BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Chanting “Herbie, Herbie, Herbie,” hundreds of brave – or crazy, depending on who you ask – people ran into the icy waters of the Maumee River to take the annual Polar Plunge on New Year’s Day. The event honors Herb Mericle, who died at age 101 on January 18, 2008. He took his last dip in 2002 at age 95. In the 1920s, Herb started the frozen tradition, which took on new meaning after his January 1, 1936 marriage to Mary Cole. The two were married for 54 years when she died in 1990. Herb continued the New Year’s Day dip at 2:30 p.m. – the time of their wedding. “We’ve been watching people do it for years, and this year my nephew wanted us to do it,” said 63-year-old Don Yockey of Temperance, who was taking his first dip with his nephews Tim and Josh Yockey. “I just retired. I’m 63 and this is a way to check my heart.” For the first time in many years, large ice chunks made getting into the water more tricky and the air temperature, which hovered around 4 degrees, was colder than the water, which was in the mid-20s. “It’s a great way to start a new year and it’s very refreshing,” said Terrie Holman, a chiropractor from the Defiance area who has taken the plunge many years. While the crowd seemed a little smaller this year, hundreds still took to the waters, many for the first time, including Christy Frank and her friend Jackie Zoltaszak, who work out together. “We’re just insane,” said Zoltaszak. “We wanted to start 2018 right by overcoming a challenge.” The two dressed like unicorns, complete with tutus and horn headpieces. “We love unicorns,” said Frank. “We tried to come up with something fun and we hope the magic will help us survive the cold.” The Waterville Historical Society worked with Biggby Coffee, Heartland of Waterville, Holey Toledough and Rebel Chiropractic to add warm drinks, fresh donuts and “I survived” T-shirts, which they sold at the event. The group reached out through Facebook to bring in more participants, said Molly Good, chair of the WHS special events and awareness committee. “We wanted to provide as much guidance to people as possible by giving instruction to make sure they were as educated as possible about what to wear and what to expect to avoid any injury,” Good said. “We really do this to honor Herb. He was a wonderful Waterville resident.” The city of Waterville does not sanction the event, but fire department personnel were on hand to ensure the safety of those entering the water. No one is clear how the construction of the new Waterville bridge will impact next year’s event. Construction is expected to start this year alongside the existing bridge.
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