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PUNXSUTAWNEY â Thereâs a lot going on within the Groundhog Clubâs Inner Circle: A new member, a promotion, a retirement and a new take on a long-time, late-summer event.
Tom Dunkel is the Inner Circleâs newest member, succeeding now-former Vice-President Mike Johnston, who has accepted emeritus status after 20 years with the club. Taking on the role of vice-president is âFair Weathermanâ Jeff Lundy.
Dunkel, who co-owns Dunkel Roofing with his brother, Doug, has worked with the club in one way or another for years. The brothersâ father, Bud Dunkel, is a former handler of Punxsutawney Phil and served as president from 1992 to 1996.
âWhen he was on vacation, Iâd take care of Philâ when his dad was the handler, Dunkel said. âAt that time, we really enjoyed it when he was in the club. We had lots of Feb. 2 celebrations.â
His invitation to join the Inner Circle came via text message from âChief Healthmanâ Dr. Jon Johnston, who asked Dunkel if he could help with some work at 10 p.m. at Gobblerâs Knob.
But Dunkel heads to bed early, and when 10 p.m. passed, he received a call around 10:30 p.m. from Johnston, asking him why he hadnât yet come to the Knob.
âI said, âWell, Iâm sleeping,ââ Dunkel said.
Johnstonâs surprise was compromised by Dunkelâs slumber, and so Johnston gave Dunkel the news: He was selected as the newest member of the Inner Circle.
âI was very pleased, but I went back to sleep,â Dunkel said.
Shortly thereafter, he informed his daughters â Mary, Amy and Emily, now grown, and Caroline, who is soon to be a senior at PAHS â about the news, saying, ââDaddy was asked to be in the Inner Circle.â Theyâre all very excited and looking forward to bringing their friends home to come and enjoy Groundhog Day.â
His wife, Kim, who manages Miller Brothersâ By The Room Furniture in DuBois, is also âvery excited and proud.â
Dunkel said although heâs attended only one Inner Circle meeting, he knows that heâll be working with âRainmakerâ AJ Dereume in revamping what has been known as the annual âGroundhog Stag Picnic & Outing,â this year scheduled for Sept. 8.
Instead of the traditional guys-only format, plans call for creating a âPhil Fest,â an all-day event featuring live bands and events such as food contests, such as a possible rib cook-off ... and women will be as welcome to attend as men are.
Johnston said the Inner Circle is similar to a board of directors or any organization, and seeks to find people who have the talents and abilities to sustain and advance its mission.
âTomâs abilities mesh very nicely with the clubâs needs,â he said.
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Meanwhile, Lundy, the Inner Circleâs âFair Weathermanâ since 1990, now succeeds Johnston as vice-president.
Long known as the emcee of the annual Groundhog Banquet, Lundy said he now âgets to read the scrollâ in proclaiming Punxsutawney Philâs prognostication Feb. 2 â although he already has other ideas about that duty.
âI was thinking of changing it, so different guys â some of the older guys â read the scroll,â Lundy said. âIf they misinterpret Phil, then they can deal with (the crowd).â
More recently, however, Lundy has been involved with efforts to improve the entrance at Gobblerâs Knob.
In November, the club revealed that it had a $9,000 landscape design matching grant from the PA Wilds Design Assistance Program, with a grant from National Parks Service Preserve America Fund and DCED Municipal Services Fund, to enhance the Gobblerâs Knob entrance, and was working with Mike Mohney, a Punxsy native, landscape designer and instructor with Penn Stateâs agricultural services department, and his students on ideas.
Some of the ideas that students have come up with are âreally cool,â Lundy said, and soon, club members will begin some small steps toward the larger effort.
âThere was one particular student, who had been there this year,â Lundy said. âJust having him see if for the first time, he saw things that maybe we didnât see, such as how the traffic flowed, how people get in and out of the Knob. I think we do a good job, but he pointed out some things that would make it much easier.â
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Mike Johnston joined the Inner Circle 20 years ago this month, served as vice-president for five years, and earlier this year decided that his appearance at Groundhog Day 2012 would be his last as an active member. He has since accepted emeritus status, which means he may participate in all the ceremonial functions, but no longer may vote in club business.
But the âBig Flake Makerâ isnât detaching himself from the Inner Circle entirely.
âMy main thrust with the club for 20 years has been the marketing end,â he said. âI have offered to stay active in marketing and will do whatever Iâm asked to do. But thatâs been my principle point of interest â Iâm a salesman, guilty as charged.â
A new event that the club is hosting June 9 at Gobblerâs Knob is a merchandise fair that seeks the next big Groundhog Day item.
âItâs the first time weâve ever done it,â Johnston said. âThrough the course of a year, we get many people who think they have something unique that could be a product. More often then not, itâs a poem or something difficult to market. There are a lot of options, and depending on what it is, we may license it. We can do almost anything.â
He said he and Keith Shields joined the Inner Circle at the same time in 1992. He also recalled seeking instructions from then-President Jim Means.
âI vividly recall asking Jim Means, âIs there anything I can do?ââ he said. âAnd his quote was, âDonât worry about it; we donât do much.â That was the year the before the movie came out. Itâs been very busy for the past 20 years. There are members who literally put thousands of hours into it.â
Johnston retired from his business, Johnston Furniture, two years ago after 29 years.
âI found there is a significant difference in doing what you want to do and what you have to do,â he said. âHaving the ability to do what you want to do is pretty nice.â