Cork and Illdena Poppen of Spirit Lake will serve as grand marshals Saturday at De Smet’s Old Settlers’ Day parade.
The Poppens, who have been married for 67 years, are no strangers to hard work and selflessly give of their time and energy.
The couple met in 1948 at a Willow Lake softball game and, after meeting again at a Halloween party, the two were inseparable and married in 1950.
For 45 years they farmed the land where Cork was born, and it was there that they raised their three children, Dwayne, Gordon and Janice. Although they retired from farming in 1995, the couple continues to live on the home place near Spirit Lake.
Their busy farm life didn’t keep the Poppens from volunteering their time in countless activities through the years. Thirty of those years were spent helping out in many capacities with the Laura Ingalls Wilder pageant. “I think we had every job there was,” Cork said.
Illdena played Ma Ingalls for nine years, sewed costumes, helped with makeup and assisted Cork with the upkeep of the sets and pageant grounds. “The pageant was our life,” she said.
They promoted the pageant at rest stops across the state and participated in parades in De Smet and other South Dakota towns in order to publicize the pageant.
Time and energy aren’t the only things the couple gave to the pageant. One year they lost 30 acres of corn because they were needed at the pageant the night that it should have been cultivated. The week of rain that followed prevented the couple from harvesting the crop.
Laura Sherwood, wife of the late De Smet News publisher Aubrey Sherwood, one day told Cork, “Corky, you’ve got to be Almanzo.” So Almanzo he was. He also portrayed Mr. Loftus and frequently filled in at the last minute for missing actors.
In thirty years, Cork missed only one performance, and that was because of an accident at his farm. Illdena drove him and another injured man to the hospital and made it to the pageant in enough time for Illdena to play the role of Ma Ingalls and find a replacement for Cork.
The Poppens have been attending Old Settler’s Day for many years, and vividly remember the merry-go-round and the evening dance held each year.
The couple agreed that Old Settler’s Day was always the thing to do. “That was the only thing we had to go to,” Cork said.
Posted on 06-07-2017
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