by Jonathan Weaver
Todd Ashbaugh and Ed Bower have spent nearly every New Year’s Day this century diving into the frigid waters of the Allegheny River.
But, this year, they might hit snooze on the alarm clock January 1.
Ashbaugh and Bower, organizers of the annual Dianna Ashbaugh Memorial Polar Bear Plunge, officially announced yesterday that they will no longer have the event near the Kittanning Borough bock dock in Kittanning Riverfront Park.
“We really had mixed emotions about (the decision). We love doing it – we love seeing the community get involved. We obviously know it’s for a very good cause, but we just grew weary of worrying about ice and somebody getting hurt,” Ashbaugh said. “The biggest thing that’s weighed on us probably the past five, six years or so is something (bad) happening to (participants at the boat dock).
“It’d be hard for both Ed and I to live with it if something happened.”
This past January’s scheduled event was cancelled due to consistent rainfall and debris in the park days the week before the holiday.
Ashbaugh, of East Franklin Township, also emphasized the extra work in the freezing temperatures that went into preparing the site before New Year’s Day by him, Bower and Borough Street Superintendent Jim Mechling and his crew, but also thanked Kittanning Hose Company #6 Fire Chief Scott Kline and the Water Rescue Team, Kittanning #6 Ambulance and Kittanning Borough Police for volunteering each January 1 to make sure no injuries occurred.
The memorial plunge, named in memory of Todd’s mother who passed away in 2009 from Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, raised more than $20,000 for the American Cancer Society since the first plunge January 1, 2000 and attracted more than 800 supporters.
“That shows what kind of people we have in our community,” Ashbaugh said.
Bower, of Applewold – a friend of the Ashbaugh family and Todd’s former public speaking teacher at Kittanning Senior High and basketball coach – said the lack of events might be both a physical and mental relief but both have made some great friendships during it.
“It’ll be different not going over and preparing everything, getting everything set up, worrying that everything goes OK and everybody’s alright after the plunge,” Bower said. “We have met a lot of great people – some of them you’re only acquainted with once a year whenever you’re ready to jump in.
“It was a great run.”
While in the freezing water, Ashbaugh would think about his mother and mother-in-law Jennie-Lee Ollinger, of Ford City – who also died of cancer in 2013 – but he and his family plan on continuing to think about them this holiday season. Ashbaugh has also run during Relay for Life each summer.