PUNXSUTAWNEY — The 46th-annual Groundhog Festival will get underway Sunday morning in Barclay Square.
“I can always remember which anniversary it is, because it’s the same number as the Super Bowl,” said Roger Steele, Groundhog Festival Committee chairperson. “We’re the summer Super Bowl festival, because we’re the same age.”
This summer, however, committee members prepared for the week-long event with heavy hearts, following the passing of long-time committee member Ursula Albino.
“We were all saddened to hear of the passing of Ursula, one of our greatest workers,” Steele said. “She always asked what else she could do.”
Steele said he wrote the memorial that appeared in The Punxsutawney Spirit’s festival publication, and it took him three nights to do it.
“She will be missed by everyone,” he said.
Formerly a sub-committee of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, the festival committee became its own chartered, non-profit group. It pays all its own bills and has contributed to the many improvements in Barclay Square, such as installing water in the bandstand.
“The water that is used out of the bandstand to water lawns and flowers is paid for by the Groundhog Festival Inc.,” Steele said. “Our security at night is paid for by our committee.”
Anything the festival needs — such as porta-johns, paper towels, tissues and hand soap for the restrooms in the borough building — it pays for it.
“That way we’re not dependent on tax dollars in any way,” Steele said.
“A lot of festivals are sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce and/or the municipality, county or state. We receive no such funding.”
This year, the committee had to dig a little deeper into its pockets, having to purchase a license from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), a performing rights organization which licenses and collects royalties for performances of its members.
“Anyone who uses music as part of its business is required to be a member of ASCAP,” or face fines, Steele said, which could have been anywhere from $8,000 to $12,000 for the week of this year’s event.