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Participants of Shamrock Shiver Plunge find balmy water

BRADENTON BEACH -- Mel and Rayma Stowe aren’t just the owners of Clancy’s bar on Cortez Road, they are also participants in all the zany shenanigans that go on there.

That’s why the Stowes were in bathing suits and among 77 who raced into the Gulf of Mexico at noon Sunday during the fourth annual Shamrock Shiver Charity Plunge at Bradenton Beach.

The Plunge raised more than $20,000 for local children’s charities, the Stowes said.

The initial New Year’s Plunge, in 2009, brought in $8,000 in pledges for children and the contributions increased to $14,000 in 2010 and $28,000 in 2011, said bar historian Lisa Pierce, who also dove into the water this year.

“It says a lot when the bar owners are right out there in the water to raise money for their community,” said bar patron Claudia Petruny.

The Stowes and the other 75 “plungers” caught a break Sunday because sunny skies lifted water temperatures to 66 degrees, balmy enough to draw only very mild shivers and no yelps of pain from the courageous polar bears.

“It was actually very refreshing,” participant Krissy Bilbray said of the Gulf waters.

“I could go in again.”

“Invigorating,” said Tom Overmier, 65, rushing to climb back in his Clancy’s event T-shirt that read, “Cover me. I’m going in.”

“The water was pretty cold, but we all just dove right in,” said Cindy Clarke, a Clancy’s regular.

Mel Stowe was all smiles as he dried himself off after his plunge.

“This was our biggest turnout ever,” Mel Stowe said.

“Besides the 77 in the water, we had 300 on the beach. It was fun. People love a chance to act out a bit and we provide that for sure.”

Two years ago, on Jan. 1, 2010, cold and rain drove water temperatures to around 53 degrees, which was the lowest the Plunge has ever seen, Pierce said.

The Shamrock Shiver Charity Plunge is more than just the dip in the chilly Gulf, bar patrons said.

The bar, which regulars say pours young and old together, stirring up a unique mixed drink of attitudes, also offers a ride to the Plunge on its 1955 American La France fire engine.

A rider on the fire engine Sunday got to see people waving to the “polar bears” on their five-mile trek from Clancy’s to Bradenton Beach.

Many of those who rode the fire engine told remarkable stories of their fanatical devotion to their bar.

“I bought a house near Clancy’s,” said Snook Schwab, whose mother, Vera Staats, is among Clancy’s oldest patrons at age 92.

Cindy Clarke is a sales rep whose territory is California, Utah and the rest of the West Coast of the United States. Yet, she lives in Bradenton.

“Clancy’s is my bar,” she said.

Joe Devito and Jason Haacke do a stand-up comedy routine while hanging from the back of the fire truck every year.

“Life doesn’t get any better than hanging off the end of a fire truck on New Year’s Day after a dip in the Gulf,” Devito said.

The Plunge may soon go international.

Rachel Mallon, assistant to John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand, took the Plunge and said she will forward the Stowes’ invitation to Key to take a dip at the 2013 Plunge.

“He may,” Mallon said. “He’s a good sport.”

Grauer and others said the prime minister will have a blast at Clancy’s and on the beach.

“This is a friendly place,” said Hank Grauer, a patron for all 11 years that Clancy’s has been open. “Everyone who comes feels welcome.”

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.