Peter Vielbig, 75, back, center, and his family participated in...

Peter Vielbig, 75, back, center, and his family participated in the fifth annual Shelter Island Library Turkey Plunge on Nov. 29, 2014, in memory of Vielbig's wife, Gail, who died last May. Gail Vielbig played an important role in starting the annual Shelter Island plunge tradition. Credit: Amy Onorato

Peter Vielbig, 75, stood on the shore of Crescent Beach on Shelter Island wrapped in a coat, hat and gloves, saving all the warmth he could before stripping down to swim gear and taking a dip in the water for the fifth annual Shelter Island Library Turkey Plunge.

Vielbig, along with 12 other family members, were there to take the plunge in memory of the late Gail Vielbig, Peter’s wife, and the person who made the annual polar plunge part of Shelter Island tradition five years ago. Gail Vielbig died of congestive heart failure last May at the age of 75.

“Gail was just full of great ideas,” Vielbig said. “This plunge is one of them, and ultimately an extension of her.”

The event took place on Crescent Beach, drawingg a large crowd of plungers who were encouraged to dress in costume. The plunge is organized by the Friends of Shelter Island Library to raise money for ongoing library projects and upkeep. Gail Vielbig, a former member of the Friends, brought the idea to the group in 2009. Since then, the annual event has raised more than $75,000 for the library.

“This is by far our largest fundraiser,” said Sue Hine, chairman of the Friends of Shelter Island Library group. “It’s truly become a community event – the support we get from residents, and even people from around the area, is incredible.”

For Shelter Island Library director Denise DiPaolo, of Sag Harbor, this year’s event was bittersweet. It was the last plunge DiPaolo would take as library director – in January 2015, she will take on a new role as director of the Montauk library.

And she did it in style. DiPaolo was dressed head to toe in a penguin suit, her face kept warm by her penguin headpiece. DiPaolo said she always liked dressing up -- last year she was the Cat in the Hat from Dr. Seuss.

“I was there when the plunge first started, and I’ve watched it grow so much over the years,” DiPaolo said. “Even though I won’t be director, who knows? Maybe I’ll come back and plunge incognito next year.”

This year’s plunge signaled an ending for DiPaolo, but a beginning for Ben Campbell, 11, who took the plunge for the first time this year. Not only was he one of the first people in the water – he was also the last out, lingering in the water for close to 10 minutes.

“It tickled, it was so cold,” Ben said as he stood wrapped in a towel after the event. “But the longer I was in there, the warmer it got; I don’t know why. But it wasn’t so bad.” 

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