Published February 6, 2018
Ridge Lea Larry had an important job to do Friday afternoon. It was up to UB’s official groundhog to settle the score between two other groundhogs that made conflicting observations about when spring would arrive this year. The famous Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, while Western New York’s Dunkirk Dave called for an early spring.
Faculty, staff, students and friends of the Department of Geology braved cold temperatures to attend the department’s annual Groundhog Day barbecue, where Larry would make his annual prediction.
Even though it was a cloudy day with a real-feel temperature of minus 8 degrees Fahrenheit, that didn’t stop a community that lives for the outdoors to celebrate the occasion — although it was perhaps the shortest prediction ceremony in the event’s 35-year history.
Just in time for the ceremony, the sun peered through Buffalo’s gray skies and Larry went to work. For the third straight year, the groundhog “saw” his shadow, indicating six weeks of winter remain.
The geology department’s inaugural Groundhog Day barbecue took place 1983 after staff members wondered how they could kick off a new semester and brighten up the traditionally dismal month of February. Dave Borden, a now-retired instruction support technician for the department, had the idea and ran with it.
“We were over at the Ridge Lea Campus and isolated from [UB’s North Campus],” Borden said. “We were looking for something to do and February is really bad for that. So I went and said to everyone, ‘I’ll tell you what: I can go get a woodchuck from this taxidermist I know and we’ll dig a hole underneath the rock under the East end of the building and we’ll have hamburgers and hot dogs.’”
And just like that, a uniquely UB tradition was born and is still going strong, 35 years later.
Although the barbecue is a great occasion for members of the department to take a break and relax, the real attraction every year is the $25 stuffed groundhog Borden bought years ago. Since then, Ridge Lea Larry has relayed his prediction of an early spring — or longer winter.
On Friday, once Larry had predicted six more weeks of winter, faculty, staff and students quickly made their way inside and carried on with the festivities. Meanwhile, Alison Lagowski, assistant to the chair, and Sue Bratcher, an instructional support technician for the department, kept the grills going outside and the food flowing inside.
Warming up inside Cooke Hall, Borden talked about the importance of the event for the department, viewing it as a testament to how close-knit the department is.
“[The event] just kept building and building to what it is now,” Borden said. “Now there’s the Alumni weekend, the Rock Trot (a 5K race in Delaware Park) and our winter party is tomorrow night. It’s part of this one, long weekend event now. It definitely wasn’t like that before.”