PUNXSUTAWNEY — Despite being born in the Philadelphia area, Gov. Tom Corbett insists he is a western Pennsylvania man by heart who has observed Groundhog Day since he was a child.
“When I was young, we had only three TV stations, and one of them we couldn’t get — not in North Hills,” said Corbett, the second sitting Pennsylvania governor to attend Groundhog Day. “We always hoped for more winter and snow so we could play outside.”
He also had a message for Inner Circle President Bill Deeley, who receives Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication in groundhogese and translates it for the crowd: “Don’t screw up winter. After flooding this past year, I like not having to salt the roads this year.”
In introducing Corbett, state House Speaker Sam Smith, of Punxsy, described the Inner Circle as “a well-oiled machine, as long as that machine is oiled with beer,” to which Corbett ordered to both Smith and state Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, “‘A well-oiled machine.’ Get the beer.
“I’m not here to talk politics,” Corbett said. “So relax.” Corbett and his wife, Susan, reside in the Governor’s Mansion in Harrisburg, but maintain a home in Shaler Township.
Throughout his travels in the Keystone State, Corbett said he is always happy to return to western Pennsylvania, because “I know I’m back in Steelers Country.”
He recalled moving into the Governor’s Mansion after it was occupied by his predecessor, Gov. Ed. Rendell, who attended Groundhog Day in 2003 and was a “huge Eagles” fan.
Corbett described a huge breakfast event in the state dining room at the mansion, where he eyed two large candelabra from which he tried to hang a huge “You’re in Steelers Country” banner given to him by his nephew. He also recalled the looks his wife and staff gave him as he tried it.
“Even though the governor resides in the mansion, it’s her mansion, too,” he said.
Corbett praised Punxsy’s residents for taking a tradition such as Groundhog Day and helping it find a new audience, building “a genuine and vibrant” attraction for guests in Pennsylvania.
“Thank God for Phil, because he can get people to talk about Punxsutawney who maybe would not look here,” he said.
Only Punxsy can boast that it hosts the one event in Pennsylvania that causes its population to double and triple, “except for maybe deer season,” Corbett said.
Most of all, people come to Punxsy for its uniqueness — of its people and Groundhog Day.
“You’ve got to be unique when your high school mascot is the Chucks,” Corbett added.
“I don’t know of any other place where people consult with any animal — let alone a groundhog — but it works because it’s the unique nature of you,” adding that Thursday, guests will converge on Gobbler’s Knob not as Democrats, Republicans or independents, but only as people — “there’s going to be possibly some really cold people.
“Enjoy the best asset this state has to offer: You,” he said.
Inner Circle President Bill Deeley and Vice-President Mike Johnston presented Corbett with his own top hat and a bronze groundhog statue, as well as an honorary membership in the Inner Circle.
• John Griffiths, who co-handles Punxsy Phil with Ron Ploucha, told the audience that there are three cases that make one eligible for membership in the Inner Circle: One must be a resident of the Punxsutawney Area School District; must have a strong back for all the work required; and must have an IQ of less that 40 points — probably the reason there are no women currently in the circle.
Emcee Jeff Lundy later singled out new member Jason Grusky, whose degree from Carnegie Mellon University helped him “blow the curve” for the third scenario.
• Johnston, who received a standing ovation upon the announcement of his intention to retire from the Inner Circle after today, said Groundhog Day has come a long way in 10 years, citing a design grant from PA Wilds that will help the club enhance the appearance of Gobbler’s Knob.
“We want Gobbler’s Knob to be a place to be proud of when you visit,” he said.
Johnston also cited Grusky and fellow new member Dr. Jon Johnston, as the young members who possess the enthusiasm and energy to help advance Groundhog Day even further.
He also said Punxsy Phil has been swept by the wave of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and the Web site groundhog.org is anticipated to have one million hits by today.
“A million anything is a big number,” Johnston said. “A million hits on a Groundhog Day site is a huge number.”
• In conclusion, Griffiths and Ploucha sang a ballad about handling and caring for Punxsy Phil, and Lundy lauded small-town living and small-town life by quoting a John Mellencamp song: “Married an L.A. doll and brought her to this small town; now she’s small town, just like me.”