New acquisition: Groundhog Lodge #2 records

Written by Joel Alderfer on February 22, 2019

The records, photos and some artifacts of Groundhog Lodge #2 “on the Skippack” were donated to the Mennonite Heritage Center last fall, after the group disbanded earlier in 2018. This Grundsow Lodsch, based in the Souderton-Harleysville area, started in 1937, held its first public Fersommling (gathering and banquet) in February 1938, held its 81st annual banquet in February 2018, and then decided to disband. It was the second of the lodges (or clubs) organized in the wider Groundhog Lodge movement in eastern Pennsylvania.

In the aftermath of World War I, American society was suspicious of German culture, traditions and language. The use of the German language had been sharply curtailed in Pennsylvania churches and schools. This negativism proved to be a blow to ethnic identity in Pennsylvania German communities. Persons in these communities were concerned about the perceived threat to their Pennsylvania German culture, traditions, and dialect. In response, a group of men from the farming, business and professional communities of the Lehigh Valley organized the first Groundhog Lodge in Allentown in 1933.

The Groundhog Lodges are fraternal organizations, traditionally limited to men, and devoted to the preservation and celebration of the Pennsylvania German dialect and heritage. Currently, seventeen lodges throughout eastern Pennsylvania host events centered around the festivities and lore of Groundhog Day (February 2). Featuring dialect speakers, jokes, food, music and entertainment, the Groundhog Lodges have celebrated over 85 years of local Pennsylvania German culture.

Printed programs from the second and third Fersommlings of Groundhog Lodge #2, 1939 and 1940, at Souderton High School and Telford Fire Hall.

Grundsow Lodsch Nummer Zwee (#2, the second one organized) held its first public gathering on a cold evening in February 1938, at Pipersville, Bucks County. After that, the lodge held its annual banquets in the Souderton-Telford or Harleysville-Kulpsville area. Over the years, the group met at the (former) Souderton High School, the Telford Fire Hall, Lower Salford Elementary School, Franconia Elementary School, Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Tylersport Fire Hall, and Generations of Indian Valley.

Harleysville area members travel to the annual Fersommling at Souderton High School around 1943. War-time gas rationing inspired them to make the trip by horse-drawn wagon. Left to right: Howard Wambold, Wilmer Wambold, Abe Scholl, Wilmer Nice, Howard Metzger, Ernest Delp, Howard Landis, Lester Fellman, Stanley Royer, Vincent Ruth, Lewis Alderfer, Milton Alderfer.
At the head table, the Rawd (council) presides over the Fersommling at Lower Salford Elementary School, Harleysville, in about 1956. Notes the bibs. On the stage, a band and the Forsinger (songleader) leads the assembly in Pennsylvania Dutch choruses.

Through the years, officers have included chairmen (Hauptman) Norman Zendt, Walter S. Cassel, Leon Cope, Clarence Heffendrager, and Forrest Lesher; secretaries (Schreiwer) Ralph Gehman, Lloyd Nace, Robert Koffel, and Jerry DeLong; treasurers (Gelthaver) John Kline, Lester Leidy, Lloyd Derstine, Norman Keller, and Dean Shollenberger.

Hauptman (chairman) Leon Cope waits for the groundhog to indicate its prognostication, no doubt somewhere near the banks of the Skippack Creek, in 1973.

The stated purpose of Lodge #2 was “to perpetuate the Pennsylvania Dutch language through a gathering of friends” …around “a sumptuous Pennsylvania Dutch dinner.” Only Pennsylvania Dutch was to be spoken and sung at its banquets and by the guest speakers. For years, the lodge had the practice of collecting “fines” and offerings at its banquets – whenever a member forgot and spoke in English, he was supposed to toss a quarter in one of the buckets set on the tables. The fine money was collected and totaled each year and given to a local non-profit entity. In 2012, for example, $466.00 was given to the Indian Valley Meals on Wheels program.

Fersommling at Lower Salford Elementary School, about 1957. Several of the men are smoking cigars or cigarettes (in a public school building)!
Lodge #2 members recite the groundhog pledge at the annual Fersommling circa 1990.

At the last several years of Lodge #2 banquets, it seems that the use of Pennsylvania Dutch dialect had fallen into serious decline. The older members who remembered the dialect were passing from the scene. Generally, in this area, men under 75, even 80, no longer knew the language. This writer attended Lodge #2’s second-last banquet in 2017, and found that much English was spoken around the tables. So this club had not been successful at “perpetuating” the dialect. This and the lack of interest among younger people of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, and no doubt the club’s increasing lack of relevance, likely led to the decision to disband after its 2018 banquet.

Lodge #2 Rawd, with their red neckerchiefs, in 2000.

After the group disbanded, one of its officers (Merrill Ruth) invited MHC to select records and souvenirs that we felt were worth preserving. From these records, we created a Grundsow Lodsch Nummer Zwee an Da Schibbach archival collection.

Program covers from the 60th and 80th Fersommlings, 1997 and 2017.

Interested in seeing what Groundhog Lodge meetings are like?
Click here for video of the 2018 gathering of Lodge #1 on the Lehigh