Making a Splash
December 2010 Issue
When Herb Mericle splash-ed into Waterville’s icy Maumee River for the first time on New Year’s Day 1929, he had no idea that his ripple effect would be felt 82 years later. What began as a way to break winter monotony has evolved into what is arguably the country’s oldest Polar Bear Club custom.
Mericle performed his January 1 ritual alone for decades. Long-time friend Mike Hill joined the fun by taking his first dip in 1995, along with 15 other hardy souls. Over the last 10 years, that number has ballooned to a crowd of approximately 400 people, who come from as far away as Canada and California to take the plunge from the place where it all began: in the waters off Memorial Park, located on Farnsworth Road. The event commences at 2:30 p.m.
Mericle passed away in 2008 at age 101. And the park where his annual practice began now contains a bench dedicated to him. Engraved on it is a handprint, and the words “Waterville’s Polar Bear.” Upon emerging from the river, tradition calls for participants to run over to the bench and give it a “high-five.”
Hill, who now organizes the event, explains that each participant has his or her own reason for taking the arctic dip.
“Some people do it willingly,” he says. “Others do it because they lost a bet; others got suckered into it and don’t want to back out for fear of being called a wimp.
“And,” Hill adds with a smile, “a few of us still just do it for Herb.”
Virginia Dean is the group’s matriarch. This year will mark the 74-year-old’s 28th plunge.
“I always thought the worst part would be getting out,” she explains. “But by then, you don’t even notice that you’re cold because your body is generating so much heat.”
In fact, Dean often returns to the water a second time for the opportunity to swim once the crowd has thinned.
“People ask me why I keep doing it. It’s because for about two weeks afterward I feel truly fabulous,” she declares.
“The feeling you get is euphoric,” he says. “You’re warm all over and everything feels good. You’re just so invigorated!”
— Colleen Kennedy
Art From the Heart
Brushstroke by brushstroke, Grove City artist David E. Maple is doing his part to battle a disease that 23.6 million Americans grapple with every day. For the last nine years, the 60-year-old watercolorist has designed cards for the American Diabetes Association’s Gift of Hope holiday catalog. All proceeds from every sale help fund research to find a cure for this potentially debilitating illness.
“Being diagnosed does change your life,” says Maple, who discovered he has Type 2 diabetes during a routine physical nine years ago. Since then, he’s learned to significantly cut down on carbs and skip desserts. He credits his wife, Sally, who was diagnosed in 1994, with paving the way toward the couple’s healthier lifestyle. “You have to make the decision to eat right and exercise,” Maple says. “No one can make it for you.
“And,” he adds, “you have to live that way always. It’s not something you do for a week and then it’s over.”
Maple, who teaches watercolor and acrylic painting to children and adults at the Urbancrest YMCA and the Coffee Break art studio in Grove City, enjoys capturing the spirit of the season for the American Diabetes Association. The two designs he created for the organization’s 2010 catalog, “Country Christmas Eve” and “Colors of Winter,” reflect a Currier and Ives theme and pay homage to the cardinal, Ohio’s state bird.
“The research the ADA conducts can’t be underestimated,” he says. “And I’m proud to help.”
For more information about Maple’s holiday cards, call 800/608-4279 or visit diabetes.org/giftofhope. — Linda Feagler
Illuminate the Season
In the true spirit of the season, The Christmas Ranch is all about giving.
Twenty years ago, Dr. James Michael Fuchs and his wife, Debi, inadvertently hung one of the largest holiday light displays at their Terwilligers Run home in Symmes Township. Year after year, the brilliant show caused traffic jams on their cul-de-sac between Thanksgiving and New Year’s and, eventually, garnered national attention on HGTV and “Good Morning America.”
After that publicity, the crowds got even bigger and the couple purchased a 110-acre dude ranch in nearby Morrow, which allowed them to light up the night — and the lives of children — with nearly 350,000 bulbs synchronized to music.
For the past two years, they have donated most of the proceeds from the $12-per-vehicle admission fee to children’s charities throughout Cincinnati. Last year, with the help of sponsor First Financial Bank, the Fuchses gave $25,000 to Shriners Hospitals for Children and the Neediest Kids of All.
Transforming their home into The Christmas Ranch is truly a labor of love for the couple. Last season, they added a Christmas Village, complete with six shops filled with ornaments, nativities, food and baked goods to enjoy by the nightly bonfire.
Although the Fuchses never intended to turn their light show into a business (James is a dentist and Debi works in his office), the chance to give to children’s charities has been the most rewarding part of the endeavor.
“It’s a good thing for the children and the charities, and that’s our goal,” says Debi. “We don’t really make anything off of it — just enough to pay the light bill.”
The Christmas Ranch is located at 3205 S. Waynesville Rd., Morrow 45152. For more information, call 513/697-2640 or visit thechristmasranch.com. — Jessica Esemplare
A Crowning Achievement
Amir Eylon, Ohio’s state tourism director, has been honored with the Ohio Travel Association’s 2010 Paul Sherlock Award — the Ohio tourism industry’s highest honor.
The award, created in 1975, honors excellence in service to Ohio’s travel industry as exemplified by its namesake, the late Paul Sherlock, who was a tireless advocate of Ohio tourism at the Ohio Department of Development and ultimately as state tourism director.
Eylon leads the Ohio Tourism Division’s efforts to drive economic development by marketing the state’s leisure tourism experiences and industry to travelers. Under his leadership, the Tourism Division’s marketing programs have generated $13 in new taxes for every public dollar invested.
“Amir is a true champion of Ohio’s tourism industry,” says Marc McQuaid, executive director of the Ohio Travel Association.
“His passion for our state and for our dynamic tourism industry, as well as his dedication to promoting Ohio’s tourism opportunities, are unparalleled,” adds Lisa Patt-McDaniel, director of the Ohio Department of Development.
Eylon previously served as executive vice president of the Ohio Hotel and Lodging Association, assistant state tourism director of the Ohio Tourism Division and as sales and marketing manager for the Steuben County Conference and Visitors Bureau in Corning, New York.