Faculty share special link to Groundhog Day founder

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Photo by Anthony Mazur

For generations, Groundhog Day has been a big deal at the University of Dallas. This past weekend, many UD students celebrated at the annual Groundhog Day party in the park with food, drinks and live music.

UD has a bigger connection to Groundhog Day than many realized. Ancestors of the man that founded the holiday work at UD. 

Adrienne Freas, a classical education advisor at Braniff Graduate School, discovered nine years ago that an ancestor of her husband, Brian Freas, was actually the founder of Groundhog Day.

“I’d never heard it until we’re in the nursing home with my granny,” Brian Freas said. “And she starts to tell us he founded Groundhog Day.” 

From there, the couple said that they initially dismissed the story, but when Grandma Freas continued to bring it up, the two began researching. 

“One night I somehow got a hold of the book because I thought it was interesting to read about Groundhog Day,” Adrienne Freas said. “As I was flipping through the book I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the guy that [Brian’s] grandmother was telling us about, that Clymer Freas.’” 

Clymer Freas was born in 1867 in Porter Township, Pennsylvania  and is attributed with creating Groundhog Day.

“So I started looking everything up online, and I did a full ancestral research,” Adrienne Freas said. “I started looking through graveyards and looking at censuses to kind of verify that it wasn’t a different Freas line, and it all matched up. And I said: ‘He really was your great great uncle.’” 

The first Groundhog Day was celebrated in 1887 in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The holiday started with the tradition of feasting on a groundhog, but it slowly developed to a state-wide, and later nation-wide, holiday, until Punxsutawney earned the nickname “Groundhog Town.”

“It was amazing because we really thought that she had totally made it up,” Adrienne Freas said. “The blessing in it was, we would have never been able to trace our family tree that far back to Germany if we didn’t stumble on that. And I thought it was fascinating that the book traced his family that far back. That he was that important for them to actually talk about his family.”

Perhaps the craziest part of the whole story is that Adrienne Freas now works at one of the only schools in the nation that treats Groundhog Day like a special holiday.

“We were dumbfounded,” Brian and Adrienne stated. 

“And I said, “what’s the mascot at UD?”” Adrienne Freas said, recalling the moment she discovered UD’s special relation to Groundhog Day while talking with a student. “And she said [a] ‘Groundhog.’ And I said, ‘Are you serious? Why a groundhog?’ And she goes, ‘Because Groundhog Day is a big deal at UD.’ I was like, ‘Are you serious? I’m related to the guy who founded Groundhog Day!”

For the Freas family, Groundhog Day is now more special than ever.

“Our first grandchild was born last April,” Adrienne Freas said. “The first stuffed animal he got from me was a UD Groundhog.”

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