Rotary Club’s replica project slowed, but not stopped

PUNXSUTAWNEY — The Punxsutawney Rotary Club received one of four Awards of Commendation presented Sunday during the Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society’s annual banquet.

And even though the creator of the first piece — a replica of the former Punxsutawney Free Library — has passed away, the overall project of bringing a sense of Punxsy’s yesteryears to a new generation will not stop.

“Jeff was a one-in-all package,” Thomas Chelgren, a Rotarian who accepted the award on the club’s behalf Saturday, said of Jeff Marshall, who created and built the library piece. “He could take it from building, to the frame and foam, and then cut away the foam,
and paint it and make an artistic impression throughout.”

Marshall, 53, who partnered with Nance Finley on a number of the “Phantastic Phils!” died March 11.

However, “This is not, in any way, a project that is going to be one and done,” Chelgren said.

In naming Rotary as the award recipient, the Society cited the project as “the first step in bringing to the public the look of downtown Punxsutawney past, in time for our Home for the Holidays celebration.”

The project is an extension of Rotary’s annual Circle of Trees, for which Chelgren serves as chairman. It’s purpose “is to bring back a time period of Punxsutawney that will create Christmas memories if it’s used in its intended purpose.

“It’s to provide an outlet for people familiar with the area to come and say, ‘This was a store I used to go into,’” he said. “To say, ‘I remember this; when I was growing up, this is what Punxsy looked like.’ People can come into town and see how many changes have occurred in just over 30 years.”

Chelgren said the project did not end with Marshall’s death, but will take some time to get back on track.

“Actually, we already have people stepping forward and offering to do bits and pieces,” he said. “So now, what we’re looking for is a group of people that have individual talents and can build that way, and are willing to work on a long-term project.”

Chelgren estimates that it could take at least three years for the project to come to full fruition, but that’s part of the plan: The club doesn’t want to “just put the whole thing out in one year,” and from a financial stand-point, it doesn’t want to seek donations from businesses in town at once, especially when other groups in town also seek local contributions for different projects.

“It’s simpler for businesses to sponsor things over an extended period of time and budget for it,” he said.

Some possible future creations include some of Punxsy’s most well-known stand-alone buildings, such as the former Spirit Building, the former Mahoning Hardware and the former post office, now housing the Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center.

“Those could be done alone, if someone chooses to, and then we can build around them,” Chelgren said. “There are so many options here.”

Chelgren also praised Finley, who picked up the remainder of Marshall’s model after he died.

“Nance able to put finishing touches on the model by putting the 3-D items into it,” he said. “If you compare it to the pictures in February or March, and then compare it to what you see today, you see a lot of extra 3-D in the windows.”

The Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society’s Awards of Commendation are presented annually to area residents or organizations that have actively and voluntarily supported the goals of restoring and preserving Punxsutawney area history in their private efforts.