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Dipping into the new year
January 8, 2020

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It was a festive atmosphere at the Outrigger Beach Resort Jan. 1 as a crowd of about 200 were on hand to observe or take part in the plunge into the water in the 15th annual tradition known as the Fort Myers Beach Polar Bear Dip.

It was all for a good cause this year to help local restaurant server Jesse Loudermilk, who is battling cancer. Loudermilk said he is doing "very well." This was his 13th Polar Bear Dip.

"Regardless if it was for my benefit or not I would still be here," he said. "I love that the beach (community) gets together and supports each other."

Maureen Bryar was one of several at the event wearing bingo cards. Bryar has been helping to run a regular bingo game every Tuesday afternoon at Skye's Restaurant to benefit Loudermilk. Bryant said the game will run through April and will help others in need.

"It's a great cause," Joel Messinger said. "Everybody kind of knows each other who is here. It's nice to show everybody who visits what friendship is about. We did it last year for Steve (Miller)."

Miller, who has also fought back cancer, was at this past week's event.

"I'm doing a lot better than I was last year," he said. "They say I have no cancer showing right now."

Miller said he has undergone three operations and 10 rounds of chemotheraphy. He said being in a cancer ward was "very tough," especially seeing children and their families together. "It's terrible for all of them," he said.

While some purchased raffle tickets and participated in an auction to help out Loudermilk, Smokin' Bill and the Smokin Section belted out some tunes along with vocalist Meagan Rose. They closed off their set with the Allman Brothers Band song "Ramblin Man."

That meant the start of the march to the beach with Jack Leyden (in a penguin costume) and co-organizer Bill Schmidt leading a group of more than 100 people to the shore while they chanted. Schmidt checked the temperature of the water and cued a charge into the water which many happily obliged.

Don Imhoff of Wisconsin assisted his eight-year-old granddaughter Liliana Randl in and out of the water. Liliana's mom Danielle said the weather was "better than what it would be in Wisconsin," though Liliana said the water was "too cold."

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