By Michael P. Walsh
Special to the Voice
A colorful array of people plunged into the icy Long Island Sound on Saturday morning to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the West Haven Breast Cancer Awareness Program.
About 175 participants of all ages, many of them sporting anything and everything pink, charged in and out of the 35-degree water at Savin Rock Beach during the 19th annual Icy Plunge for the Cure, a benefit for breast cancer.
Among the brave souls were Mayor Nancy R. Rossi’s predecessors from the past two decades, former Mayors Edward M. O’Brien, John M. Picard and H. Richard Borer Jr., who dashed into the frigid surf for the worthy cause.
As pledges continue to roll in, the plunge, presented by the West Haven Breast Cancer Awareness Committee, has raised more than $800,000 for breast cancer research and education, including $33,000 and counting for this year, buoyed by top individual fundraiser Anthony Cordone’s $7,000 and $2,100 collected by the West Haven High School boys hockey team, the top group fundraiser. The team raised the money in honor of two hockey moms who are breast cancer survivors.
Ruby Melton and Gail McAvay, the top fundraisers for non-plungers, raised $10,000 in honor of breast cancer survivors Susan Rodriguez and Lynne Cohen.
Cordone, a local contractor who is the committee’s newest member, has raised about $200,000 for the cause since the inaugural plunge on Jan. 13, 2001, said city Human Resources Commissioner Beth A. Sabo, a founding committee member.
Joining Sabo on the committee are founders Maureen Blake, Jennifer Cavallaro, Kathy Lucibello, Ronald M. Quagliani, Susan See, Colleen Smullen and Lorie Tamaro.
Proceeds from the plunge have previously gone to the Smilow Breast Center at Yale New Haven Hospital and Looking Forward, an education and wellness program for cancer patients at Smilow.
After the event, as plungers thawed out inside the Savin Rock Conference Center, Rossi and the ex-mayors recognized the platinum anniversary of the Breast Cancer Awareness Program, taking turns showering committee members with words of praise and inspiration.
Rossi thanked and commended “the champions of our breast cancer awareness crusade” and presented the committee with a citation for “serving a cause greater than yourself.”
Reading the citation, she said: “Each of you has worked tirelessly to encourage and support breast cancer awareness and has given hope and help to countless individuals and families who have been affected by breast cancer. Your legacy of excellence and selflessness will live on in West Haven!”
The frosty dip was spearheaded by city and police officials under Borer’s administration to increase breast cancer awareness. Their initial meeting, on Sept. 28, 2000, led to the creation of the Breast Cancer Awareness Committee and a series of fundraisers, including the plunge, in support of breast cancer research and education.
The benefits, which included a duckpin bowling tournament, bake sale, pizza taste-off, walkathon and candlelight vigil, were held in memory of Susan A. Ruickoldt, a third-grade Savin Rock Community School teacher who died of breast cancer in 1997. Her sons, Douglas J. Ruickoldt and Councilman Nicholas W. Ruickoldt, D-2, attended this year’s plunge.
In 2003, the committee established the Susan A. Ruickoldt Scholarship Fund, which awards $2,000 to a female high school senior from West Haven who plans to continue her education.
Today, the scholarship fund and plunge are the committee’s remaining initiatives, Sabo said.
The plunge is a celebration of survivors and a remembrance of loved ones who have died of the disease, she said.