Club welcomes Dunkel, promotes Lundy, plans for new event and look at the Knob

PUNXSUTAWNEY — There’s a lot going on within the Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle: A new member, a promotion, a retirement and a new take on a long-time, late-summer event.

Tom Dunkel is the Inner Circle’s newest member, succeeding now-former Vice-President Mike Johnston, who has accepted emeritus status after 20 years with the club. Taking on the role of vice-president is “Fair Weatherman” Jeff Lundy.

Dunkel, who co-owns Dunkel Roofing with his brother, Doug, has worked with the club in one way or another for years. The brothers’ father, Bud Dunkel, is a former handler of Punxsutawney Phil and served as president from 1992 to 1996.

“When he was on vacation, I’d take care of Phil” when his dad was the handler, Dunkel said. “At that time, we really enjoyed it when he was in the club. We had lots of Feb. 2 celebrations.”

His invitation to join the Inner Circle came via text message from “Chief Healthman” Dr. Jon Johnston, who asked Dunkel if he could help with some work at 10 p.m. at Gobbler’s Knob.

But Dunkel heads to bed early, and when 10 p.m. passed, he received a call around 10:30 p.m. from Johnston, asking him why he hadn’t yet come to the Knob.

“I said, ‘Well, I’m sleeping,’” Dunkel said.

Johnston’s surprise was compromised by Dunkel’s slumber, and so Johnston gave Dunkel the news: He was selected as the newest member of the Inner Circle.

“I was very pleased, but I went back to sleep,” Dunkel said.

Shortly thereafter, he informed his daughters — Mary, Amy and Emily, now grown, and Caroline, who is soon to be a senior at PAHS — about the news, saying, “‘Daddy was asked to be in the Inner Circle.’ They’re all very excited and looking forward to bringing their friends home to come and enjoy Groundhog Day.”

His wife, Kim, who manages Miller Brothers’ By The Room Furniture in DuBois, is also “very excited and proud.”

Dunkel said although he’s attended only one Inner Circle meeting, he knows that he’ll be working with “Rainmaker” AJ Dereume in revamping what has been known as the annual “Groundhog Stag Picnic & Outing,” this year scheduled for Sept. 8.

Instead of the traditional guys-only format, plans call for creating a “Phil Fest,” an all-day event featuring live bands and events such as food contests, such as a possible rib cook-off ... and women will be as welcome to attend as men are.

Johnston said the Inner Circle is similar to a board of directors or any organization, and seeks to find people who have the talents and abilities to sustain and advance its mission.

“Tom’s abilities mesh very nicely with the club’s needs,” he said.

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Meanwhile, Lundy, the Inner Circle’s “Fair Weatherman” since 1990, now succeeds Johnston as vice-president.

Long known as the emcee of the annual Groundhog Banquet, Lundy said he now “gets to read the scroll” in proclaiming Punxsutawney Phil’s prognostication Feb. 2 — although he already has other ideas about that duty.

“I was thinking of changing it, so different guys — some of the older guys — read the scroll,” Lundy said. “If they misinterpret Phil, then they can deal with (the crowd).”

More recently, however, Lundy has been involved with efforts to improve the entrance at Gobbler’s Knob.

In November, the club revealed that it had a $9,000 landscape design matching grant from the PA Wilds Design Assistance Program, with a grant from National Parks Service Preserve America Fund and DCED Municipal Services Fund, to enhance the Gobbler’s Knob entrance, and was working with Mike Mohney, a Punxsy native, landscape designer and instructor with Penn State’s agricultural services department, and his students on ideas.

Some of the ideas that students have come up with are “really cool,” Lundy said, and soon, club members will begin some small steps toward the larger effort.

“There was one particular student, who had been there this year,” Lundy said. “Just having him see if for the first time, he saw things that maybe we didn’t see, such as how the traffic flowed, how people get in and out of the Knob. I think we do a good job, but he pointed out some things that would make it much easier.”

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Mike Johnston joined the Inner Circle 20 years ago this month, served as vice-president for five years, and earlier this year decided that his appearance at Groundhog Day 2012 would be his last as an active member. He has since accepted emeritus status, which means he may participate in all the ceremonial functions, but no longer may vote in club business.
But the “Big Flake Maker” isn’t detaching himself from the Inner Circle entirely.

“My main thrust with the club for 20 years has been the marketing end,” he said. “I have offered to stay active in marketing and will do whatever I’m asked to do. But that’s been my principle point of interest — I’m a salesman, guilty as charged.”

A new event that the club is hosting June 9 at Gobbler’s Knob is a merchandise fair that seeks the next big Groundhog Day item.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever done it,” Johnston said. “Through the course of a year, we get many people who think they have something unique that could be a product. More often then not, it’s a poem or something difficult to market. There are a lot of options, and depending on what it is, we may license it. We can do almost anything.”

He said he and Keith Shields joined the Inner Circle at the same time in 1992. He also recalled seeking instructions from then-President Jim Means.

“I vividly recall asking Jim Means, ‘Is there anything I can do?’” he said. “And his quote was, ‘Don’t worry about it; we don’t do much.’ That was the year the before the movie came out. It’s been very busy for the past 20 years. There are members who literally put thousands of hours into it.”

Johnston retired from his business, Johnston Furniture, two years ago after 29 years.

“I found there is a significant difference in doing what you want to do and what you have to do,” he said. “Having the ability to do what you want to do is pretty nice.”