PUNXSUTAWNEY — When presented with the 2011 Woman of the Year Award, Katie Laska said she felt very undeserving.
But with her long list of contributions to Punxsy, the place she calls her home, the community would be hard-pressed to find anyone more deserving than she.
Wednesday night at the annual Groundhog Banquet, the 2010 Woman of the Year, Charlotte S. Fye, read over Laska’s many accomplishments and the qualities for which she is known.
“A humble lady who is known for helping everyone,” Fye said. “She lives by the principle that one should give from the heart and never for the recognition. Many times, she goes out of her way to help others, but she makes sure that no one knows that she is the benefactor.”
A native of Punxsy, Laska attended grade school at SS.C.D. and graduated from Punxsutawney Area High School.
For 12 years, she worked at the National Bank of the Commonwealth until she and her husband started their own business.
As an owner of two local businesses, Laska believes in the importance of using her own time to support the community.
“It’s my home. It’s where I grew up,” she said. “And I chose to live here, and I believe when you choose to live somewhere and make it your home, you should do your very best.”
To support the town, Laska is “constantly creating ideas,” Fye said, and thinks of ways she can help to get new events underway.
One of her most treasured projects is PRIDE (Punxsutawney Revitalization: Investing Developing Enhancing).
“I enjoy trying to revitalize our downtown,” she said. “To make it like it was in the days past. To try to get some working walking traffic downtown to try to bring it back to life.”
In addition to her work with PRIDE, Laska has served on the Chamber of Commerce board for more than 10 years.
She also donates any free time she has to help with Punxsy’s Home for the Holidays celebration, Fye said.
Laska is chairwoman of the Holly Tours and the Little Mr. & Miss Groundhog Contest, directing all proceeds to the Punxsy Weather Discovery Center.
She serves as vice-president of the Weather Discovery Center Board, and is a member of PEO, SS.C.D. and the Rosary Altar Society.
She has served as president of the former Young Women’s Club and was a driving force in establishing Library Days with BiLo.
“She can rally people like no one else can, and in doing so, she helps others see that their support is important and needed,” Fye said. “This energetic lady is so positive in her endeavors that she makes the people around her want to support her community cause.”
Following the receipt of the award, Laska said she couldn’t go without honoring a person who has helped her with numerous projects and events, and said she has bought more souvenirs than any tourist to Punxsutawney: Jennifer Roberts.
“She is my ‘Woman of the Year,’” Laska said. “She has always had a special place in my heart — she’s an example of what we should be like.”
Laska has four children; a grandson, Riley; and is awaiting the birth of her second grandson.
For her children and grandchildren, Laska feels it is her duty to make sure Punxsy continues to be a great place to live and raise children.
She also has high hopes for the entire community as well.
“I hope we continue to grow, and we stay united,” she said. “Receiving this award means that I have to do more now to live up to being Woman of the Year. I have to do more for my community, and be more involved and do a good job.”
At the close of the program, Inner Circle member Jeff Lundy said it best with the words, “You know you’re from Punxsy if you’ve called Katie and ordered a pizza.”
PUNXSUTAWNEY — Howard “Butch” Beezer was chosen as Punxsy’s 2011 Man of the Year at the Wednesday’s Groundhog Banquet.
Tom Chelgren, 2010 Man of the Year, introduced Beezer, who returned to his hometown after earning his education and working away for many years.
Beezer returned to Punxsy thinking he would look for “something to do” with his time, but “Something to do turned into many things to do because Howard will not say no,” Chelgren said.
“I was shocked when I heard my name announced and when Tom was reading my biography,” Beezer said. “I almost didn’t come to the banquet because of all the work that needs to be done at the Celebration Tent in Barclay Square.”
Beezer said that if Katie Donald, Groundhog Day event coordinator, didn’t attend the banquet, he would, which is how they were able to get him to attend.
“I don’t know if she came to the banquet or not; I was wondering why people were being so secretive,” he said.
“I do enjoy Punxsy which is why I get involved,” Beezer said, adding that he wanted to give back to the community.
“I like to keep active. I’m 72 years old, and if you retire and just sit around, you’re not going to be around for long,” he said. “I’ve told people I don’t know how I could hold a regular job and do everything that I do.”
Beezer said while living in Washington, D.C., he had his own highway construction company and was in charge of the bid process for his company.
“I’ve been living in Punxsy since 2002, and during Groundhog week, I’ve been assisting helping Katie (Donald) with just about everything,” he said, adding that he does enjoy being a tax preparer for the Jefferson County Area Agency on Aging.
Beezer wanted to thank everyone who voted for him.
“It was a total surprise, I don’t even know how they go about voting for the ‘Man of the Year,’” he said. “I want to thank the people who put my biography together that Tom (Chelgren) read at the banquet.
“They had to talk to a lot of people to find out all of that about me,” Beezer said. “They probably even talked to my wife (Pat Neal), and I don’t even know that.
“I just want to thank the town of Punxsutawney; I hope I can continue to live up to the expectations of the ‘Man of the Year,’” he said.
Chelgren said what Beezer does for the community is in addition to everything he does for his family, friends and neighbors.
“If a driveway needs plowed, a television hooked up, a computer unfrozen, or an errand run, it only takes a phone call to this guy and he’s on it,” Chelgren said, adding that Beezer attends hours of classes and takes tests to qualify as a volunteer tax preparer for the Jefferson County Area Agency on Aging, something he has been doing for several years.
“He takes this job very seriously and enjoys helping seniors with their tax returns,” he said.
Beezer said he has enjoyed his involvement with the “Phantastic Phils” program.
Chelgren said Beezer began as a volunteer on the Phantastic Phils committee in 2001 in charge of moving, transportation and set up of the six-foot-tall sculptures.
“Even though the committee’s involvement with this program has ended, this man is still willing to help should one of the Phils need to be taken down or put back up,” Chelgren said.
“Just as recently as this past Sunday, he could be seen rolling a refurbished statue down the street to put it in its place before Groundhog Day,” Chelgren said, adding that Beezer, throughout the entire three- or four-day celebration, watches over the vendors, activities and the celebration tent in Barclay Square, taking care of issues as they arise and giving a friendly greeting to visitors who ask for help.
Chelgren said if you ever need to find this guy, there’s a good chance you’ll catch him most mornings at the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.
“He began serving on the Weather Center Board of Directors in 2007 and quickly became indispensable as the guy to call if something needed moved, fixed or adjusted,” Chelgren said.
He also took on the job of setting up the accounting system and continues to work closely with the board treasurer on finances, he said.
Chelgren said Beezer has been a good friend to the Chamber of Commerce lending a hand whenever he is asked, including taking care of the American flags that grace the downtown intersections.
“In the spring, he puts them up, and in the fall, he takes them down,” Chelgren said, adding that he doesn’t forget about them in between, if he sees a flag that’s askew, he’ll stop his truck and fix it. “