Around the Island

Don’t be a turkey (or a chicken) … Take the plunge

BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Emerging from the frigid waters during the inaugural plunge in 2010.
BEVERLEA WALZ PHOTO | Emerging from the frigid waters during the inaugural plunge in 2010.

Calling all turkeys … and gorillas and clowns and superheroes! The 8th annual Turkey Plunge is Saturday, November 25 at 11 a.m. sharp at Crescent Beach.

For the uninitiated, the Turkey Plunge, a brief, but frigid dip into the waters of the bay, is a Thanksgiving weekend tradition in these parts. Sponsored by Friends of the Shelter Island Library, costumes are highly encouraged while plunging and money raised from entry fees and fundraising efforts benefit library programming all year long.

It’s a tradition that began back in 2009 when Peter and Gail Vielbig’s daughter and grandchildren were visiting for Thanksgiving. 

“My granddaughter, Charlotte — who is now 18 — said we all had to jump into Dering Harbor because her friends were in Nantucket jumping into the water for the Nantucket Library,” Mr. Vielbig said. “Our family all ran into the water here and Gail, Charlotte’s grammy, suggested she take the idea to the library.”

So Charlotte, who was 10 at the time, did just that. She got her library card and slipped a note into the suggestion box that read, “Why don’t we have a turkey plunge?”

“Like Abraham Lincoln who said, ‘So you’re the little lady who started this big war’ when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte was the little girl who started the Turkey Plunge,” said Mr. Vielbig. “Gail took off with it. She was active with Friends of the Library. In 2010, the first Turkey Plunge was a great success and raised close to $10,000 or $12,000 for the library.”

That first plunge took place on a bitterly cold day. The oldest participant was 85, the youngest was Mr. Vielbig’s grandson Peter, who was 7. Mr. Vielbig recalls that it was 20 degrees with the wind blowing, and people ran in and out of the water very quickly. “We’ve also had warm days and rainy days,” he said. “Over the years there have only been two problems. One was when there was a prize for staying in the water the longest. Someone stayed in so long he got hypothermia and EMS volunteers had to help him out. We canceled that prize.

“Two was when someone got bit by a dog. Otherwise, there have been no problems.”

LESLIE DEL COL PHOTO | Peter Vielbig’s grandchildren, Charlotte, Lucy and Peter Del Col in 2010.
LESLIE DEL COL PHOTO | Peter Vielbig’s grandchildren, Charlotte, Lucy and Peter Del Col in 2010.

Though Gail Vielbig passed away in 2014 (that year’s plunge was dedicated to her), the Turkey Plunge has proceeded unabated, raising around $15,000 a year for library programming.

“That’s $120,000 for the library that Charlotte started,” Mr. Vielbig said. “It’s just a great time for young and old — and for a great cause.

“It’s also the world’s shortest benefit. At 11 a.m. you’re in the water and by five after 11, you’re in your car.”

The Turkey Plunge Details:

Ankles, knees or total immersion are all acceptable forms of plunging. Check-in begins at 10 a.m. The entry fee is $25 in advance, $30 at the beach on plunge day. Prizes will be awarded for best costume (male and female), most money raised by an individual, and most money raised by a team. Costume judging begins at 10:15 a.m. The plunge is held rain, snow or sun and to entice the plungers, complimentary hot cider and donuts will be served. Also available will be $5 cups of turkey chili (what else) sold by the Tavern. Participants can register in advance online or at the library. Return pledges and checks/cash to the library by Friday, November 24. Sponsors can pledge directly to the participant or online.

For the record, the 1st Plunge was cold and windy; the 2nd Plunge was mild and rather pleasant; the 3rd was bone-chilling; the 4th and 5th brought frigid but fun conditions; and the 6th and 7th were graced with almost balmy weather. So remember, you never know what weather Plunge Day will bring!