By Mark Ambrogi
In the movie “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays a Pittsburgh TV weatherman who goes through a personal hell as he keeps reliving the same Feb. 2 over and over again.
That would be heaven for Dr. Neil Lipken. Groundhog Day is the Carmel orthodontist’s favorite day of the year.
“It’s like Christmas for him,” said his long-suffering assistant Gloria Johnson, who has learned to make eye-rolling an art form over the years. “We celebrate it two or three months ahead. And it’s not like we don’t talk about it year-round.”
Lipken, a 65-year-old Carmel resident, has been interested in the weather since his high school days. He wears a barometer on his watch.
“I took up the groundhog thing when I was finishing up dental school,” Lipken said. “It really wasn’t related to my interest in the weather, because his accuracy is so terrible.”
Legend has it that if a groundhog comes out of his burrow and sees his shadow on Feb. 2, that means six more weeks of winter. If it’s cloudy, and he doesn’t see his shadow, spring will come early. Punxsutawney Phil, the famous Pennsylvania groundhog, has been making predictions since 1887. Stormfax.com determines his predictions have been right just 39 percent of the time.
No matter, that hasn’t diminished Lipken’s love for the furry creatures.
“It was just mainly because he was cute and adorable and short,” he said. “I’m 5’6”. I love anyone shorter than I am, whether it’s rodents, little kids, small dogs.”
Lipken said his aliases are Rochester the Rodent and Fred the Groundhog.
“If the truth was known, I am actually a large rodent in a human suit,” said Lipken, who readily admits to being eccentric.
Lipken said one reason he is so obsessed with groundhogs is that other than Bill Murray, “no one has paid them much attention.”
Visitors to his Carmel office are greeted by a stuffed groundhog.
“We’ve had a few patients that just kind of back up when they see it,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if we have had any animal activists complain.”
Johnson explained a patient’s father shot the groundhog and another patient’s father was a taxidermist. They surprised Lipken with a birthday present many years ago.
She said those patients who live on farms know that groundhogs cause a lot of damage, so they need to get rid of them.
“A lot of people say, ‘Hey, I got (groundhogs) in my yard, how many do you want?” he said.
Lipken’s office is saturated with numerous pictures of groundhogs, stuffed toy furry animals and a groundhog flag.
The orthodontist used to dress up in a furry rodent suit on Groundhog Day. His favorite Groundhog Day was when he wore a tuxedo and went to visit a groundhog at Indianapolis Zoo. He helped convince Camel Mayor Jim Brainard to join him for a brief Groundhog Day parade in 1999. Now most years, he just wears a sweatshirt with a groundhog. Each year his wife, Cynthia, makes Groundhog Day cupcakes, with a chocolate groundhog coming out of the icing.
Lipken figures he picked the right profession for his passion. After graduating from Indiana University in 1972, Lipken went to medical school for 2 1/2 years before transferring to dental school. He graduated from the IU School of Dentistry in 1977 and then went to orthodontic graduate school.
Giving up medical school was a good thing, Lipken figures.
“If I was an oncologist, I’d say, ‘Well you got liver cancer, but the good news, today is Groundhog Day,’” Lipken said. “That wouldn’t have flown too well.”
Plus groundhogs could use some braces for those buck teeth.
“They could use some head gear, but we might never be able to get them to wear it,” Lipken said.
In his words: Dr. Neil Lipken
Personal: Graduated from North Central High School in 1968. Has taught end time Bible prophecy for more than 35 years. Photography is a hobby.
Birthday: April 24, 1950. “That’s 19 and not 18. Banks sometimes get confused and put down my birthday as 1850. I am no spring chicken, but I am not fossilized either.”
Favorite movie: “You would think ‘Groundhog Day,’ and it’s certainly in the top 10. I’m not sure it’s my favorite movie. It is good movie. “Jesus of Nazareth” (1977). In my opinion, it was the best biblical movie ever made.”
On his philosophy: “I definitely embrace the bizarre — I never want to be normal.”
Favorite team: “Indiana University basketball and football, and I always root against Purdue.”