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Winter makes a splash in Bemidji; balmy weather brings out crowds for Polar Daze

Chris, Lonny and Jesse Eck made the Jaycees Polar Plunge a family event Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron1 / 4
The Beberg brothers, Jacob, 9, and Jeremy, 11, were the youngest jumpers to take the Polar Plunge Saturday in Lake Bemidji. The event was a fundraiser for Special Olympics. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron2 / 4
Bemidji firefighters count down before taking the Polar Plunge into Lake Bemidji Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron3 / 4
Bemidji firefighters in uniform took the Jaycees Polar Plunge into Lake Bemidji Saturday. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron4 / 4

Subzero weather is the norm for Brrrrmidji Polar Daze, but a January thaw Saturday was a welcome change to many attending the annual winter festival.

"Much better than last year," said Lisa Hofstad of the Bemidji State University Foundation. She was volunteering Saturday at the Beaver Pride Hardwater Classic fishing tournament on Lake Bemidji. "Last year we had 25 below and wind, so we're about 50 degrees warmer."

She said about 250 anglers tried their luck in the Hardwater Classic.

"Some are fishing more than one hole, so (there are) probably about 300 holes," Hofstad said.

However, the warmer weather meant sloppy conditions on the ice. The weight of the spectators around the hole at the Bemidji Jaycees Polar Plunge caused the ice to sag and ankle-deep water to flow freely.

"I'm watching it running like a river by my feet," said Russ Erle.

Suzi Takle, Special Olympian, took Saturday's first Polar Plunge, which is a fundraiser for Special Olympics. She was followed by more than 120 people who made their donations to jump in the frigid water where they were helped back up onto the ice by Greg Moen and Brandon Schmickle, divers in dry suits from the Dive Depot.

The youngest to take the Polar Plunge were brothers, 9-year-old Jacob and 11-year-old Jeremy Beberg, jumping for the Devotion Paintball team.

"They're crazy," said their father, Bob Beberg.

One of the later registrants, Alexis Allen said jumping in a hole cut in the ice "sounded like fun."

"As her mother, I'm not totally pro-Plunge," said Cathy Allen. "It's for a good cause, so we're pleased about that."

Scott Finnigan, dressed formally in suit and tie, put a different spin on the Polar Plunge. Before making the jump, he kneeled on the ice and proposed marriage to his girlfriend, Kristi Miller.

"We have a ring and a man with a wet knee," said Dave Geiger of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting, the announcer for the Polar Plunge.

When Miller threw her arms around Finnigan, Geiger announced, "I think that's a yes."

The spectators cheered and the divers shook Finnigan's hand in congratulations before guiding him out of the water and onto the ice.

The winter festival continues this week:

- A second performance of Mask and Rose Women's Theater Cooperative "Hanson's Grill - MN Nice on Ice" at 3 p.m. today in the tent on Lake Bemidji.

- The 11th annual Freedom Walk in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. at 3 p.m. today from Paul and Babe to the Bemidji State University American Indian Resource Center.

- The Taste of Northern Minnesota with 4:30-6:30 p.m. and 6:30-8 p.m. sessions Thursday, Jan. 21, at the New City Ballroom in the Hungry Bear Conference Center, 2300 24th St. N.W.

- The 15th annual Montebello Niteski with registration starting at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, at the trailhead warming shelter.

- Vocalmotive Dinner Show "True Colors" with special guest performance by the Bemidji Show Choir La Voce Ballo at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 22, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, and 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 24, in the Bemidji High School Commons.

- The SLEDS Vintage Snowmobile Racing Association Bemidji Classic and Swap Meet beginning at 9 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, on Lake Irving. Registration will be held Friday evening at The Garden Grill and Pub, 111 Central Ave. N.E. in Nymore.

- 2010 USA Curling Junior National Championships beginning with opening ceremonies at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 23, at the Bemidji Curling Club.