PUNXSUTAWNEY — In what has become Punxsutawney's day in the sun, Groundhog Day, the only thing that could take away from it would be the passing of one of its favorite sons on Friday, former Mayor John Hallman.
Jim Cassidy, chairman of the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center, eulogized Hallman prior to the induction of Weather Channel Meteorologist Jim Cantore, its 2013 inductee into the Meteorologist
Hall of Fame on Saturday.
"Friday morning, we received some bad news, as we lost one of our own, John Hallman," he said.
"Anyone from Punxsutawney knows John doesn't really need an introduction," Cassidy said, adding that Hallman was many things to the Punxsy community.
Cassidy said Hallman was especially important to the Weather Center, since he had been the postmaster at the building back when it was owned by the U.S. Postal Service.
Hallman also served as the mayor of Punxsutawney for many years.
"He was truly one of the founding fathers, and was one of the leading forces in saving this old post office building and creating what it is today, the Weather Discovery Center, and was currently serving on our board," Cassidy said.
"We were all very saddened to lose him yesterday (Friday)," Cassidy said.
He said Hallman always wore a smile on his face wherever he went.
"He was a very proud veteran of World War II and served aboard a U.S. Navy submarine," Cassidy said, adding that Hallman always began the Weather Center committee meetings by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Cassidy then led the gathering in the pledge and concluded with how much the community will miss Hallman's leadership in many areas.
Punxsutawney Mayor Jim Wehrle, who succeeded Hallman as mayor, said that John was always there for him after he was elected mayor.
"He was a great mentor to me and taught me the ins and outs of being mayor," Wehrle said, adding that Hallman would call him on occasion whenever he would read in the newspaper that Wehrle had a tough meeting.
"He'd tell me to keep calm and don't get excited; his advice was quite valuable to me," he said. "John was just a great person for Punxsutawney and he'll be sadly missed.”
Wehrle admired the leadership that Hallman projected as mayor.
"After John was elected mayor, he set the bar high and was able to obtain an office for the position, which didn't even exist before he was elected," Wehrle said. "You can say that John put the mayor position on the map in Punxsy and was the first one to perform wedding ceremonies on Groundhog Day.”
Larry Chenoga, Punxsutawney Borough Council president, said Hallman was a friend of his since he came to Punxsy.
"I used to call him about matters that affected council, and John always took time out to answer my questions and help me in any way that he could," Chenoga said, adding that he never heard Hallman say a cross word about anyone.
"John was one of those special people, no matter how busy he was he always had time for you," he said. "He's going to be sadly missed by everyone in Punxsutawney."
Marlene Lellock, executive director of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce, said Hallman was a huge supporter of the chamber, visiting with members all the time.
"In my 14 years (here), he came in to see us every day of the week, and the girls at the chamber all loved him," she said.
"He was a great person, fabulous for this town, and was really great on the Route 119 Committee and did so much to help improve the Route 119 corridor." Lellock said, adding that he was “a jewel of the community."
Rick Nesbitt, former president of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of
Commerce, said Hallman did a lot for the community, especially the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.
"I know that ever since I moved into town, one of the projects he wanted to see happen was the Weather Center," Nesbitt said, adding that he talked about with Hallman quite a bit.
"I know John (Hallman) has had a tough time the last couple of years due to his health," he said.
"He was a great guy, a good man and person for Punxsutawney, he loved it here," Nesbitt said, adding that he was saddened and shocked when he received news of Hallman's death.
"It's a big loss for the town. He will be missed," Nesbitt said.
Rep. Sam Smith, speaker of the Pennsylvania State House of
Representatives, said Hallman loved this town and the people of Punxsutawney.
"I've known him all of my life and attended the same church (First United Methodist Church in Punxsy),” Smith said.
According to Smith, Hallman’s passing is a big loss for Punxsutawney, but everyone can be proud to have had someone of Hallman's caliber live here, making this town a great place.
Smith said Hallman worked at the post office for many years, and he loved that building.
"Clearly, he was a driving force in getting people together to figure out a way to preserve that beautiful building, and now it is being put to great use and is a real tribute to John and his love for this community," Smith said.
Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle, said Hallman's death is a tremendous loss to the community.
"He was a strong supporter of this community and supporter of the Groundhog Club and the Weather Discovery Center," Deeley said. "Any project that John got involved with, he was a driving force. We need more John Hallmans in Punxsutawney.”
Deeley said whenever there was a disagreement, Hallman was the glue that kept people together.
"John kept everyone united and on the same page," Deeley said.
Jefferson County Common Pleas Judge John Foradora said Hallman was a wonderful person, well known throughout the county and would help anyone who would ask.
"He was mayor in 2001 when I was campaigning for judge, and I think it was his last year. I saw him at the Weather Center several times, and he was always very pleasant and cared about Punxsutawney very much," said Foradora.
The judge said Hallman was a huge supporter of the Orange Patrol (inmates from the Jefferson County Jail who work off their sentences by working on public service projects).
"He always kept in touch with me, even after the Weather Center work was completed," Foradora said, adding that Hallman would mention Orange Patrol work that impressed him.
"I always thanked him for the people he looked after that he thought were good workers and tried to help them get jobs once they finished their time," Foradora said.
Mary Jean Johnston, former Weather Center project manager, said that everyone associated with the Weather Center was saddened when they heard the news of Hallman's passing.
"He was involved up until a few weeks ago on a regular basis, and I personally will miss him because he was my mentor when I started seven years ago," Johnston said.
She said Hallman would come in and they would talk, and she learned so much about the history of the Post Office building and how the Weather Center first began.
"Everyone knew him in town and out of town. He served on so many committees and knew everyone throughout the county," she said. "There will be a lot of sad people once they hear of his passing."
Tom Chelgren, former Punxsutawney Man of the Year, said Hallman's passing was more than a shock to him.
"We are losing an absolute legend of Punxsutawney. It's a sad day, but we have to look to what John would say: Look forward," Chelgren said, adding that was what Hallman always did.
"He looked forward and was a visionary for this town and brought many things to to it, specifically the Weather Center," he said.
Chelgren said for that, the the residents of the area will be eternally grateful.
Paul Corbin. Jefferson County Commission chairman, said Hallman not only did a lot for Punxsy but throughout the county as well.
"He was really a fine gentleman, and the Weather Center was his heart and soul between his years in the Post Office and then later when (the building) became the Weather Center," Corbin said.
Jim McIntyre, County Commission vice-chair, said he served with Hallman on the Community Action, Inc. board, which is a county agency.
"He had such great insight and enthusiasm, and he was always there for the community," McIntyre said. "He truly became a good personal friend of mine, and I'm going to miss him.”