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Article posted: 2/2/2013 2:33 PM

Woodstock, Punxsutawney groundhogs agree on an early spring for us

By Laura Stoecker Elena Ferrarin

Maybe Congress can learn something from Punxsutawney Phil and Woodstock Willie.

The two national prognosticators of what lies ahead for us were in complete agreement Saturday ... we're in for an early spring this year.

Woodstock Willie made his annual Groundhog Day appearance early Saturday morning in front of nearly 1,000 people in the far Northwest suburb and did not see his shadow, which according to tradition means an early end to winter.

About the same time, many miles to the east in Punxsutawny, Pa., Willie's better-known relative Punxsutawney Phil emerged from his lair on Gobbler's Knob in front of thousands with the same conclusion.

In Woodstock, spectators braved a cold, snowy morning to witness the event, which carried added significance because it was the 20th anniversary of the movie "Groundhog Day," the Bill Murray comedy that was filmed in Woodstock and gave a boost to the whole Groundhog Day tradition.

Kyle Sweeney of Chicago rented an RV and came with six friends from Chicago and a cousin from Wisconsin to celebrate the holiday, which is his favorite day of the year. Sweeney donned a hat with a large, sunglasses-wearing groundhog on it and held a stuffed animal groundhog in his arms.

"I'm the biggest Groundhog Day fan in the world, so I had to make it out," Sweeney said.

Sue Carolan of Wonder Lake watched the filming of the movie 20 years ago with her newborn son and comes every year to celebrate, either bringing her handmade drawing of Woodstock Willie on a poster board or a stuffed animal version of him. She can modify her sign on the spot to reflect the prediction, so it can say "I did see my shadow!" or "I didn't see my shadow!"

Since the day is around the birth date of her son and they watched the filming together, the day is important to her. "It's very special. I come every year with something special like my sign or my groundhog. It's fun, it's really fun."

The Mavec family of Crystal Lake missed Willie's 7 a.m. prognostication by seven minutes, much to the disappointment of 11-year-old Jackie Mavec.

"That's my favorite part," said Jackie, who added her best friend's mother had a small background part in the movie's snowball fight scene.

Still, the prognostication was just the beginning of a full day of fun that attracted a larger-than-normal crowd because this year Groundhog Day fell on a weekend, said Woodstock Groundhog Day committee member Donna Besler.

"Everything we organized is within walking distance. Once you park, you're set for the rest of the day," Besler said.

Joyce and Ricardo Alfaro and their 8-year-old son, "Little Ricardo," started their morning with breakfast at Woodstock VFW Post 5040, followed by bowling at Wayne's Lanes.

Then they headed to the Home State Bank location just off the Woodstock Square to listen to storyteller and author Jim May's groundhog tales. "It was fun how he told the stories," Little Ricardo said.

Eleven-year-old Ryan Roig, of Crystal Lake, agreed. "He did it really funny and silly," said Ryan, who came with his aunt Jaqueline Roig, of Chicago, and learned all about the difference between groundhogs and woodchucks.

The Roigs also planned to have lunch at the chili cook-off held at the Woodstock Opera House.

Among the dozen or so chili cooks were Lisa and Pete Mikos of Cary. This was their first such event for the couple, whose chili is made of both ground beef and stew meat.

"We were out having breakfast a while back and we saw it in the newspaper. We thought it would be something fun to do," Lisa Mikos said.

Phil and Willie have company in the forecasting department. There's Staten Island Chuck, in New York; General Beauregard Lee, in Atlanta; and Wiarton Willie, in Wiarton, Ontario, among others noted by the National Climatic Data Center "Groundhog Day" Web page.

Groundhog Day events continue Sunday in Woodstock, with a showing of the movie "Groundhog Day" at the Woodstock Theater and a walking tour of the movie's filming sites at 12:30 p.m. starting at the Woodstock Opera House. Both events are free. For more information visit woodstockgroundhog.org or call (815) 334-2620.

Associated Press contributed.

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