Forget Punxsatwaney Phil, Bank on Harleysville Hank


Joel Nofziger

Randy Nyce, secretary to the Harleysville Order of the Grundsau, or H.O.G. (left) holds Harleysville Hank crowd-wards as H.O.G. chairman Steve Hunsberger (right) announces Hank’s weather prediction.

HARLEYSVILLE— The day of the Grundsau is upon us! Gather for carols, speeches, and good cheer under the prognostication of the legendary Punxsutawney Phil. Or, in the case of us Harleysvillians, none other than local representative Harleysville Hank.

Coined as the “Harleysville Order of the Grundsau,” (or the H.O.G. by its founding marmot enthusiasts,) the small committee brought together by the Harleysville Mennonite Heritage Center provides year-round correspondence on all things Hank. The tradition dates back to 2016 as his first year in action, both for the chance to celebrate a goofy tradition and honor Pennsylvania’s rich Germanic culture.

Executive Director of the Mennonite Heritage Center Joel Nofziger weighed in on the festivities and their deeper connection to Pennsylvania’s history.

“It is important to note that there is nothing specifically Mennonite about Groundhog Day; rather, it is a Pennsylvania German folk festival building on Germanic myth and Christian traditions around Candlemas,” Nofziger explained.

The idea of Candlemas far precedes that of Groundhog Day, where clear weather once portended a longer winter. In tandem with a vaguely German tradition of badgers as weather-predicting creatures, the idea of Groundhog Day naturally boiled to the surface. Since the dawn of radar forecasting, though, the celebration has been held more in the spirit of tradition.

“Harleysville Hank focuses more on the nonsense aspect of the tradition–it’s simply fun bordering on the ridiculous. Does it make sense to wake up early in the morning to sing groundhog carols, listen to a poem or two, then have a snack of scrapple? Not particularly. However, I am firmly convinced that if we as a community cannot do fun things together, we have no hope of doing serious things together,” Nofziger continued.

Festivities begin 7:00 a.m. this Thursday at 565 Yoder Road, where a quick snack of coffee and fresh scrapple precede the gathering. A recitation of a Groundhog Day poem written by Steve Diehl, the late executive director of the cultural center, will be read before the crowd.

While the celebration is all fun and games, Nofziger surmises that the fun of Groundhog Day is a piece of our larger cultural puzzle.

“While we are a Mennonite organization, understanding Mennonites between the Schuylkill and Delaware requires understanding the local community (and the inverse is true as well), so we do serve and interpret on topics roaming far beyond what some might think when they see ‘Mennonite.’”

He continues to point out that an inherent link between two historical cultures is no coincidence.

“Mennonites fit in so far as Mennonites in Pennsylvania have always been swimming in a Pennsylvania German cultural ocean, so to speak… This points to one area of commonality that Mennonites and the broader community share, which is part of the value of the event.”

A multifaceted culmination of cultural intermingling, Groundhog Day serves as a lesson in the history of the land that lays right beneath our feet. However, keeping the tradition in the local canon requires an attraction and celebration, which Nofziger believes are the most important aspects of all.

“Sometimes people think that history and historical work is always serious, stuffy, and boring. This is a chance to have fun, experience a little bit of Pennsylvania German culture, and maybe learn a little about how this community has thought about itself,” Nofziger affirmed.