare and ended as a triumph.”

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