MARY LOU LARSEN, mortgage lender

For her 50th birthday in 2001, Mary Lou Larsen gave herself a present: She participated in her first-ever Splash and Dash on New Year’s Day. Now, seven years later, she will make her eighth plunge, adding thousands of dollars to the Polar Plunge coffers all the while.

“I figured, what the heck?” Mary Lou says of her inaugural splash. “I always wanted to do it. What better way to celebrate the year of my 50th birthday?”

Mary Lou jumped with her daughter, Shari, in conditions that were less than ideal.

“Lake Michigan was completely frozen over that year,” she remembers. “They cut a hole in the ice and we jumped in. We couldn’t run in from the shore, as in other years. Nowadays, I always pray for warm weather.”

Thanks to Mary Lou’s tireless fundraising efforts — and the generosity of her family, friends, and coworkers — she raised $1,500 last year alone to benefit HALO (the Homeless Assistance Leadership Organization), the Racine County Food Bank, and the Kiwanis Foundation. And more is on the way this year.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” she says. “If I were in need, as many of these people are, I would want others to do the same for me.”