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Vain Colby: Honorary Groundhog Watcher

By Amy Ahern
On February 9, 2017

Vain Colby
Photo Courtesy of Amy Ahern

On February 2, Concord University’s groundhog, Charlie, made his annual appearance at the Groundhog Day Breakfast ceremony. This event was held in University Point’s Pais Fellowship Hall on the Athens campus. 

    This year, Concord University alumnus Vain Colby served as the honorary grand groundhog watcher. Vice President for Advancement Alicia Besenyei gave the welcome and introductions, and the ceremony was followed with breakfast and entertainment by Colby’s The Eleventh Hour choir, with songs “Lean on Me” and “How I Got Over.” 

    For the past 39 years, Concord has chosen the grand groundhog watcher from members of the community who have left a considerable impact. Colby, originally from Northfork, W.Va., was chosen this year because of his outstanding talents as a playwright and actor. His most recent work, “The Eleventh Hour” will be showcased Thursday, February 9 in the Fine Arts Center at Concord. 

    A 1995 Concord University graduate, Colby said he values the guidance from the professors here who challenged him. “The lessons I learned here were priceless,” he said. Colby has been noted for his well-known outgoing, successful personality, and has developed his creative talents with three friends, Skip Crane, Jim Jenks, and Thomas Lester, to put together his non-profit acting group 4PALS in 2009. The organization stays true to writing original work, then performing it for the audience to promote the arts and encourage the community’s involvement. Throughout southern West Virginia including Concord, 4PALS has provided entertainment for audiences across the region. One of Colby’s most notable accomplishments includes “The Passing of the Pearl,” which received top honors at West Virginia’s state theater competition in 2010. 

    With 112 in attendance at this ceremony, Colby was presented with the Grand Groundhog certificate by Alicia Bensenyei. Colby then took the time to thank the audience for their continuous support in the community, school, and for coming. For him, being back at the university made him nostalgic. “Being back at Concord is like being back home again, it really is, thank you,” Colby said. 

    After the presentation of the certificate, Vice President and Academic Dean,  Dr. Peter Viscusi, announced the prediction of the groundhog, saying, “It’s going to be a short winter and it’s going to be mild.” Concord’s Charlie did not see his shadow and predicts that spring will come early before the vernal equinox. Punxsutawney Phil, however, is in disagreement with Charlie; he is calling for six more weeks of winter. Viscusi said that Concord’s Charlie predicts the weather for the Mountain State though: “The weather here in West Virginia is not the national weather,” he said. 

    The Concord Charlie tradition was originated by late Professor R.T. Tom Hill in 1978, who at the time was head of the Geography Department and Appalachian studies program. In honor of Appalachian heritage, Hill had started the annual Groundhog Day breakfast. Dr. Jonathan Berkey, professor at Concord, was in attendance at the ceremony, accompanied by his wife. Both were delighted to hear the prediction. “I’m always happy that we’re going to have less winter, so that’s a good prediction and I hope it holds true,” said Berkey. In his years at the university, Berkey has been to previous Groundhog Day ceremonies, but believes this year might have had more of a crowd. “It looks like it’s a bigger crowd this year from the previous years I have been, but it is also in a different place. They used to have it in the ballroom, but I believe I prefer it here at the Point. I encourage others to come out next year, it’s a great time,” says Berkey. 

    After the excitement over Charlie’s prediction, Colby encouraged the attendees to come next Thursday to his play, “The Eleventh Hour,” which is about two churches, one black, one white. The play is based on two communities gathering together to worship at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, which is, as Colby describes, “the most segregated hour of the week.” In the play, the black church gets destroyed by a flood, but the minister from the white church invites his fellow brothers and sisters to worship with them in their church. Colby explains the valuable lesson that people are more alike than different. “Why wait to get to heaven to worship together,” he said. “It’s hard to divide us when we know each other.” Everyone is invited to come watch the performance. “Bring your brothers, bring your sisters, bring your aunts and your uncles, we want this house packed,” said Colby. The Eleventh Hour will be held Thursday, February 9 at 7 p.m. in the Main Theatre of the Fine Arts Center, open to the public and free of charge. For additional information, visit node/2395.

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