By: Nicole Zempel
It looks unassuming enough - a small gas station sat on a quiet corner in Kranzburg, South Dakota - population 107.
Here I was reminded that things are not always what they seem and that stories are everywhere.
They can be loud and attention grabbing - other times they just whisper to our curiosity...much like this one.
I was just 8 miles east of Watertown, but with the last available pit stop far behind, this place was a sight for sore eyes.
In my resolute beeline toward the ladies room I received a greeting and a smile that radiated an absolute genuine warmth. My feet were still moving - but inside, a pause. My first inclination that there was something more to this place.
Marge's "Apple Pie," a homemade concoction that I am told folks have been delighting in for the past decade, caused my other eyebrow to raise.
And out the door I went, planning to return soon. Best of intentions aside, with each trip to Watertown, I passed bye. Finally that quiet whisper began to nag - louder and louder - the time had come . And this time that same infectious smile prompts me to pull up a chair.
As Marge prepares for the days lunch time rush, we visit. I learn that she is surrounded by family, as one by one they begin to chime in. Soon the story of this place begins to emerge and it begins long before Hwy 212 cut through the landscape.
I discover her husband, Virgil, sharing a nearby table with a handful of what I presume to be "regulars."
And sons Dale and Phil, along with third generation hopeful - Kayla, all pitch in with the days work.
Virgil and Marge purchased what has become known to locals as the "Tip Top" and "Marge's Diner" in 1986, with Dale taking the helm in 1992.
But I learn that the story actually begins more than a century ago when a young man named "Buddy" graduated the 8th grade. As a gift from his father, the building and the business became a community hub for supplies, miscellaneous goods and socialization.
This aged building was razed only a few years ago and a new one erected on the same lot - carrying on in the same spirit that has been present at this location for over one hundred years.
I am told that Buddy got into trouble every so often - and to avoid repercussions stemming from Bootlegging - Buddy enlisted himself in the Service.
Eventually Buddy returned to his beloved corner lot and home. Dale, who as a child sold fireworks for Buddy at the popular location recalls a lifelong "bachelor and farmer," who "lived and died" in the "old building."
Today, while you wont see any flashy signs outside - inside, the "Tip Top," and "Marge's Diner" are serving up much more than a delicious home cooked meal and a one- of -a- kind beverage. It is more than a place to fill up a tank of gas or grab a quick snack for the road or even a South Dakota souvenir.
It is inconspicuous...as many of the most tried and true community hubs and gathering spaces often are.
But rare is the place that continues to invite people in and bring people together for over a century!
Marge will tell you that, "It is a meeting place...a gathering spot for everybody." I will tell you that it's a magical little place and my "for sure" stop along the way.