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Phantastic Phil! co-creator restores statue, remembers friendship

August 1, 2011

Nance Finley of Punxsy is shown sanding and refurbishing the “Fireman Phil” Phantastic Phil! which has undergone much wear and tear from the elements over the last six years. Finley co-created this Phil with Marshall to honor the memory of Leroy “Cookie” Depp and all the volunteer firefighters in the Punxsutawney Fire Department. (Photo by Larry McGuire/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — As it happens over time, some things begin to wear down and need to be refurbished. The same can be said about some of the "Phantastic Phils!" throughout Punxsy.

Recently, "Fireman Phil," on display in front of the Central Fire Department at the Mahoning East Civic Center, was taken into the shop for restoration by one of its original co-creators, Nance Finley.

Finley, along with the late Jeff Marshall, created this "Phil!" in memory of Leroy "Cookie" Depp, a long-time member of the Central Fire Department, following his passing and to pay tribute to all volunteer firefighters in the Punxsutawney Fire Department.

Marshall died suddenly in March. Originally from California, he had worked with Finley for Discovery Arts, a non-profit program that takes song, dance and the arts into hospitals to help children suffering from cancer and blood disorders. He also worked for Disney.

In 2004, Punxsutawney Phil was honored with 32 fiberglass statues placed throughout the borough.

Finley said together with Marshall, they created four of the "Phils!" in addition to the fireman statue, including "Freedom Phil" in Barclay Square, sponsored by the Groundhog Festival Committee; "Presby MacPhil" at the First Presbyterian Church, sponsored by the Friends of Phil of the Presbyterian Church; and "Possi-Phil-ity," sponsored by and located at IUP-Punxsutawney.

The "Phils" were designed and fabricated from a mold made by the Theme Factory in central Pennsylvania, Finley said.

All of the white fiberglass statues were like blank canvases just waiting for someone to give them their individualized identity.
Finley said for the firefighter statue, the first thing that Marshall did was cut off its arms, sculpt new arms and hands in California and ship them back to Punxsy.

She made all of the costumes from screen and covered them with fiberglass, Bondo and paint.

Marshall had fashioned a firefighter's axe and came up with the idea to have the firefighter rescue a baby, which was later named "Jammers," and incorporated the first letters of all Cookie's grandchildren. Finley also sculpted the statue's face to look like Cookie, complete with a mustache and a crooked eyebrow.

"Having worked at Disney, it encouraged you to think out of the box," Finley said. "It was never just one person's idea; it was a compilation.
"It was called 'Blue Skying,' which encouraged us to continue to build on each others ideas," she said. "The concept at Disney was that it always wanted to bring people back to the park for something they've never seen before."

Finley and Marshall also created the "Little Loomie" luminary costume that was used at the Punxsutawney Relay For Life several years ago.
"Together, we were such a great team, because I had more of the administrative development skills, and he had the actual production skills," she said. "I was so shocked that he died at age 52 with no warning, and I'm lost without him."

Finley did complete Marshall's final project, a replica of the former library building on West Mahoning Street unveiled during the "Home For The Holidays" celebration.

"I did most of the painting on our ‘Phils!’ and once the miniature library building was completed, I hand-painted it, and the ‘Historical Phil,’ which were both projects of the Punxsutawney Rotary Club,” she said.

Finley said "Fireman Phil" will be restored and hopefully returned to the firehall within the next couple of weeks.

She also plans to refurbish the other three "Phils!" that she and Marshall co-created.

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