Phil has handlers; so now does the Groundhog Club

PUNXSUTAWNEY – Punxsutawney Phil has his co-handlers, John Griffiths and Ron Ploucha, but who handles the Groundhog Club itself?

In the club's case, it's Katie Donald, who has served as events’ coordinator since April 2011, but earlier this month, was named the Groundhog Club's executive director — a pretty important title, considering that as the 127th anniversary of Groundhog Day approaches, the Inner Circle itself remains an all-male group.

“I'm honored to have the position,” said Donald, who works out of the Punxsutawney Area Chamber of Commerce and Phil's Souvenir Shop. “And they all treat me with respect and accept my input and ideas. We all work well together.”

“We just needed someone to do this on a full-time basis; everything else was sort of part-time this, part-time that,” said Bill Deeley, Inner Circle president. “She would be full-time, and it was part of her duties to be our executive director.”

“What's taking place is, she is sort of running the club for us on the daily basis, and she gets back to us,” he said. “She does have some decision power, and she's been wonderful. She really fits in and fits in well. If you point her in the right direction, and she goes and gets it done, she comes back with a result that has far exceeded your expectations.”

Since taking on her job with the club, Donald has planned events and sought sponsorship for Groundhog Day. Over the past couple of months, however, she has created and coordinated new year-round events, such as the Groundhog Ball, which in 2013 will again welcome the band Rudy & The Professionals the weekend before Groundhog Day at the country club; Phil's Holiday Bash, a family event with many children's events; the Groundhog Day Merchandise Fair, which was an opportunity for Phil's fans to showcase their Groundhog Day-related wares, songs, poems and more, which the club receives constantly; and last weekend's highly successful community yard sale at Gobbler's Knob.

Donald also works with the Inner Circle's various committees; manages rental of Gobbler's Knob; and establishes and manages Punxsy Phil's many appearances.

She also manages the club's various newsletters and the Junior Groundhog Club.

“She has been good with us,” Deeley said. “Sometimes, we can't see the forest for the trees, and she says, 'How about this?' and we say, 'Whoa, that's a great idea.'”

Most recently, Donald has been involved in one of the club's long-standing events, the annual Groundhog Picnic at Gobbler's Knob, which this year will have a different feel and a new name: Phil Fest, a 21-and-over event with live bands, such as Lucky You and Pure Cane Sugar.
This year, the “stag” tag is dropped from the event, as it will be open to both men and women.

“We said it was time,” Donald said about officially welcoming women to the former stag picnic. “There were always a few women who attended; there was no point where it said women could not come to the picnic. It'll be a chance for couples to enjoy an afternoon of fun and Phil.”

The picnic will remain the event where Punxsy Phil receives his annual swig of groundhog elixir, which sustains his life for another seven years.

The biggest challenge in her position, Donald said, is finding volunteers for Groundhog Day, since much of the event does not involve being indoors.

A Punxsy native, Donald volunteered for Groundhog Day in college and lived in Florida for two years, but said she never dreamed she'd be working for the Prognosticator of Prognosticators in the Weather Capital of the World.

“I kind of realized how to appreciate a small town,” she said. “Punxsy is lucky to have the legend of Groundhog Day. It's nice to be a part of it.”

Donald said her boss — Punxsy Phil — is also easy to work with.
“He signs my checks,” she said.