Elsie Anderson of Ogden Dunes has a standing date with Lake Michigan every Jan. 1.
She began her polar plunge party 21 years ago, with the celebration evolving and growing. She was living in Michigan City the first time she hosted such a party, but it now takes place at her lakefront home in Ogden Dunes, where she has lived since 2001.
Anderson comes from a big family, and they don’t get together on Christmas. So she planned this get-together on New Year’s day to see her siblings and nieces and nephews. Over the years, friends and extended family have joined.
The diversity of the group is something Anderson really enjoys. “My son-in-law’s family is from Poland and different years there’s been a big group of folks that come from Chicago and it’s always kind of a nice twist having people who speak Polish as a first language added to the mix. We have some family who are farmers. We even let the Green Bay Packers fans come,” she said. “We have folks that come from Michigan. We call them our ‘New Year’s Day friends'. We don’t really talk to them any other time, but they’re almost like cousins now.”
She especially loves when kids are there. “It’s fun for middle school and high school-age kids."
There’s usually a big pot of soup and a lot of interesting potluck dishes, including a lamb roasted underground on the beach. A zip line, a yoga class and other activities have been woven into the party, but the highlight is the plunge into the lake at 1 p.m.
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The gathering has taken on a polar bear theme, so you’ll see many guests in polar bear attire, a lot of polar bear-themed decorations and a big inflatable polar bear.
Anderson and her husband have four children and two grandchildren and you’ll find four generations of family at the New Year’s Day fun.
The dunes are the focus of Anderson’s life year-round. The retired social worker walks in the dunes almost every day, picking up garbage and snapping pictures of hummingbirds with her phone. Her garden is filled with native plants.
Living on the edge of the newest national park, Anderson said that as she walks she meets people from all over the country rather than just locals. “It’s nice to chat with folks coming to see the area because we have a national park,” she said. “I enjoy finding out how interested people are in coming to the dunes now that we have the notoriety of being a national park.”
Though she said she’s thought about downsizing in retirement, she can’t imagine leaving the home in the dunes that she loves so much. “I can’t bear the thought of not living somewhere that I don’t have access to sand and dunes and wildflowers and animals,” she said.