Poor Richard: 'We can only hope for warmer days'
Drivers heading down North George Street before sunrise on Saturday, Feb. 2, may have noticed an unusual sight.
Around 25 adults in long white coats and top hats — and a handful more in bibs and bonnets — stood in the 5 degree weather at 7 a.m.
Passers-by likely couldn't see what the oddly dressed crew was gathered around: a stuffed groundhog.
Specifically, Poor Richard.
"We're not as crazy as Punxsutawney, but we are nuts," said John Fedor, one of the top two officials of the York Slumbering Groundhog Lodge.
Saturday was the 91st anniversary of the annual York event. Fedor is the Exalted Hibernator, set apart from the crowd by a white top hat in contrast to fellow members in black.
The other top official is Grand Communicator George "Skip" Lehman, who delivers Poor Richard's prognostication.
He began the prediction with a foreboding, "You're going to hate me."
Unlike Punxsutawney Phil, Poor Richard did not predict an early spring.
"You see my dear friends of the York County lands, the long days of winter are filled with snow bands. So sit back and wait for the March 21 date, stay safe and warm with your snuggly mate," Lehman said.
"The temps will be cold, the sun will still shine, but in reality for all the spring weather may not be on time. Poor Richard says that we can only hope for warmer days, if we all try to treat the little creatures of the earth in very kind ways," he said.
New members: Despite the unfortunate weather news, many members had no regrets about bracing the early morning cold. Especially some of the newbies, or as they were referred to on Saturday morning, "Groundettes."
"Besides the outcome, that was a lot of fun," said Laura Jensen, a York City resident. "I'm happy to be a part of the 91st anniversary. I'm glad I got up, it was a great experience."
Jensen has been a member of the York Elks Lodge No. 213, where the event is held, for about four years, she said. This is the first time she was able to come and join the Slumbering Lodge on Groundhog Day, since it fell on a weekend.
Ilene Gentzler, a Hellam Township resident, was also among Saturday's Groundettes. She wasn't able to make it in previous years because of work but said she was happy to take part in the event that captures the spirit of the Elks Lodge.
"We're one big family, Groundhog Day and every day," she said.
Gentzler was also thankful for the hand warmers given out on Saturday, she said.
The Bloody Mary cocktails most members were drinking before heading outside may have helped a bit, too.
The Groundettes wore bibs and bonnets for their induction on Saturday morning. Now that they're members, they'll don top hats and white coats for future events.
On the list: They join a list that includes some of York's notable officials, Fedor said. York County Commissioner Chris Reilly is a Slumbering Lodge member, he said, as is York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.
"I don't' know how to have more fun when it's 5 degrees at 7 a.m. on Feb. 2," Helfrich said.
Which is what the event is all about, Lehman said.
"We all take it in a light way, he said.
"We're not here to think about if the government is shutdown or not, or who is running for president," he added.
The event also raises funds for various charities, Lehman said.
Lehman and Fedor have been participating for more than 20 years. As they get older, they're looking for new members to step up and take over the lodge tradition.
Lehman also has one specific potential Groundette on his wish list.
"We'd love to have Gov. Wolf," he said.
— Rebecca Klar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_