With the start of the school year comes several universal traditions as well as some unique to communities. A tradition from Warner is still going strong thanks to a 90-year-old man, pumpkins and some fifth-graders.
There's been a staple in the Warner School District each fall, about as consistent as kids being in the building.
"Pumpkin man," first-grader Devon Fischbach said.
"The pumpkin man," first-grader Anna Schwab said.
It’s ‘The Pumpkin Man’ according to Warner elementary students, ‘Glen Palmer’ according to the phone book.
"One day Mick says, 'You know what the kids at school call you?' 'Gosh,' I said, 'if it's bad don't tell me.' He says, 'Well, they call you the pumpkin man,'" Palmer said.
Palmer keeps a scrapbook of thank you letters with him, showing how he earned the title. He's good at gardening, had a bunch of extra pumpkins six or seven years ago and called the school to ask if kids there wanted any.
"Made me real happy to watch all them little kids grab their pumpkins,” Palmer said. “And there was one little boy. He must have lived close to school because he grabbed a pumpkin and went home smiling. It made me feel real good."
He's kept that tradition every fall since. It even earned him a volunteer of the year award. When family tried to talk Palmer into quitting the pumpkin tradition, he just pointed to thank you cards from kids. Those provided enough of a reason to keep going.
Erich Schaffhauser: Did you like the pumpkins?
First-grader Holden Cross: Yes sir.
"I think I made pumpkin pie," first-grader Zach Evans said.
But health problems caught up to Palmer and he moved into a nursing home. He came to grips with the fact that he wouldn't be able to provide pumpkins to the kids in Warner anymore, not directly anyway.
"Well, we've watered them and we weeded them. We came and checked on them. We put grass around the mounds," Tanner Evans said.
Palmer didn't want to see the tradition end. He gave now fifth-grader Tanner Evans and his mother Shannon Evans a bag. In it were pumpkin seeds and instructions. He even drew pictures so they'd know how to care for the plants.
Tanner recruited friend Landon Leidholt and they've planted and cared for a pumpkin patch near the school.
"I'm glad and think I will keep helping," Leidholt said.
Multiple people in the community have helped. 200 miles away in a Sioux Falls nursing home, Palmer is among them.
"He actually frantically called this summer and said, 'I had a really bad dream last night that the pumpkin patch was not growing. Can you start sending me pictures,'" Shannon Evans said.
So that's what Evans started doing, and she calls him frequently for advice too. The only part of the process she and the students had been a part of prior to this year was picking the pumpkins.
"He always did the hard work, the part where he had to weed and plant and seed and water. After this year of doing this garden, I really appreciate him that much more," Shannon Evans said.
Evans and students maintaining the pumpkin patch appreciate his help carrying on the tradition too. Now they can look forward to seeing smiles on kids’ faces.
"Yes, my cousin's in kindergarten this year," Leidholt said.
That's the type of response Palmer wants to hear as his tradition continues.
"Yeah, makes me real proud. I made a lot of friends that way," Palmer said.
Those friends still walk the halls of Warner School remembering him, The Pumpkin Man.
Each kindergarten student over the past six or seven years has gotten a pumpkin. Each of the other grades gets a few pumpkins as a class.