Calling it “a formal occasion,” Lander University President Richard Cosentino donned a seriously fashionable black tuxedo and joined 75 students for the school’s first Polar Plunge amid screams, laughter, loud splashes of water and the cheers of hundreds of onlookers.
The event represented a “committed community of Lander University supporters,” who rallied to meet a fundraising challenge with a goal of $75,000 for student scholarships.
The idea for the Polar Plunge in Lander’s new outdoor swimming pool was from Lander alumnus Steve Wohlwend ‘81, chair of The Lander Foundation’s Board of Directors.
“I heard a lot about this pool, particularly from the president, who was passionate about how the pool would enhance the overall student experience. It was modern and cool,” said Wohlwend.
Because Cosentino worked “so hard to get us the new pool,” Wohlwend said, “it seemed fitting that he would take the first swim. And a Polar Plunge, during Lander’s Homecoming Week, seemed to be a good idea. This is a great way to help raise money for the University and student scholarships.”
Wohlwend announced the Polar Plunge idea during last November’s donor appreciation and scholarship celebration and challenged donors to raise funds and have Cosentino take the first plunge in the new pool.
The president embraced the idea. “Not only was the Polar Plunge a novel opportunity for those who love Lander to support our students, but it’s also an exciting and fun way to open the first phase of the new pool complex,” Cosentino said.
“There has been tremendous enthusiasm from our students since the night the concept for the plunge was announced at our scholarship dinner,” Cosentino said. “Shortly after the dinner, I walked into our campus Starbucks, and students were approaching me and asking how far we were from our fundraising goal.”
The students didn’t have to wait long. The goal was met soon after Wohlwend launched the concept of the Polar Plunge, said Robyn Hoffman, vice president of University Advancement and executive director of The Lander Foundation.
“Great fundraising endeavors start with committed, enthusiastic leadership, and we certainly witnessed that with this campaign,” said Hoffman, noting the support from President Cosentino and Wohlwend, who made a gift to kick off the fundraising effort.
Their “contagious enthusiasm for the Polar Plunge led other donors, including members of Lander’s Board of Trustees and the Foundation Board, as well as alumni and friends of the University, to make gifts, and just like that, we hit our $75,000 goal,” she said.
While the Polar Plunge may be the first on campus, “this event is more about the power of a committed community of Lander supporters who are responding to the exciting growth on our campus — in enrollment and new facilities,” Hoffman said.
Noah Grayson, a freshman media major from Loris, had no qualms about jumping into the 50-degree water on a winter afternoon when the temperature was a less-than-balmy 56 degrees. “I have a warm heart,” he said just minutes before the event began. “I’ll be OK.”
Grayson, who never experienced a Polar Plunge before, said, “This was a chance to make history and something I could share with my parents. Of course, I signed up.”
Pushing herself out of her comfort zone led Lucia Solano, a sophomore from North Augusta, to jump into the cold water. “It is just not something that every student gets to say they have done. As a Presidential Ambassador on campus, this will give me a really cool, personal story I can tell families on my tours. It will give them insight into how much Lander cares about their students!”
A scholarship recipient at Lander, Solano, an international studies major with a minor in public health, said, “Scholarships help take the financial load off students so they are really able to focus on their grades. It feels good to know that people want to support Lander students.”
Calling the University president’s formal attire “iconic,” Emma Gusko, of North Augusta, a secondary education major, wrapped herself in a warm towel after jumping in. “It was cold, but so much fun. I’m really glad I did this, and I would 100 percent do it again!”
Although the startling chill from a February dip in the pool is now but a memory for the participants, Hoffman said the impact of the day lingers. “The ripple effects of the Lander Polar Plunge will continue to be felt long after the event, as numerous students will become the beneficiaries of the scholarship dollars that were raised from this fundraising campaign.”
Only a few minutes after jumping into the pool, Grayson, shivering from head to toe from the plunge, remained enthusiastic about the experience. “My heart is still warm.”