obituary: He never got his fill of Groundhog Day - "Keeper of the Burrow" for the Milwaukee Groundhog Club
- He never got his fill of Groundhog Day
By JESSE GARZA
July 1, 2006
Toivo 'Toy' Sivola
As the "Keeper of the Burrow" for the Milwaukee Groundhog Club, Toivo
"Toy" Sivola spent his birthdays at the Milwaukee County Zoo
officiating over such dignitaries as "the Cloud Maker," "the Assayer
of the Sun" and "the Chief Eye Rubber."
The Cloud Maker pushed for an early spring; the Assayer determined
whether the groundhog saw its shadow; and the Eye Rubber cleared the
animal's eyes to make sure it could see.
And at the Groundhog Club dinner that followed, Sivola - whom folks
called Toy because no one could pronounce his name - reported on
celebrity rodents with monikers like Chucky, Jimmy and Punxsutawney
"And Woodys," his wife, Loretta Sivola, recalled.
"They had a whole lot of Woodys."
Funeral services were held Saturday for Sivola, who, aside from his
association with the Groundhog Club, was a proud veteran of World War
II, a master carpenter and a fairly decent banjo player.
But he really wasn't that great of a singer.
"He couldn't carry a tune, but he was a good banjo player," Loretta
Sivola said of her husband, who died Wednesday after a long illness at
He was born Feb. 2, 1922 - Groundhog Day, 2/2 of '22 - in Phelps to
Mary, a homemaker, and Emil, a sawmill worker.
After graduating from Phelps High School he moved to Milwaukee,
working as a houseman at the Schroeder Hotel before being drafted into
the U.S. Army in 1942.
He served in Europe with the 14th Armored Division and met Loretta on
a blind double date shortly after he and an Army buddy were
"They were looking for women," Loretta Sivola said.
Her future husband then entered a carpenter apprenticeship in
Milwaukee, which he completed in 1950, the same year he married
He then spent the next half century or so working for contractors or
"I'm not sure when he retired," his wife said. "I guess when he
couldn't work anymore."
Sivola and a group of his pals formed a polka band, playing at
weddings and at gatherings for Local 264 of the Carpenters Union, his
"They didn't really have a name - they just played together," his wife
said. "He didn't dance with me, though.
"He was a musician, but he couldn't dance."
But her husband knew how to have fun. So in the late 1970s when he
heard about a local club whose members were all born on Groundhog Day,
he just had to join.
"I only met up with him once a year, but he had a delightful sense of
humor," said current Keeper of the Burrow Richard Perschon, who
explained the duties of his office.
"The Keeper of the Burrow is charged with gathering the members
together for the zoo celebration and the dinner," he said. "After
(Sivola) relinquished the office, he remained our Grand Patriarch for
the last couple of years."
When Sivola ascended to the Keeper position in 1987, he inherited a
stuffed groundhog named Beverly. Every Groundhog Day he would don a
tuxedo and top hat when presiding over the festivities at the zoo, and
he reveled in entertaining the busloads of schoolchildren in
At one celebration, an exceptionally rambunctious groundhog scooted
into the bushes.
"The news media and everyone was in the bushes," Loretta Sivola
recalled. "They finally found him, but everybody was full of snow."
Beside his Groundhog Club antics, Sivola and his wife were actively
involved with the Finnish American Society, the Holiday Folk Fair and,
every year, attended the national reunion of the 14th Armored
"I had a wonderful husband," Loretta Sivola said. "And I had a
wonderful life with him."