BERNARDSVILLE – They came armed with their own plastic buckets, wearing T-shirts, shorts, sandals and other summer attire.
The scene wasn’t the Jersey shore but the asphalt parking lot of Prestige Auto Repair on Route 202, where on Monday the “Ice Bucket Challenge” reached the center of town.
The phenomena that has gone viral on social media sites across the nation struck here as a group of some 20 residents gathered to help raise money and awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The challenge was issued by Bernardsville resident Jim Jackson, owner of the auto repair shop, whose wife, Jean, lost her brother, Gary O’Connor, 58, to the dreaded disease in 2012.
Born and raised in Florham Park, Mr. O’Connor attended Delbarton School and Rutgers University. He was diagnosed with ALS at age 52 in 2006. A retired Naval captain, he was the married father of two children living in Elmira, N.Y.
Shortly after he was diagnosed, his daughter, Rebecca, heard about an inaugural Fiesta 5K to benefit the Packard Center for ALS Research in Baltimore, Md., in May 2007. The O’Connor family then started “Team Low & Slow’’ – a Navy helicopter reference – and has participated in the event ever since.
“Through the generous donations of our Bernardsville friends and the customers of Prestige Auto Repair, the Jackson’s have raised over $40,000 enabling Team Low & Slow to raise over $120,000 for the Packard Center For ALS Research since 2007,’’ Jean Jackson said.
‘Cold But Refreshing’
On Monday afternoon, Jim Jackson and his employees handed out ice, water and dry T-shirts for anyone willing to douse themselves.
By 4 p.m., the starting time of the event, it was hot and sunny out, so one seemed to mind cooling off.
Well, almost no one.
As the challengers simultaneously dumped freezing water onto their heads, Tillie, a 4-year-old Golden Retriever owned by a Bedminster participant, got spooked and sprinted briefly onto the highway.
Fortunately passing vehicles slowed down and she returned unharmed to a collective sign of relief as participants and several onlookers with cameras all exhaled.
Smiles and laughter quickly returned as participants began to dry themselves off.
“It’s cold but nice, refreshing on a hot summer day,’’ Jackson’s daughter, Shannon, 19, said. “I’d dump as many buckets of water as possible on my head for my uncle.’’
Sons Patrick and Connor were also among the participants.
The Hendershot family from Bernardsville also had a strong turnout. Jane, 6, Troy, 8, and Luke, 15, joined parents Chuck and Amy in the summer fun.
“Jim forced us to do it,’’ Chuck Hendershot joked. “We were nominated (for the challenge) four or five times before. It’s amazing.’’
While the so-called rules vary, under the challenge, folks are asked by friends and colleagues to donate to ALS research or get hit with ice cold water in some manner. In many cases, they end up doing both: getting soaked and contributing to the cause.
Throughout this summer, the challenge – also called the Cold Water Challenge – has gone viral, with thousands of people, including celebrities and sports stars, joining. The result has been an incredible outpouring of financial support in a battle against an illness with no known cure.
It’s estimated that 30,000 Americans are afflicted with the disease, which attacks nerve cells and ultimately leads to paralysis and death.
According to a recent Associated Press article, the challenge has led to a 1,000 percent spike in donations to the ALS Association. Another article estimated that some $15 million in donations has been generated through the challenge.
While there was no required donation size at the Bernardsville event, it clearly added a few more bucks to the benefit bucket.
Jackson had organized the event about a week earlier, sending out emails to good friends and customers.
“I’d like to thank everyone that came out to do it … and thank goodness the dog didn’t get hurt,’’ he said afterwards.
“This ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a tremendous phenomenon and hopefully this will finally lead to a cure for this horrendous disease,’’ his wife, Jean, added.