by Dennis Dalman
What started as a bet and a dare is now an annual ice-cold tradition for MaryBeth Munden of St. Joseph. Every year, she summons up the gumption (Brrrr!) to go plunging into a lake in the dead of winter, and it all began on a bet with a wisecracking police chief.
It’s a shock to her system, but it’s for a good cause – the Polar Plunge for the Minnesota Special Olympics.
Munden is the dispatcher for the St. Joseph Police Department. About seven years ago, some members of the department were in the office shooting the breeze about the Polar Plunge in the news. The police chief at that time, Pete Jansky, known for his wisecracks, made a remark that Mary would never take the Polar Plunge because she hates the cold weather so much. Munden bristled at Jansky’s teasing suggestion that she’s a cold-weather wimp. She threw him a challenging look, but he just laughed and said, “Mary, I’ll bet you $75 you won’t do it.”
To which she replied, “OK, chief, it’s a bet. Now where’s the $75?
Not too long after that, the chief had to cough up the money. He not only had to eat his words, but he had to pay for them, too. And every year since, Jansky, who is now retired, has been good-natured about losing that bet, contributing every winter to Munden’s plunge-fund.
“Pete thought I was kidding,” she said. “He found out I wasn’t, but he’s been so good about it.”
Besides her dispatching duties, Munden is also a waitress at Kay’s Kitchen and El Paso Bar and Grill, both in St. Joseph. As if she didn’t have enough work to do, she is about to finish up an associate’s degree in English from the St. Cloud Vocational School.
“Yes, it’s that time of year again,” she said. “The time of year when I suck up my hatred for the cold and raise money so I can jump in a frozen lake.”
On Feb. 7 in Sauk Centre, Munden and others will jump into a frozen lake. Meantime, she is seeking donations for the Special Olympics online, via mail or in person. Her boyfriend, Rick Welch of Sartell, might take the plunge again, too, as he has in the past few years. The plunge date, Feb. 7, will be the day of Welch’s 39th birthday.
This will be her sixth Polar Plunge. The first took place near the 400 Club in St. Cloud. Several others happened at events in the Twin Cities area.
People often ask her what it’s like to do something as crazy as plunging into frozen lakes.
“After jumping in,” she said, “the brain function says only one thing: ‘Get out! Get out! Get out! You don’t even look around. It hits you suddenly. It’s freezing and your body and brain scream ‘Get out!’ “
But the hardest part about taking part in the Polar Plunge, she added, is raising money year after year.
“Many people are strapped financially,” she said. “And some decide to take turns giving to so many other good causes instead of the same one each year. Of course I understand that.”
Munden added, however, that people are always generous, kind and contribute what they can.
To contribute to Munden’s Polar Plunge, go to:
People can also contribute in person by dropping off a check written to “Special Olympics Minnesota” and delivered to Munden at the St. Joseph Police Department. Its open hours for the public are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
Checks can also be mailed to MaryBeth Munden, P.O. Box 546, St. Joseph, MN 56374.