2017-12-28 / Front Page

Plungers prepare for icy New Year’s

Eighth-graders to benefit in memory of Will Kitts

KITTS KITTS It will be a bittersweet moment Monday for hundreds of Jamestowners expected to ring in 2018 by plunging into the icy waters of Narragansett Bay while saying goodbye to a beloved member of their community.

The seventh annual Jamestown First Day Plunge at East Ferry is scheduled for the stroke of noon. Festivities, however, begin at 11 a.m. with food, music and a paddleboard race. According to founder Bob Bailey, hundreds of brave souls are expected to dive into the water to benefit a memorial fund honoring Will Kitts. The lifelong Jametowner and volunteer firefighter died in a motorcycle accident in August at age 33.

Kitts was a custodian for the school district, which is why Bailey decided the money should benefit students, specifically the annual eighth-grade field trip to Washington, D.C.

“Many of the children growing up in Jamestown got to know him every day,” Bailey said. “This is a way for those who are leaving the Jamestown school system … to remember him.”

Bailey, who knew Kitts for decades, said his late friend would have been humbled by the decision to honor him.

“He would have been totally surprised,” Bailey said.

The fund was created in cooperation with Kitts’ father, Lew, who was the longtime maintenance director for the school district before retiring in summer 2016. Proceeds in his son’s name will be earmarked for students who otherwise couldn’t afford to visit the nation’s capital during their final hurrah before high school.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Kitts said about the memorial fund. “He loved his job. He loved the kids up there. He would be proud.”

Because Kitts was a regular attendee of the plunge, Bailey said it made sense to honor him at the event.

“We thought it would be a good way to close out what has been a troublesome year,” he said.

As for the other beneficiaries, Bailey chose the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum Association because of the damage done to the complex’s fog signal building during the violent Halloween storm. Finally, a small portion will benefit tour maps printed by the Jamestown Historical Society.

Registration forms for the plunge are available on its Facebook page. Also, for the first time, plungers can sign up through the town’s website or at the recreation center Monday morning. All registered participants who donate a minimum of $20 will receive a commemorative T-shirt printed by Rum Runner Silk Screen & Embroidery on Narragansett Avenue. The shirts, along with hats, also will be sold separately dur- ing the event.

This year’s shirt features a penguin dressed as Kitts, complete with his long beard, riding away from the Beavertail Lighthouse on his motorcycle. The artwork was designed by Danny Clark, a childhood friend of Kitts who currently works as a tattoo artist in New Hampshire. Bailey asked Clark to create a design that incorporated both of the organizations that will receive proceeds from the plunge.

“We asked him to do something that would take into consideration a penguin, Will and who he was,” Bailey said. “Unfortunately, he died on a motorcycle, but that’s who he was.”

Bailey hopes the Kitts fund will persuade Jamestown students and teachers — and perhaps even some of Kitts’ motorcycle buddies — to take the plunge.

While the money donated in Kitts’ memory will support the trip, another New Year’s Day staple that benefited eighth-graders in the past was canceled. The rubber duck race, which was organized by the Jamestown Parent-Teacher Organization to raise money for the trip, will not occur. The absence will be joined by another regular side attraction that will be missing from this year’s celebration. The Jamestown Community Band will not make their regular appearance at Veterans Memorial Square because it scheduled another performance at the University of Rhode Island. Bailey said the band has played during the last five plunges.

Despite the loss of the band and duck race, Bailey has other activities and entertainment lined up to accompany the main event. The Paco’s Tacos food truck will return and a DJ was hired to provide music. Additionally, the local rock group Nasty Habits will reunite for a performance at the Narragansett Cafe later to cap off the day.

New Year’s Day plunges have taken place in some form in Jamestown waters since the mid-1970s. For 35 years, the Special Olympics had its annual Penguin Plunge at East Ferry and Mackerel Cove until it was relocated to Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett in 2012 for liability reasons. Once Bailey heard that news, it took less than two months for him to organize a replacement plunge.

The event typically divides the proceeds from registrations and Tshirt sales to two island charities, but last year they chose just one: the Ryan Bourque playground fund. It was named after the Jamestown police officer killed by a drunken driver in May 2016. The event raised $7,500 in Bourque’s name, which was set aside to help offset the cost of the new town playground on North Road.

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