It’s a Plunge life for me

Education / Featured Sliders / Health & Fitness / HER Profile / Stories / January 15, 2019

Meet the Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog Polar Plunge team, who have raised $98,000-plus for Special Olympics Missouri

Story by Samantha Pogue

Every pirate has a code they live by.

Often it was outlined with rules for discipline, division of stolen goods, compensation for injured pirates and other important articles within the conduct agreement.

However, the most well-known “pirates” that claim Lake of the Ozarks as their stronghold of call live by a different code.

They provide nourishing food and drink to hungry patrons that anchor in their harbor, welcome children aboard their massive ship named Calypso to join in their adventures and collect a large amount of booty each year to give back to a needed nonprofit organization.

(File photo) The Jolly Rogers team runs into the frigid waters of Public Beach No. 2 in Osage Beach during the annual Polar Plunge, which benefits Special Olympics Missouri.

They are the “pirates” of Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog, and since 2008, this family-friendly restaurant crew has raised about $98,000 for Special Olympics Missouri through their participation in the annual Polar Plunge and Polar Bear Strut every February, held this year on Feb. 23.

Alongside more than 500 participants annually, the Jolly Rogers pirates are one of the largest teams at the event. Even though they enjoy a friendly internal competition to raise the money with one member claiming the coveted Jolly Polar Plunge trophy and annual name recognition, they all sail to Public Beach No. 2 at Lake of the Ozark State Park in Osage Beach together aboard Calypso and carry their flags proudly as they dive into the icy cold waters of the lake for Special Olympics Missouri. Their pirate code is all about embracing and giving back to their community.

“We are here to give back to the community, not take from them,” said Christie Jung, co-owner of Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog alongside her husband Joe. “For Joe and I, this is something that is so important to us. (The Polar Plunge) is a tradition. By Feb. 1, everybody is on track and we are all raising the money, but then I start thinking about getting into that cold water. I don’t really want to get into the cold water, but I do it, I want to do it and I’m always so glad I did.”

Developing their pirate code

Before opening Jolly Rogers along the lake’s north shore in Rocky Mount in 2006, “Pirate Queen” Christie and “Jolly” Joe had spent most of their lives where they grew up – Parkville, Missouri.

Christie had fine dining experience outside working full-time as an underwriter for an insurance company, and Joe worked in pizza enterprises for years. They also had their own quality control business they owned together.

Christie and Joe Jung, owners of Jolly Rogers Grub N Grog in Rocky Mount.

Many fun-filled summer weekends were spent at their second home at Lake of the Ozarks with their two daughters – now 33-year-old Melissa and 17-year-old Anna.

They had considered opening a restaurant before, but didn’t think it was conducive to family life. However, their trips to the lake made them feel there was a need for a more family style, waterfront restaurant. With their business slowing due to the onset of the last recession, they felt the time was right to look into a new business venture and purchased the property.

Already housing a marina, the property needed the core of their business – a restaurant. Thankfully, Joe’s construction knowledge and their shared experience in the culinary world helped them create the family-style restaurant they desired.

“The original concept was Joe would bartend and I would serve, hiring a chef. Anna could hang out in this Ma and Pa style restaurant,” Christie said. “But then when we put these huge posts in along the water, that just didn’t click. We needed something different.”

The restaurant also took a turn after a friend suggested they make it pirate themed while the Jung family was hanging out with friends on Halloween after they had purchased the property.

(Submitted photo) Calypso is sailing at sunset.

“He comes up with the strangest ideas, so we were like, ‘Sure whatever,’” Christie said with a smile. “Then when we got home, we started thinking about it and thought that is not a bad idea. We had a four-month old African grey parrot Joe got for Father’s Day the year before. … I graduated from Park University, and we were the pirates (their mascot). The first Halloween we were together, Joe and I dressed like pirates. Now looking back, there were all these little signs. … It started to click after that.”

A year after the couple officially opened Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog in April 2007, Christie and Joe knew they wanted to give back to the community where they were now invested in. Christie was a youth minister at her church back in Parkville, teaching seventh and eighth grade religious education. In that class, she had a young man who was in Special Olympics Missouri, which provides year-round sports and training opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities. The Polar Plunge event, which is one of 11 such events held in Missouri that supports the state’s Special Olympics organization, seemed like a natural fit.

 “We were always about giving back to the community, even when we had our business in Kansas City. It became our cause,” Christie said. “When we wanted to do something at the lake and after we opened Jolly Rogers, we thought this would be a great way to get involved and do something together as a family.”

 That first year, the Jolly Rogers Plunge team had 10 members, which included mostly family that still lived in the Kansas City area.

“We learned a lot that first year like not knowing we had to park aways and it was a cold one that year, too. But it was so much fun,” Christie said, noting they raised $5,000. “We had such a good time doing it, we just kept doing it.”

Taking the big ‘Plunge’

Christie, Joe, their two daughters (and now Melissa’s three boys and family) and a few family friends have remained the core part of the Jolly Rogers Plunge crew. However, as the years have passed, that number has increased and now reaches 35 to 50 participants, with the majority being Jolly Rogers employees.

(Submitted photo) The many members of the Jolly Rogers Polar Plunge crew.

“For us, it is a good reason to get our Jolly crew back together again during the off season and it is for a great cause. Jolly closes the third weekend in October and we start missing our Jolly family pretty quickly,” Christie said, noting they re-open each season in April.

Each member of the team not only has to dress as a pirate during the plunge, they must also raise at least their minimum donation pledge amount, which is now $75. But, this crew is full of pirates; they take all they can get.

In fact, the teammates compete to earn as much money as they can in hopes to have their name on the Jolly Rogers Plunge team leader board and the coveted trophy, which is displayed with their name at the restaurant.

“Rob Hunter who won last year, he promised to give his supporters the video of him plunging to show them just what it looks like. He also auctioned off Jolly Rogers gift cards,” Christie said. “We all do different things and have a lot of fun doing it, but it is about raising as much as we can for the cause.”

Christie and Joe’s daughters have often been neck and neck in earning that spot in the mid-years of their annual fundraising efforts as part of the Jolly team, and many employees have beat out their fellow “sailors” to earn the top spot.

One such internal fundraising battle included employee Lacey Schulen and Renee Strotkamp, who serves as Jolly Rogers office manager, live music coordinator, first mate and often captain for excursions aboard Jolly’s pirate ship Calypso alongside Captain Scalawag played by Tim Williams, among other duties. Lacey had held the top earner award for two consecutive years.

“I wasn’t going to let her win three in a row,” Renee said as she and Christie laughed. “We even held onto some of the cash we had raised from contributors and turned it in at the last minute secretly to Joe, just to see who beat who.”

(Submitted photo) Renee Strotkamp holds the coveted Polar Plunge trophy that one member of the Jolly Rogers Plunge team earns each year if they raise the most money.

Through avid social media campaigning to friends, family and others, Renee was able to beat out Lacey, securing that title for three years straight. For the 2018 event, Renee decided to step up her fundraising efforts and participation to the next level.

“There were some grumblings that I always got the award,” Renee said laughing, “so I decided to do the Super Plunge. I knew I had to have a minimum of $2,500 to do it and in previous years, I was close to that amount. I was pretty certain I could do it, and I did.”

Only held during the Kansas City and Lake of the Ozarks Polar Plunges, the Super Plunge has participants who raise that amount of money plunge 24 times in 24 hours. Normally 12 to 15 Super Plungers are brave enough to take on this challenge, however Renee, who raised more than $3,200, joined a group of 18 Super Plungers last year that included two other women.

The Super Plungers will start plunging regularly each hour the day before the event, often doing their last plunge at 11 p.m. and resuming at 7:30 a.m. the day of the Polar Plunge. Often, the Super Plungers will double up on plunges so they can catch some sleep and recuperation during this strenuous activity, as well as for those who participate in the Polar Bear Strut, a 5K run/walk held the morning of the Polar Plunge.

“Because of the rain in the afternoon and the horrible red radar was showing a storm heading our way, we did four plunges in a row. I don’t think they’ll do it again,” she said. “In the water, then out and in and out; it was pretty brutal. Then we were done until the final plunge, which the Super Plungers are the first heat of the main event. By that time you were exhausted. I would do doubles over the four in a row any day.”

(Submitted photo) The 2018 Super Plungers, including Jolly Rogers’ Renee Strotkamp (far left), who participated in this part of the event for the first time last year.

Renee said she also brought several changes of clothes and lots of towels during her first Super Plunge experience, not knowing exactly what it would be like. She realized that outside the top two earners who get to rest in an RV, the remaining Super Plungers use the neighboring Lake of the Ozarks Marina where volunteers also dry their towels and take care of them.

 “They had three rows of cots lined up head to toe, and there were two bathrooms. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into, so I bought my first pair of earplugs,” she said with a laugh. “There were people there to take care of us, and divers in the water every time we did our plunges. … I didn’t think I would do it again, but I am. I loved it. I met some great fellow Super Plungers.”

Always a ‘Jolly’ family  As for many of the remaining Jolly Rogers Plunge crew, their annual February get-together starts with participation in the Polar Bear Strut, which begins at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at the park this year.

Back when the team first participated and during inclement weather, they would cruise to Public Beach No. 2 aboard the “Jolly Boat,” a pirate-themed cabin cruiser that the Jung family uses for recreational purposes. However, for the last few years, the team arrives aboard their main vessel, the Calypso.

“We purchased the open pirate ship in 2014, and it was originally on the Mississippi and sailed out of St. Charles. … When Joe when out to look at it, it was a no-brainer,” Christie said. “The kids absolutely adore it. Renee is one of our captains and she sails regularly, also playing the role of first mate. And Captain Scalawag (or Tim Williams) is just amazing.”

Christie said they have to drop the masts to get under the Grand Glaize Bridge, which can be quite the tactical maneuver. With many participating in the Polar Bear Strut, they will stage the boat near Osage Beach, go grab tacos at Mexicali Blues, hop aboard and bring it around the corner to the Plunge as the event starts gathering participants and spectators.

After the Jolly Rogers pirate crew storms Public Beach No. 2, they often take up one or even two heats of the main event. They always carry their flags into the water while plunging and enjoy the camaraderie they share with each other, their fellow plungers and those staff and athletes from Special Olympics Missouri.

(File photo) The Jolly Rogers team normally arrives now on their pirate ship, Calypso, but on occasion they may come to or leave the event in the Jolly Cruiser, seen here.

Over the years, Christie said they have had so many memorable moments from Polar Plunges, including watching 5 inches of snow fall to the ground as they hovered around a fire pit before the plunge began.

“The plunge itself is cold, but you immediately get out and have the tents there. It is the waiting for your turn, thinking about how cold it is going to be, that gets you going,” Renee said.

Following the plunge, Christie, Joe and their Jolly crew set sail back on the Calypso back to Jolly Rogers for their own after-party.

“The last few years, we have held a chili cook-off and had a DJ with karaoke. It is a lot of fun and a great way to end the day,” Christie said.

The entire Jolly Rogers Plunge team is glad to help raise funds for Missouri’s Special Olympians, and know their bonds are strong much like the lake’s own pirate crew.

“It is a true family. I call it my Jolly family. It doesn’t matter if you are front or back of the house, we are the Jolly family,” Renee said.

“When we are out together, Renee will get somebody to play the song ‘We Are Family’ and we all get on the dance floor and dance. It is obligatory,” Christie said, noting they have purchased furniture and hotel auctions to give those among their 98 employees in need and know they are they are there if they need anything. “We are there for each other. We do our employee orientation for new employees and we say, ‘As owners, we are there all the time, but if they need anything they just need to let us know.’”

For more information about Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog, visit www.grubngrog.com.

Plunge like the Jolly Family

There is still time to participate in the 2019 Polar Plunge with a theme of “The Greatest Plunge on Earth.”

(File photo) The Jolly Rogers team takes their plunge during the annual event.

This year’s event begins at 2 p.m. at Public Beach No. 2 at Lake of the Ozarks State Park in Osage Beach. Participants must be at least 10 years old and raise a minimum of $75 by the event day. The Polar Bear Strut begins at 8:30 a.m. at Public Beach No. 2, and participants must raise $50 by the event day.

Prizes will be awarded to those raising certain amounts: $300 earns a blanket; $500, a hoodie; $1,000, jacket; and $2,000, a cooler plus one of each other level.

If $500 is raised and turned in by Feb. 9, participants will be entered to win a brand new 2018 Sea-Doo GTI SE, courtesy of Missouri Powersports Association.

These events, which are projects of the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics Missouri and hosted by the Osage Beach Police Department, benefit Special Olympics Missouri.

To participate, donate or for more information about the Polar Bear Strut, contact Kami Delameter at delameter@somo.org; for the Polar Plunge, contact Crystal Schuster at cschuster@somo.org; or visit www.somo.org/plungeloz.


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