Groundhog Lodge No. 1 members celebrate the groundhog
The evening before Groundhog Day, the guest of honor at the 83rd Versommling of Grundsau Lodsch Nummer Ains an da Lechaw was none other than King Grundsau himself.
This year, as in every year previous, festivities were conducted in the uniquely Pennsylvania Deutsch dialect as soon as the Pennsylvania Dutch celebrants swore an oath to refrain from speaking English for the rest of the evening.
In the Germanic language of the early immigrants who settled the Lehigh Valley and much of Southeastern and South Central Pennsylvania, “Versommling” means “gathering” and “Grundsau Lodsch Nummer Ains an da Lechaw” is “Groundhog Lodge No. 1 on the Lehigh.”
The gathering, hosted at the Schnecksville Fire Company, featured such Pennsylvania Dutch culinary delights as country sausage, smoked sausage, hot bacon dressing over lettuce, potato filling, and for the stout of heart (and stomach), pickled tripe.
And, with great ceremony, King Grundsau predicted six more weeks of winter.
Musical entertainment, with all lyrics sung in dialect, was provided by the Happy Dutchmen German Band of Bruce Rohrbach, Leon Moll, and Mike and Linda Hertzog.
The Hertzogs play traditional folk and country songs in a bluegrass style with all lyrics in Pennsylvania Deutsch dialect.
Mike Hertzog has been doing this since the mid-1970s with John Fritsch and later, Peter Fritsch.
William Meck credits Mike Hertzog with being one of very few who still recites the “New Year’s Wish” in dialect.
The Hertzogs are of Pa. Dutch ancestry and have been performing together since 2011.
Mike Hertzog paid tribute to their culture with the “New Year’s Wish.”
“This is an old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition,” Board Hauptmann (President) William Meck said, “When I was a young boy, 5 years old, they would come to our house and play the old year out and the new year in. It was for good luck.”
Meck, raised by his grandparents, learned the dialect as a child in the family grocery store that served the Pennsylvania Dutch community.
As an auctioneer, Meck is grateful he is able to communicate with his Amish and Mennonite clientele who speak the language.
“It’s dying out,” Meck said. “This group here, at the peak, had 800 men attending. Tonight we had 125. But, still, there’s 125 doing it.
“If there is only two or three, we are still doing it.”
Dr. William Donner, professor of anthropology at Kutztown University, said he and 12 others on the board of directors are spokes of a “rawd” (wheel).
“They have 13 people who are on the board of the lodge,” Donner, cultural director of the Kutztown Folklife Festival, said. “That happened in 1934 when they founded it. They said they didn’t want anybody to think they were superstitious.”
Donner is Pa. Dutch on his mother’s side of the family.
Board member Keith Brintzenhoff grew up in Topton in a family where Pa. Dutch was their first language.”
“We need to teach the people who don’t speak Dutch to understand some Dutch words,” ending with, “Ei, yei, yei!” (My, my, my!), Brintzenhoff said while addressing fellow lodge members in dialect.
Brintzenhoff fronts the Toad Creek Ramblers and teaches Pa. German, music and culture at Kutztown University.
Unnerhaubtman (Vice President) William Mantz led the group in “Lieder” (songs). Mantz served in the Marines for eight years and lives in New Tripoli. Mantz learned the dialect indirectly from his parents, grandparents and neighbors.
Dennis Hartman of Hartman’s Butcher Shop, New Tripoli, provided sausages and pickled tripe for the meal.
“I’m a third generation butcher,” he said, “We’ve been there since 1940.”
He learned the dialect from listening to his family and shop patrons.
At the end of the evening, Meck recited a heartfelt “Letschde Wadde” (Last Words).
Liewer Gott in Himmel drein,
Loss uns Deitsche was mir sinn,
Un erhalt uns alle Zeit,
Unser Deitschi Frehlichkeit.
Dear God in heaven above,
Leave us Germans what we are,
Let us keep for all time,
Our Pennsylvania German joyfulness.