Photo via Twitter
A team of Marquette University Police Department officers raised $1,100 for the Special Olympics of Wisconsin at a Polar Plunge event at the Milwaukee County Zoo Feb. 25.
The group included interim chief Capt. Jeff Kranz, Capt. Ruth Peterson, Lt. Jill Weisensel, Sgt. Christopher Gatzke, Tom Wichgers, Carolina Seidl and Daniel Kawczynski. Weisensel posted a video of the event on her Twitter page.
SOWI works to help athletes with disabilities throughout the state as a regional arm of the Special Olympics, a national nonprofit organization.
The Polar Plunge consisted of each team or individual jumping into a pool fully-clothed. There were other Marquette-affiliated teams at the event, including a group from the Marquette Dental School and groups of students.
“It was a good time,” Kranz said. “We got to talk to a lot of people because when you’re in uniform, you kind of stick out in the crowd.”
In the past, various MUPD officers participated in the event individually, but this was the first time an official department team was formed.
“It was very cold,” Weisensel said. “I had done it before, several years ago, and it was in Lake Michigan. … Once you hit the water, you just lose your breath.”
SOWI has a close relationship with law enforcement across the state, Kranz and Weisensel said. MUPD has done some other SOWI fundraisers, including the Law Enforcement Torch Run and Cops for Kids.
“We have a lot of different officers that are volunteering in different capacities (with SOWI),” Weisensel said.
Linda and Melanie Sobelman, members of family business Sobelman’s restaurants, made the decision to sponsor MUPD at the Polar Plunge. Linda said Sobelman’s sponsored the team because they respect what MUPD does to protect them and students.
“The Marquette police take care of our restaurant and our students,” Linda said. “They’re always at our back door. They’re always working hard … we really appreciate them.”
Sobelman’s is known for sponsoring Marquette-related fundraisers throughout the year. Linda said Melanie, her daughter, has also been sponsoring nonprofit organizations such as SOWI and United Way for the past decade through the restaurant.
Officer Wichgers led the effort in getting the MUPD team to participate in Polar Plunge this year. Wichgers said he met a disabled man named Jake Nowak through a family member. Nowak is an athlete competing in SOWI sports every year. He does a variety of sports each year, including swimming, volleyball, snowshoeing, basketball and bowling.
Wichgers said Jake inspired him to do more to help SOWI and come out to their fundraisers multiple times a year.
“When I met Jake, he started inviting me to different events and asked me to volunteer,” Wichgers said. “When I saw the Polar Plunge came up, and it fell on my off day, I wanted to take advantage of that because everybody sees the support that the Special Olympics (of Wisconsin) has for law enforcement, and I’d have the opportunity to return the favor.”
SOWI hosts multiple Polar Plunges per year in different areas of the state. Wichgers plans on jumping at one in Muskego, his hometown, next year along with the next Milwaukee event. The best part, Wichgers said, is connecting with Jake at the events.
“Everybody’s got that one thing they do,” Wichgers said. “Jake helped me find that one thing.”