Upon diving into the chilly waters of Tawas Bay, Polar Bear Plunge participants faced an equally frigid trip back, with many of them sprinting to peel off their wet clothes.

EAST TAWAS – Year after year, people come out in droves for the Perchville USA winter festival, gathering in the Tawases for a weekend of winter entertainment. With a variety of activities for all ages and personalities, it’s easy to see why the event continues to go strong after seven decades.

Presented by the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce (TACC), Perchville just wrapped up a milestone anniversary, with the conclusion of the 70th annual festival this past weekend.

Following some pre-Perchville activities the prior weekend, the excitement picked back up on Thursday, Feb. 6, and went on through the evening of Saturday, Feb. 8. Despite temperatures barely inching out of the single digits on the final day, event goers were graced with fairly mild conditions, given the abundant sunshine and lack of wind.

Also enhancing the experience in 2020 was a change-up from the way some of the events have gone on in the past. This included moving the Hospitality Tent to just off of Newman Street, and switching the family tent activities to an indoor Family Expo at the East Tawas Community Center. Mother Nature also called some of the shots this year and, due to a lack of ice on Lake Huron, the Polar Bear Plunges were relocated next to the East Tawas State Dock.

Aside from just a couple of the events, this meant that attendees could enjoy all Perchville had to offer from one centralized, convenient location, as everything took place on or near Newman Street in downtown East Tawas.


As soon as the Perchville Parade concluded on Saturday, it was Koda the dog’s time to shine. He happily sprawled out on the pavement to get a belly rub from Quintyn Allen, 13, East Tawas, who shares a laugh with Koda’s owner, Cassandra Richards of Lake City. Richards and her family were heading off to see what else Perchville had in store, as this was their first time at the annual winter festival in the Tawases. Also a newcomer, Allen shared that the 2020 event was his first time at Perchville.

Starting things up on Thursday was the Royal Feast at Rushman Hall, held in recognition of the 2020 Perchville King and Queen and Junior Royalty. In addition to a large meal, the evening was rounded out with live music from the Sip N Singers.


The 2020 Perchville USA Royalty were scattered across the Tawases this weekend, reigning over the winter festival activities. They were rounded up on Thursday, though, where the Royal Feast was held in their honor at Rushman Hall. Pictured here, from left, are Perchville Queen Tracy Stevelinck, Junior Queen McKenzie Nunn, Junior King Donovan Nicklyn and King Paul Stevelinck. Nunn lives in East Tawas, while her royal counterparts are residents of Tawas City.

The feast was held for King and Queen Paul and Tracy Stevelinck, Tawas City; Junior King Donovan Nicklyn, Tawas City, a Holy Family School sixth grader; and Junior Queen McKenzie Nunn, East Tawas, a Tawas Area Middle School seventh grader.

Nominated for the honor based on their interest in the community, giving nature and other noteworthy characteristics, all four royalty members were spotlighted in last week’s edition of this publication. 

The regal lineup then had a busy weekend, as they reigned over a number of different Perchville events.

The itinerary for Friday’s festival goers consisted of a cornhole tournament and raffle drawings in the Hospitality Tent, a Perch Dinner Fish Fry by Knights of Columbus members and a Pre-Teen Dance for the younger crowd.


A large number of spectators cleared the way on Newman Street for local law enforcement and fire department personnel, who were at the front of the line in the Perchville Parade on Saturday. Other procession participants included the winter festival’s polar bear mascot Nanuk, representatives of local businesses, past and present Perchville Royalty, Iosco County 4-H members and the mayors of Tawas City and East Tawas.

Saturday started up with the traditional Perchville Parade, that began in Tawas City and concluded in downtown East Tawas.

Spectators packed the sidewalks along Newman Street to watch such procession participants as Iosco County 4-H, the Tawas City and East Tawas fire departments, past and present Perchville Royalty, representatives of local businesses, the mayors of East Tawas and Tawas City, the Iosco County Sheriff’s Office, the Tawas Police Authority and Perchville’s polar bear mascot, Nanuk.


The steam rolls out as guests line up in front of Mooney’s Ben Franklin during the Chilly Cook-Off. These tasty samples sealed the deal for voters, as Ben Franklin was chosen from 20 other businesses as the winner of the cook-off.

It took a while for the crowds to clear the streets, since the Chilly Cook-Off – hosted by the East Tawas Business Association – commenced immediately after the parade.


If there were an award for the most enthusiastic Chilly Cook-Off competitors, it would have gone without question to those from Tawas Bay Insurance Agency. With the music cranking, they danced, handed out leis and boisterously chanted “Number 17,” reminding festival goers who to vote for during the cook-off. It was worth the effort, and they were the second-place winners of the contest. In first this year was Mooney’s Ben Franklin, while the Village Chocolatier earned the title of third place.

Hordes of hungry festival fans flocked to the 21 different businesses which took part in this year’s cook-off, as they taste tested the homemade batches and then voted for their favorite.

The first-place winner of the 2020 Chilly Cook-Off was Mooney’s Ben Franklin, followed by Tawas Bay Insurance Agency in second place and the Village Chocolatier in third.


Debbie McCurry of East Tawas, seen here in front, was joined for a girl’s Perchville get-together by her fellow Vintage Camping Club members, known as the “Stray Cats.” All bundled up in similar stylish attire, McCurry is pictured here with, from left: Kim Brown, Linden; Darlene Coghill, Linden; Mary Rodzewizz, Garden City; Linda Sandin, Farmington Hills; Christine Harbin, Southgate; Deb Christopher, Byron; and Marcia Stanczak, Center Line. Harbin, who was also set to the take the Polar Bear Plunge with a couple of her group members, holds up the $25 gift certificate she won to the Whitetail Cafe in East Tawas. She was among the festival goers who made sure to check in with the participating businesses, to see if her Perchville button number won her a prize.

Among those getting in on the tasty treats were a group of women from the “Stray Cats” Vintage Camping Club. Hailing from Linden, Garden City, East Tawas, Farmington Hills, Byron, Center Line and Southgate, the ladies have made Perchville an annual gathering for their group.

Bundled up in similar, fashionable attire for the affair, the women were spotted with their Chilly Cook-Off cozies, warming up before some of them also took the Polar Bear Plunge. Christine Harbin, Southgate, got even more of the full festival experience, as her Perchville button number earned her a $25 gift certificate to the Whitetail Cafe.

Each button is printed with its own number, and attendees were encouraged to check these at the participating businesses, to see if their number earned them a prize.

Opting to get their chili fill later on were those who took part in the Frozen Chosen shooting event, as they were preoccupied at the Iosco Sportsmen’s Club.


There was a bigger turnout than usual at the Frozen Chosen military style shooting event, held at Iosco Sportsmen’s Club. This is positive news for the American Legion Honor Guard, as proceeds from the 100-yard challenge are donated to the group.

The 100-yard, military style shooting challenge brought in a noticeably larger crowd in 2020. This is good news for the American Legion Honor Guard, as all proceeds raised during Frozen Chosen are donated to the group.


The driver of this standout machine participates in the Winter Barrel Races at Dewey Durant Park. The races were held along with a number of other activities during Perchville USA, which celebrated its 70th year in 2020.

The Winter Barrel Races at Dewey Durant Park were also getting underway at about the same time. The parking lot was jam-packed, with throngs of spectators coming out to cheer on the drivers of both modified and stock ATVs and side-by-sides.


A massive crowd made its way to Dewey Durant Park for the Winter Barrel Races, and one of the drivers is pictured here cruising across the finish line on Saturday.

According to Tammy Beckley,  there were 16 ATV drivers and four side-by-side competitors, with the winner being Braden Kauffman, Tawas City.


Alyssa Henry shared this photo of Tawas City resident Braden Kauffman, who won first place at the Winter Barrel Races in both the ATV and side-by-side classes. He claimed the $200 pot, from which he gave $100 back to the festival.

“He brought one of each and ended up winning both classes,” Beckley stated. “He won the $200 pot and then was very generous and donated $100 of it back to Perchville.”


With their checkered flags ready, these youngsters keep a close eye on the track during the Winter Barrel Races. Pictured here, from left, are Miranda, 3; Alayna, 7; Amaya, 4; and Faith Vollmers, 6; along with Bradley Vanderhoof, 4, all from Oscoda.

Beckley added that Tawas Bay Marine & Cycle donated two maintenance packages, one of which went to Kauffman. When the official races wrapped up, everyone took part in a second race just for fun, and the other maintenance package went to the winner of that event.


Clark the Juggler amazed audiences during all three of his shows at the Perchville Family Expo on Saturday. The impressive – and humorous – acts showcased his coordination and focus.

Another venue drawing in a large number of guests was the East Tawas Community Center, which housed the Family Expo. The expo proved to be a festival highlight this year, as visitors could indulge in food; games and prizes; hourly gift giveaways; educational activities; demonstrations by Search and Rescue of Michigan; and impressive feats of skill and coordination during the Clark the Juggler shows.


Faith, a 1½-year-old member of Search and Rescue of Michigan, was among those giving demonstrations during Perchville’s Family Expo. She is seen here with Rick Rujan, preparing to show off her scent detection skills for the crowd.

Among those offering up displays and entertainment were WE Players Inc., Autism Centers of Michigan, Tawas Bay Marine & Cycle, Iosco County Farm Bureau, Oscoda Cheer, Tim Horton’s, the Buckhorn Inn, Iosco County 4-H and MSU-Extension, Cub Scouts Pack 3911, Jerry’s Marina, Leaf Filters, Northern Lights Charters, Beckley’s M-65 Bait Shop, Jay’s RV and more.

One of the Perchville USA sponsors, Northwoods Wholesale Outlet, also brought in a scaled-down version of its store in Pinconning, where guests could peruse ice fishing gear and other items to have fun in the outdoors.


The inaugural Perchville USA Raffle boasted a plethora of prizes, including the Weber grill shown here at left. Raffle winners have 30 days from the time of the drawing to claim their prizes, and can do so by contacting those at the Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce. The tackle boxes and other outdoor gear at right were given away during the fishing tournament awards ceremony, while the display in the background was brought to the East Tawas Community Center by Tawas Bay Marine & Cycle.

Northwoods donated several of the items for the inaugural Perchville USA Raffle, as well, including a Weber Genesis outdoor grill for the first-place prize.

The raffle winners were announced at the community center, following the expo, with the other prizes including an ice auger and shelter combo from Northwoods; a two-night stay at Timberlane Resorts; several meat bundle/tabletop gas grill packages, courtesy of Neiman’s, Freel’s and Klenow’s markets, along with Northwoods; six car washes from Clear View Car Wash; a one-year subscription to the Iosco County News-Herald or Oscoda Press; and a $250 “Taste of Tawas” package, from G’s Pizzeria and Deli, The Lodge, Boneyard BBQ, Dockside Grill and Augie’s on the Bay.

Raffle winners have 30 days from the time of the drawing to claim their prizes. Further inquiries can be directed to TACC representatives by calling 362-8643, or stopping in to the chamber office at 228 Newman St.

The prizes kept coming at the community center on Saturday, as this is also where the final weigh-in and awards ceremony was held for the fishing contests.


Fishing tournaments for both adult anglers and youth participants kicked off Saturday morning at 12:01 a.m., with the final weigh-in at 7 p.m. that evening. This collection of catches is from both tournaments, for which the younger contestants could earn a variety of prizes, and the adult participants vied for nearly $2,000 in cash.

The Shanty Showdown Fishing Tournament for the adult anglers, and the Shanty Showdown Big Fish Contest, for those under 18 years of age, each kicked off at 12:01 a.m. that morning. Competitors had until 7 p.m. to check in their catches, with nearly $2,000 in cash prizes up for grabs in the adult tourney. Those who took part in the contest for the younger entrants could win a number of different goodies from Northwoods, such as tackle boxes, handheld radios and fishing essentials.

A free meal was provided during the awards ceremony, for which former Perchville King Tim Haskin served as emcee. He was joined for the celebration by Nicklyn and Nunn, who helped hand out the prizes for the finalists.

Haskin pointed out that there weren’t as many tournament participants as usual, but there also wasn’t as much ice as usual.

This was no problem for the avid anglers who still went out and gave it a try, as it meant less competition. For example, some of the species categories didn’t bring in second or third place winners, since there may have only been one fish entered.


Mike Cunningham, East Tawas, hoists up the fish that earned him $600 during the Shanty Showdown – a 6.64-pound burbot, left, and a 7.62-pound walleye.

The results of the youth tournament are listed as follows:

Hunter Nelkie, perch, .6 pounds; Logun Abram, pike, 3.32 pounds; Jacob Shoendaller, pike, 3.3 pounds; Shoendaller, crappie, 1.54 pounds; and Nelkie, bluegill, .4 pounds.

The top finishers in the adult contest are listed as follows:

Rodney Klimiszewski, heaviest five perch, 4.34 pounds; Klimiszewski, biggest perch, .98 pounds; Steven Ulman, second-place perch, .96 pounds; Hernides Madragal, third-place pike, .82 pounds; Mike Cunningham, biggest walleye, 7.62 pounds; Joe Stitt, second-place walleye, 3.48 pounds; Wayne Kuzbel, biggest pike, 6.98 pounds; Robert Zacharias, second-place pike, 6.6 pounds; Greg Blust, third-place pike, 6.22 pounds; Jeff Duvall, biggest bluegill, .66 pounds; Robert Lamrock, second-place bluegill, .50 pounds; Tom Alden, third-place bluegill, .46 pounds; Cunningham, largest burbot, 6.64 pounds; and Andy Ernst, biggest whitefish, 4.42 pounds.


A lack of ice didn’t deter die-hard Perchville goers from taking a dip in Lake Huron during the Polar Bear Plunge, which was more of a Polar Bear Run this time around. But, just because there wasn’t a solid surface of ice, didn’t mean the water wasn’t still frigid. Onlookers also made sure that participants went all in – literally and figuratively – encouraging them to get completely submerged, rather than just wade into the water a bit.

The conditions on area water bodies impacted not only the fishing tournament turnout, but also the two Perchville Polar Bear Plunges this year.


The 70th annual Perchville USA winter festival was relatively mild compared to previous years, as the main events on Saturday were blessed with plenty of sunshine and virtually no wind. However, temperatures barely climbed out of the single digits, and Polar Bear Plunge participants can vouch that a February swim in Lake Huron is going to be bitterly cold – no matter how bright the sun may shine.

According to Pete Barnes, there were 86 people who registered this year, which is down from the typical total.


The Polar Bear Plunges could not go on without the help of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) personnel, who not only assist in preparing the dive site, but also remain on hand in the event of an emergency. Thankful for ensuring their safety is this group of divers, who swam to one of the USCG members so they could all pose for a photo.

However, he noted that Perchville was held on a different weekend than usual, the location of the polar bear event was changed and, when people are driving to the area and look out on the lake, all they see is open water. So, considering these factors, it was actually a pretty good showing.


The Tawas Area Chamber of Commerce is known for putting on a good show when it comes to Perchville, which was held this year on Feb. 6-8. One thing that never gets old during the annual winter festival are the comical costumes worn by many of those who take part in the Polar Bear Plunge. One such example is this diver here, decked out like the Hulk.

Barnes added that the first of the two plunges brought in more spectators than he has ever seen. Further, while there may have been a drop in registrants, he said he witnessed an increase in participation for a number of other Perchville events, including the cornhole tournament and barrel races.


These two women were the very last participants of the 2020 Polar Bear Plunge, and they are shown here with their souvenir T-shirts from the occasion. Gina Palazzolo-Slayton of Mio, left, completed her fourth plunge this year, while her daughter Trinity Palazzolo, Oscoda, now has her second dive in the books.

Rather than leap into the lake through a hole in the ice, per usual, plunge participants ran into the water this year. The crowd encouraged them to dive all the way under, and not take the easy route by only partially wading in.

The silly costumes and enthusiastic attitudes remained in tact among the 2020 participants, who earned a souvenir T-shirt to commemorate their bone-chilling achievement.

As if all these activities weren’t enough to pack one’s schedule for a few days, Perchville also included live entertainment in the Hospitality Tent by FLiPSiDE and No Baloney; a comedy show, featuring headliner Bill Hildabrandt; miscellaneous prize giveaways and raffles; a bake sale at Christ Episcopal Church; and a Teen Amazing Race.