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Punxsutawney Phil is the best man for this proposal

July 2, 2011

Newly-engaged Pittsburgh residents Jeff White and Sarah O'Donnell watch as Punxsy Phil climbs over his co-handler John Griffiths Friday, the day Jeff proposed to Sarah in front of The Spirit office, the home of their favorite “Phantastic Phil!” (Photo by Tom Chapin/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Not even Punxsutawney Phil could have prognosticated the plan for this proposal.

Sarah O'Donnell and Jeff White enjoyed the “Phantastic Phils!” — especially the one in front of The Punxsutawney Spirit office on Pine Street — so much, they returned to Punxsy Friday to track down the remaining eight statues they couldn't find in December.

But Friday, Jeff — with help from Spirit staff, Punxsutawney Phil himself and his co-handler, John Griffiths — pulled off a larger plan: Propose to Sarah in front of their favorite “Phantastic Phil!” at The Spirit office.

A fabricated front page — the top half, or what is known in the biz as “above the fold” — designed by Spirit Editor Tom Chapin and reproduced on actual newsprint by composing Supervisor Karen Petroff, carried Jeff's bulletin for Sarah and a photo of their favorite “Phil!”: “Breaking News from Jeff to Sarah: I Love You! Will You Marry Me?”
Sarah said yes. She said yes a few times, in fact.

After Jeff and Sarah — both accountants, both graduates of the University of Pittsburgh — traveled to a wedding in St. Marys this past December, they embraced their love of visiting unique locations by stopping in Punxsy on the way back to Pittsburgh.

“That was our favorite trip together,” Jeff said.

Once in Punxsy, they discovered the “Phantastic Phil!” statues. But the weather was not kind that day.

“Honestly, we spent all afternoon looking for them,” Jeff said. “It was bad that day.”

“There were no humans outside,” Sarah said. “There were no pictures of us together that day.”

Time and Mother Nature bring beautiful weather to Jefferson County here and again, and over the past several weeks with a trip to Ann Arbor, Mich., for the Fourth of July weekend already planned, Jeff decided the time was right to pop the question to Sarah.

“A week ago, Jeff reached me via e-mail about his plan, and I thought it was very cool,” Chapin said. “I tossed out the idea about a 'fake' front page with the proposal in giant letters. I actually started designing the page right after I wrote back. I don't think he had even agreed to it yet, but I was excited about the idea, and he loved it, too.”

Friday morning, the Spirit front-office staff — all in on the plan, of course — wasn't sure who would be the correct couple, since the “Phil!” statue in front of the office attracts many photo-taking guests, and there was also a steady flow of customers Friday morning.

“We were kind of guessing, 'Is this Jeff and Sarah?'” Chapin said. “I had only talked to Jeff via phone and e-mail, so I had no idea. But Mary Jude (Troupe, publisher), saw them coming toward the door, and said, 'They're here.' We could just tell, there they were! As it turns out, we guessed right.”

Interestingly enough, Pitt grads Jeff and Sarah didn't meet as students, but as professionals: Jeff's firm, KPMG, was performing an audit for the University of Pittsburgh, Sarah happened to be working on the same floor as Jeff, and … well, now you know the rest.

In addition to many best wishes, Jeff and Sarah also received a basket full of Punxsy goodies from Phil's Souvenir Shop and lunch courtesy of Katie Laska.

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