Vermilion reflects on passing of Woollybear Festival founder Dick Goddard

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VERMILION, Ohio (WJW)– One of meteorologist Dick Goddard’s favorite and most notable accomplishments was the annual Woollybear Festival and Parade in Vermilion.

Every fall, tens of  thousands flocked to the small town on Lake Erie to celebrate the fuzzy weather prognosticator, which, according to folklore, predicts a harsh or mild winter. 

Learning of Goddard’s passing brought many to tears Tuesday.

“I had to compose myself,” said Bill Bissell, former Woollybear chairperson and volunteer. “It’s a great loss… A sad day.”

“Dick is probably one of the finest men I ever knew,” said Sam Coe, whose wife was one of the founding members and whose daughter, Sandy Coe, is now executive director of the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce.

“I loved everything about him. There was never a dull moment with him,” Sandy Coe said. “He always had a great sense of humor, was down to earth and just loved life.”

Goddard and his founding members, which also included Neil Zurcher, Big Chuck and Lil’ John, first started the event in 1973 as a PTA fundraiser in the Hamlet of Birmingham. Another founding member, Pat Zaleski, remembers it well.

“He said this will be fun, this won’t be hard,” chuckled Zaleski.

The first Woollybear Festival was so small they had to lap the parade route twice, but it quickly outgrew the hamlet. Nineteen other communities wanted it, but Goddard chose Vermilion, where they celebrated the 47th event last fall.

“He never got to be too big to come to Vermilion every fall and make this the biggest single-day festival in the whole state Ohio,” Mayor Jim Forthofer said.

Always free and family-friendly, Goddard often joked, “If you don’t have a good time, I’ll give you your money back.”

Multiple songs have been written about it and several other states have copied it, but in Vermilion, they said there is no substitution for Goddard.

“It was amazing. He always took time, personal time to stop and talk with people with the kids. He never said no,” Bissell said.

The date is always selected based on the Browns schedule so that fans don’t have to make a difficult decision. Plus Goddard used to do stats for the pro team.

No matter the weather, rain or shine and even snow, the Woollybear goes on. It includes kids races, the Woollybear 500 caterpillar race and costume contests for both pets and kids.

Goddard, who is also a talented artist, would draw a new logo each year for stickers to be given out and T-shirts to raise money for the “four-foots” as he often referred to companion animals.

“One of the most substantial contributions was the passage of HB 60,” said Police Chief Chris Hartung, “Goddard’s Law and the ability of enhanced penalties for individuals who cause serous harm to companion animals.”

Everyone in Vermilion said Goddard is impossible to replace, but they are determined to help carry on his legacy.

“Keep his legacy alive with the Woollybear and be kind to animals, to the four-foots,” Sandy Coe said.

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