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obituary: He never got his fill of Groundhog Day - "Keeper of the Burrow" for the Milwaukee Groundhog Club

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  • Hoodoo
    He never got his fill of Groundhog Day By JESSE GARZA July 1, 2006 http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=451055 Toivo Toy Sivola
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2006
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      He never got his fill of Groundhog Day

      By JESSE GARZA
      July 1, 2006
      http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=451055

      Toivo 'Toy' Sivola
      http://graphics.jsonline.com/graphics/news/img/jul06/sivola070206.jpg


      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
      Phil.

      "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
      age 84.

      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
      discharged.

      "They were looking for women," Loretta Sivola said.
      Began apprenticeship

      Her future husband then entered a carpenter apprenticeship in
      Milwaukee, which he completed in 1950, the same year he married
      Loretta.

      He then spent the next half century or so working for contractors or
      himself.

      "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
      wife said.

      "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
      attendance.

      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
      Division.

      "I had a wonderful husband," Loretta Sivola said. "And I had a
      wonderful life with him."
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