Bobby Kaps first came to Fairfield as a student at Fairfield University. He later chose Fairfield as the place to raise his family. With his wife Mo they had two children, Nicole and Miles. I knew Bobby from the Mill Hill Elementary School, and for the jump we made into Southport Harbor every New Year’s Day.

A group of us, mainly dads from Mill Hill first began jumping into frigid Southport harbor in 2000. It was a lark. There was no reason for the jump. It was just a bunch of middle-aged men jumping into freezing water. One year, the year before we made the rule that that everyone must wear shoes, Bobby noticed there was a trail of blood on the ground after the jump. “Hey, someone is bleeding, “ he called out to get everyone’s attention. We all stopped and watched Bobby. He was like a bloodhound as he traced the blood trail. Everyone watched as he crouched low and slowly walked, identifying each bloody foot print. He almost completed a full circle until someone pointed out “Hey Bobby, I think your foot is bleeding.” After that day and a few stitches, the Kaps rule was officially instituted. Everyone must wear shoes.

The jump grew. Women, children, and dogs joined, until one year we thought we should really do it for some kind of charity. We decided to collect cans of food for a shelter. Everybody was to bring a can. Most people forgot. We ended up with three cans; one didn’t even have a label. The paper label had come off. No one admitted to bringing the can. The cause related jump was not working.

The next year in mid-December at a party, Bobby was talking to my wife Laura. Both soon approached me. “Bobby has a real good idea,” my wife said. Bobby went on to explain about a family everyone knew in town with a son who was battling a life-threatening skin condition Called EB. Bobby wanted to have the jump raise money for EB research.

“I don’t know,” I said. He then became very animated. “Last year we got three cans,” he said. “We can do better than three cans.” I was wavering. “Remember one can did not have a label. We still don’t know what was in that can. That can could have had anything.” Bobby continued. After about the tenth time Bobby explained that the can didn’t have a label, I was onboard.

Early the next mooning I saw Bobby at Stop & Shop. He was up awful early after last night. Because of his condition the night before I was unsure he would remember the conversation, I was unsure if he would remember me, or frankly remember how to get to Stop and Shop. He remembered all three, and he started off right where he left off. In the aisle he showed how the young man, Shane DiGiovanna, got up triumphantly after inner tubing down a hill at the Cub Scout camp out. Bobby danced around in the aisle with his hands up. The Southport Jump for EB had officially started.

After a few years Shane’s family had to move to Cincinnati to be closer to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. They spread the Jump with them to Cincinnati. Now we had two jumps at the same time, with a phone link up through loudspeakers. Tens of thousands of dollars have been raised to help find a cure for the rare and debilitating condition.

People who could not make the jump began sending in videos of them jumping in Hawaii, Vermont, Bahamas and one perpetuated the Ugly American myth by wading half naked in a fountain in Paris on New Year’s Day to fight EB.

Bobby did not make it to our last jump. For the last 9 months Bobby has been fighting his own battle, a battle with brain cancer. On Sept. 6 Bobby’s fight came to an end.

The rag tag Fairfield group that started jumping in the water in 2000, for no reason, until Bobby gave us the reason, has renamed the Jump, The Robert S. Kaps jump for EB. We will be wearing our shoes.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His column appears every other Friday. He can be reached by email at Tlawlor@mcommunications.com.