Little known facts: how Groundhog began

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Students gathered at the 1983 Groundhog day celebration. Photo courtesy of the UD archives.

Sharen Baker, the Cowan-Blakely Memorial Library administrative assistant, attended the first Groundhog celebration at the University of Dallas. Baker described that fateful day: it was a cold and dark February morning in 1963.

“[We] all got up before dawn to find out if the Groundhog would see his shadow,” Baker said.

The students had pooled their money to rent a costume, according to Baker. No costume store had a groundhog, so the best the students could do was a bear costume. The bear suit was donned by Rich Kelly that morning as he became the first ever Groundhog.

“We were all drinking, of course,” said Baker. “We stood out by a culvert under Northgate and yelled, ‘Come on Rich, come on out.’”

As Kelly crawled out of the drainage pipe and hopped to his feet in a spectacularly underwhelming, though entirely fitting fashion, the Groundhog appeared at UD for the first time, according to Baker. A tradition was born.

The exact beginning of the Groundhog tradition, however, is still shrouded in mythical musings and fabulous exaggerations. The “Groundhogiad” poet, a pseudonym typically attributed to a group of students in the early ’80s, described the famed meeting between the dean and the “Fougi” (Jim Fougerousse ’67),

“He met the dean (whose name I now forget) / and slammed his fist and told the man: / ‘Let’s get some life into this sterile school. / Have a beer, dean? If you pass you’re a stool.’ ”

Associate Provost Dr. John Norris also reports that a meeting took place. Norris writes that during this meeting the Groundhog idea was “hatched like Athena from Donald’s head.”

Four students, Richard Baker, Kelly, Tom Burke and Fougerousse did, in fact, meet with President Cowan to receive approval for the Groundhog concept, according to Baker.

Dr. Gregory Roper (’84) explained that when he arrived at UD as an undergraduate, the Groundhog tradition was well established. Back in the day, Groundhog was celebrated on Feb. 2 no matter what day of the week it was.

“It started at 4 a.m. and went until 4 a.m. the next morning,” said Roper.

“We would get up at 2 [a.m.] and go to Denny’s beforehand so that we could drink on a full stomach and make it to class,” added Norris.

“The professors didn’t mind,” continued Roper. “They thought it was kind of a lark themselves.”

In fact, many professors attended Groundhog, even returning to campus throughout the day to teach class with a stein of beer on the podium, according to Norris.  

Then, somewhere between the late ’80s and early ’90s, the school administration put an end to Groundhog, according to Dr. Michael Terranova. The administration allowed the students to put on a funeral for Groundhog, which became known as the “Death of Groundhog.”

Students made a gravestone, and on the day of the funeral they carried a coffin down the Mall and gave a funeral oration, according to Terranova. Afterward, the students carried the coffin into the woods to bury Groundhog, while all the administrators remained on campus.

However, Terranova said that when the students reached the safety of the woods, they opened the coffin, revealing that it contained not the lifeless spirit of an executed tradition, but the very life of that spirit: beer.

After this, “Undergroundhog” rose to prominence as a secret off-campus form of Groundhog. The school threatened to expel anyone who helped organize any such event, according to Terranova.  Some current traditions, such as the sale of sweatshirts, evolved out of necessity during the Undergroundhog years, Terranova explained.

Eventually, during the late ’90s or early 2000s, it became impossible for the school to ignore Undergroundhog, and in an attempt to regain some control and a degree of safety, the university resumed sponsorship of an official Groundhog celebration on school property, according to Norris.

Why Groundhog day? Because nobody else does it.

“The fun was the pointless stupidity of it,” said Roper, reflecting on his Groundhog experience while a student.

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