Deep Freeze Dip is Saturday
WORTHINGTON -- At age 12, Cole Bartels isn't old enough to jump into the frigid waters of Lake Okabena this Saturday to show his support for the Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight.
However, the sixth grader at Worthington Middle School is doing all he can to raise money and ensure that at least one veteran will be able to fly free of charge to view the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., this spring.
Last week, Bartels' mother was listening to The Highway Patrol -- U.S. 104's morning show with Matt Widboom and Chad Cummings -- and learned about the efforts to collect pledges for local celebrities willing to take the Deep Freeze Dip in Worthington's Lake Okabena.
Bartels mentioned the effort to her son, and within days the boy had raised more than $500 by going door to door in residential neighborhoods and by asking local businesses for donations.
Since the dip is limited to individuals over the age of 18, Widboom and Cummings offered to take the leap into the lake for the boy.
Good cause, great fun
The Deep Freeze Dip for Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight is slated for 3 p.m. Saturday just off the shoreline of Sunset Park on Worthington's Lake Okabena.
Sponsors U.S. 104 Radio and the Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club will have a large hole cut in the ice Saturday morning, and will provide several heated fish houses for people to warm up in after they complete their dive. Both the Worthington Fire Department and Sanford Regional Hospital Ambulance will be on hand for safety.
As of Friday, more than 20 people had picked up pledge forms at the radio station, and several hundred dollars had already been collected. The goal set by the station is to raise $5,000 for Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight -- enough money to send at least six World War II veterans on the journey to Washington, D.C.
The Deep Freeze Dip will cap off a day of activities that is hoped to be the start of an annual winter festival in Worthington.
Earlier in the day Saturday, the Southwest Minnesota Fishing Club will host its first ice fishing tournament on Lake Okabena. Registration is open to anyone, and will go from 8:30 to 10 a.m., with fishing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Registration and weigh-in will be at Sunset Park. There is a fee to participate.
Cummings said people all the way from the Twin Cities to Sioux City, Iowa, are expected for the tournament. Prizes will be awarded to the top 20 fisherman, with a portable fish house as the grand prize.
The western area of Lake Okabena -- from Slater Park to Vogt Park -- will be marked off for the fishing contest. If people want to fish but don't have an ice auger, fishing club members will be on hand to help drill holes.
At 2 p.m., the Worthington Chamber of Commerce and Visitor's Bureau will host a ceremony to crown the first-ever Worthington Snow Queen. Because of the short time frame for planning the event, this year's recipient was selected by the CVB committee. Cummings said in future years they plan to establish an application process.
Throughout the day, the Rock-Nobles Cattlemen will serve grilled burgers in Sunset Park, and the Lake Okabena Improvement Association has discussed serving hot beverages for the crowd.
There are several reasons why Cole Bartels wanted to help raise money for Southwest Minnesota Honor Flight, but the main reason was sitting next to him Friday afternoon. Bartels and his former neighbor, 90-year-old Martha Vining, forged a special bond when the boy was but a little tike.
Said Vinning, the two used to share stories over cups of warm apple juice and cookies in her apartment. As Bartels grew older, he'd take her garbage to the dumpster for her and sit and visit with her for hours about her life and experiences growing up in South Dakota.
Among the stories she shared were those of her three brothers -- Edwin, Alfred and Herman Wudel -- all of whom were killed in action.
Edwin was an anti-aircraft gunner in World War II serving in Munda, New Guinea, when an air bomb struck and killed three of the four soldiers in the group on July 28, 1943.
Herman, who also served in World War II, was a member of Company 5, 119th Engineering Battalion, 12th Armored Division, when he was killed in Germany on Feb. 4, 1945.
Alfred died on April 1, 1951, in a Jeep accident in Japan. He was on his way to South Korea to aid in the Korean War effort.
Vining said after the death of her brothers, she was told her sons would never go to war. She only wished that had been true.
Both of her boys enlisted in the military, and one served time in the Vietnam War. She now has a great-grandson serving in Kuwait.
Just as Vining has a long family history of military service, so too does Bartels. The boy had a great uncle serve in Vietnam, has an uncle in the Navy, and has a couple of cousins in the Army Reserves now preparing for deployment to Afghanistan.
"We come from a family of a lot of servicemen," said Nicole.
"Hopefully I'll be in the service when I'm in high school," added Cole with a smile. He wants to join the National Guard his senior year.