Punxsy Native Finds Calling As Groundhog Day Coordinator

PUNXSUTAWNEY, Pa. (EYT) – Katie Donald has clearly found her niche.

The Punxsutawney native graduated from Clarion University after a decade with a degree in Political Science. From there, she spent a few years in Florida teaching preschool-age children. However, Donald missed her family and missed the changing of the seasons, so she returned home.

Donald became the events coordinator for the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club in April of 2011. Her title changed to Executive Director a few years later as the job and her duties evolved and expanded.

On Friday, February 2, Donald will celebrate her seventh Groundhog Day, and the excitement has not waned for her.

“Being part of the celebration, meeting people from all over the world that I wouldn’t have normally met, it’s fun and exciting,” Donald said. “Last year, I was involved with the Weather Discovery Center documentary and just spending time with Phil and seeing how everyone loves him. It’s very enjoyable.”

While at Clarion, Donald ran the university’s Dance Marathon, planned other events, and found it was something she enjoyed and excelled.

Some of Donald’s challenges include Phil’s engagement schedule and those of his handlers.

“We get a lot of requests for Phil to make public appearances, so coordinating that with his handlers can be quite demanding at times,” Donald said.

Not surprisingly, the weather also gives Donald some anxious moments.

“We know we can’t control it, but the weather on Groundhog Day does give me a bit of anxiety,” she said.

While some may see Punxsutawney Phil’s big day as all that there is to the Groundhog Club, Donald has worked to add several other events that increase the number of visitors to Punxsutawney and the region.

Under her direction, the Groundhog Club has added the “Worldwide Adventures of Phil,” a contest where Phil admirers share a photo of the famous prognosticator in places across the country and around the world.

The Groundhog Club has also added Hogtoberfest. the Gobbler’s Knob Wine Fest, Phil’s Holiday Bash, and the Elderly Care Card and Gift Festival.

“We try to have one large event every month,” Donald said.

The logistics of hosting Groundhog Day are daunting to be sure, but Donald is happy that the club has worked well with so many different agencies and groups to make it run so smoothly.

“People don’t know how much support we get from the community,” Donald said. “It is tremendous. From police and EMS to PennDOT, so many local groups. It would be nearly impossible to put it on without everyone working together.”

Anyone who has seen Groundhog Day, the 1993 American fantasy-comedy film that starred Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, and Chris Elliott, knows the production took some liberties with how the event is held. Donald knows what the movie has meant to the event and Punxsy.

“We appreciate everything the movie did for us, but it is completely different than the movie.  Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney is a unique tradition and celebration that you will only experience here,” Donald said. “The movie portrays the celebration in the town square, but it really happens at Gobbler’s Knob, which is outside of town about 1.5 miles. In the movie, the crowd was much smaller than it is in real life. But, we can thank the movie for the expanded crowd size!”

Donald is also looking forward to the new visitor’s center, shown below in an artist’s rendition, which will begin construction at Gobbler’s Knob as the weather allows after February 2.

groundhog visitor center“We are very excited about the new center. It will so much better being on the Knob where so much happens,” Donald said. “We will be able to help so many more people and spread the word of what’s going on in Punxsutawney.”

Recently, the Jefferson County Commissioners approved $100,000.00 to the Groundhog Club for help with the new center. The money came from the Marcellus Legacy Fund, which used to further tourism in the county.

Donald also stays busy with PRIDE (Punxsutawney Revitalization: Investing, Developing and Enhancing).

“We work to keep Punxsy a great place to live and work and enhance its future,” Donald said.

Donald said she is proud that she has been able to increase Phil’s presence through social media and added events that cater to people of all ages and interests.

“I’m very appreciative to have this position and to further the mission of the Groundhog Club,” Donald said. “These events are for everyone to enjoy, and that’s important that people can come to Punxsutawney and have a good time together.”

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