Smethport Web — By Ross Porter
The opening day ceremony for Wooly Willy Wonderdaze held yesterday on the steps of the McKean County Courthouse on US Route 6 in Smethport, Pennsylvania honored classic toy great Wooly Willy (Patch Products, Inc). Known worldwide as one of the 20th Century Toy Super-stars, Wooly Willy was born and raised in Smethport.
Wooly received early fame in his career, racing to #1 in US toy sales during his debut year of 1955. His fame has proved to be no flash in the pan. His popularity has endured over the years and, now at age 55, Wooly continues to be a best seller as parents in successive generations have purchased his bald face over and over again.
Tuesday’s ceremony acknowledged Wooly’s impact nationally as well as his obvious impact on his hometown. Attending the ceremony was Wooly inventor, Mr. James Herzog and Patch Products president Mr. Brian Maxwell, whose company owns the Smethport factory that produces Wooly.
Also present were all three McKean County Commissioners: Joseph DeMott, Al Pingie, and Judith Church, as well as Smethport Chamber president Nathan Muller and National Wooly Willy Wonderdaze chair Jeff Andrulonis.
Leading the opening prayer was Rev. B. J. Simms of the Free Christian Evangelical Church. Kristin Andrulonis, a student of the Western Pennsylvania School of the Deaf, wowed the crowd by brilliantly signing the opening ceremony National Anthem.
Noticeably absent from the ceremony was Wooly Willy’s long time buddy, Mr. Potato Head. Widely anticipated for his celebrity appearance at the event, Mr. Potato Head canceled his attendance at the last moment.
Potato Head, three years Wooly’s senior, shot to stardom in 1952 as a Hasbro Toy Company superstar. Over the years the relationship between Potato Head and Wooly Willy has been one of cautious respect. Nevertheless, Potato Head was certainly expected at the June 22, 2010 National Wooly Willy Wonderdaze opening ceremony.
Many of the attendees felt it was an obvious snub. Others felt it was a respectful gesture by the famous spud out of deference to his longtime peer. Over the years PH and WW had been spotted in a variety of global settings drinking beer and hobnobbing with other toy industry celebrities.
So short was the notice that Chamber president Nathan Muller had already arrived and was waiting in his Corvette limousine at the Bradford International Airport when he was informed of Mr. PH’s last minute cancellation by cell phone.
In the toy celebrity’s defense, Mr. PH canceled his appearance at the opening ceremony by explaining in a short cell-phone message: “I respectfully am declining attendance at today’s mega-event for fear that all eyes and ears — some mouths and noses, as well — would be focused on me and possibly detract attention from my long-time, honored friend, Wooly Willy.”
Wooly Willy took the Potato Head controversy all in stride and ate the amazing cake constructed in his honor by Smethport cakesters Kari Compton and her mother, Margie Rinamon.