Meet Jack, the original Red Strawberry Popcorn man since 1962. Here is his story:
Jack was born in 1932. A time of many cultural changes and tough living here in America. Jack went from having a paper route as a teen, to joining the Navy and being on a ship during the Korean War. After returning from the war he became an electrician. He was a young electrician working with his Dad back in 1962, wiring a building in Rockford Illinois. While working one day, he heard a man walk up to him and say, "Hey Jack, I hear you like popcorn. Well, I'll bring you something tomorrow that you'll really like."
The next day, this man brought Jack 10 small red ears of corn. He took them home and popped some up. He saved the rest to plant in the family garden across the street. Ask anyone who lived in the neighborhood of Court Street and Vernon Street in Rockford between 1920 and about 1985, everyone knew that garden on about 1/16th acre with all the yummy stuff growing in it.
As time went on, Jack involved the rest of his family. Along with his wife Phoebe and 4 children, this has been a true family business. Each child, as they grew were given tasks equal to their appropriate age. I remember wanting to bag the corn when I was very young, but was not allowed to..."You are too little to handle this big bag, you will spill". Years later, I was the last son in the "nest", I would carry the corn up the stairs in 5 gallon buckets out to Dad in the garage, he would blow the chaff out of the corn and then put the corn in a big drum. Meanwhile I'd pick up two other empty buckets, and head back to the basement to fill them. This process seemed to go on for weeks. I must admit, carrying all that popcorn up and down stairs helped prepare me for my career in the Army.
Over the years, Jack has sold Red Strawberry Popcorn all over the world. According to one news paper article, he was the largest commercial retailer of Red Strawberry Popcorn. With the discovery of the internet a few years ago, Jack tapped into a new market. Before the internet, the popcorn was sold out of the house, at flea markets, or even at square dancing lessons. That led into mail orders, which became internet sales once Jack went world wide web.
During popcorn season,he'd work his regular job all day. Of course, Mom would make sure that he had a full lunch pail every morning when she'd send him off with a kiss, a smile and sincere "Have a good day". When he'd walk in the door after a hard day of work, Mom would greet him at the door, take his empty lunch pail, a peck on the cheek, "How was your day?", and let him know how long before dinner. He'd then head to the basement to work on his "Labor of Love" every night between September and February. Some years, the popcorn would take longer to process, mostly depending on how much help us kids were. We didn't have automation. We picked it all by hand in the field, husked it, transported it in the station wagon (years later in Dad's pick up), and carried it all to the basement.
Dad had made a ping pong table at some point, but during popcorn season that table was turned in to a work station. I can remember clearing the ping pong table at times just to get a few matches. Once we were done though, we had to put the corn back where we found it.
Some of you may recall seeing my parents at the gourd shows, wheat weavers conventions and misc markets and fairs. Dad was one of the founding fathers of the Illinois Gourd Society and Mom even spent a little time as a wheat weaving instructor at Rock Valley College.
Dad decided it was time to retire from the popcorn in 2014 when it got too difficult to maintain the hard work of picking and processing the popcorn.
Jack's Popcorn lives on! Now that I am retired from the U.S. Army, my wife and I carry on the Family business. Our first year growing in Virginia was terrible. The ear worms had a field day with that crop. We suffered a huge loss. All the while, I could hear Dad's voice..."you will learn the hard way so that the lesson will always be remembered".
Since 1962, we've never bought popcorn seed. We've hand picked the ears of corn which will be the seed for the next years crop. If the ear is odd shaped, wrong color, too big, too small...it won't make it in to the field next year. Only the best seed is used.
Our vision, like my Dad's, is to grow; "The Tastiest Popcorn Ever"!!!
I must admit...we have had the best customers in the world over the many years. So very patient and understanding. Some customers have known Jack's kids most of their life through the letters or notes Mom would put into the boxes that the popcorn was shipped in...and of course Mom's famous Smiley Face.
With great fondness we will always remember Dad in our own ways. Jack passed away on Wednesday morning, the 19th day of February 2020.
If you search the internet carefully, you can find an interview of Dad at the Beloit Flea Market selling his popcorn. There is also an article with an interview in a newspaper. Sure to bring back many memories.