At home on the range
RURAL KINDRED, N.D. - The landmark is the West Prairie Free Lutheran Church on the corner of county Highways 46 and 18. From there, reaching the Plankers homestead is a series of turns where each road is narrower and primitive in construction.
There is newly poured blacktop with a shoulder. Then old blacktop with no shoulder. That turns into a gravel road that can fit two vehicles, but eventually morphs into one lane. Roy and Lori Plankers bought their place in 2005, and if “Little House on the Prairie” wanted a setting to renew the famous TV series, this would be a good spot.
The last road into their almost 200-acre abode isn’t found on most maps. It’s 45 miles from Fargo and you would never know it.
“A lot of people don’t know this Sheyenne Valley exists for the most part,” Roy said.
A lot of people, thousands and thousands, know their son Jack exists in the sport of football. He’s an offensive lineman for North Dakota State, a local kid from Kindred High School who is more at home in the woods and hills of his farmstead than most of his Bison teammates would be.
He’s part of the mold of North Dakota native offensive linemen: the hours aren’t long; they’re just hours. Take a look at his typical week day: It starts at 5:30 a.m. at the NDSU weight training facility. Workout complete, he gets in his vehicle and drives the 55 miles south on Interstate 29 to Wahpeton, N.D., where he is working at WCCO Belting Inc., an engineering company that specializes in belts.
The eight-hour work day complete, it’s back on I-29, where the daily routine includes a call from his mother to make sure he’s staying awake on the road.
“How he does what he does I don’t know,” Lori said.
He drives back to campus and is usually on Dacotah Field by 5:30 p.m. (he’s habitually a half-hour early for everything) for the 6 p.m. running and agility workout sessions.
“Go to sleep and repeat,” Jack said.
Those who know the 6-foot-7, 321-pound Plankers would not be surprised by his daily work habits. At Kindred, he was usually the first person to arrive at school every morning thanks to Roy’s schedule. He would drop off Jack at the school around 6 a.m. on his way to work at Wholesale Distributors just off 19th Avenue North in Fargo, an hour commute that in the winter means driving to and from work in the dark.
Most of the time, he says, it’s a relaxing drive, although winter can get challenging at times.
After a snowstorm, the family has to plow its own way out to a county road with a plow truck that is so powerful it almost doubles as recreation to do so. They all agree: If living in the country is a hassle, it’s worth it.
When the family first bought the property, Roy walked from one corner to the other and it took him most of the day. Jack, a take-care-of-his-teammates kind of guy, has had several players out to the property to hunt, shoot, drive four-wheelers or just hang out.
“They’ve been out here blowing stuff up,” Roy said with a laugh.
Lori wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s sympathetic to long distance Bison parents who don’t get to see their sons as often as they do.
“So I try to be like a second mom and open my house to them,” she said. “And Jack is that type of kid. They call him ‘Papa Plankers’ because he watches over everybody.”
A family with nature
The Plankers’ are in tune with nature. They once raised pheasants. Deer are regular visitors, and a moose once lived across a road from their property. There was even a mountain lion sighting once, by Lori, when she saw one down the hill in front of what once was a calving shed.
It’s her area of the country. She grew up in nearby Lidgerwood, N.D., and was the center on the Lidgerwood state championship basketball team that was led by Pat (Smykowski) Jacobson, whose son A.J. Jacobson is a starter on the Bison men’s basketball team. She vividly remembers going to Bison football games at old Dacotah Field with her father, no matter how cold it got.
Roy is from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota, and the couple and their three boys lived in Fargo for a time. It just didn’t feel right.
Chuck, the youngest of the three, could qualify as an expert outdoorsman. He and Jack spent a lot of time in the woods by the winding Sheyenne River gathering wood.
“I was a construction guy in the summer, but before work and after work, I would go down to the woods and cut as much as I could, split them and sell them to people around the area with wood furnaces,” Jack said.
Jack never thought of himself as a Division I prospect, even though he went to the NDSU football camp every summer since he was 11 years ago. It wasn’t until assistant coach Brent Vigen showed up at Kindred High school unbeknownst to Jack during his junior year.
“He just started talking to me like he knew me for years,” Jack said. “So I was like, ‘I really don’t know what you want with me, if you’re looking for somebody, I could help you out.’”
No, Vigen was looking for a big offensive lineman who had a built-in work ethic and toughness about him.
How tough is Plankers?
“He breaks his hand in spring ball,” said Bison offensive line coach Conor Riley. “I didn’t notice it until I look at him in his stance at right tackle and he has his left hand in the ground. I’m going, ‘What’s going on?’ He says he thinks he may have hurt his hand.”
An hour later, NDSU head football trainer Bobby Knodel told Riley that Plankers will need surgery. Riley visited Plankers after his procedure on a Saturday thinking he may be out for a while.
“He was in a soft cast the following Wednesday practicing again,” Riley said.
Four practices later, Plankers suffered another setback, this time an ankle injury that put him in a walking boot and caused him to miss the annual Spring Game.
“He tells me the following day, ‘Coach, I will be full-go by the time we start summer running,’” Riley said. “Sure enough, we start running (at the beginning of June). He came up to my office to visit and he said he was ready to go, just like he promised. They make up their mind.”
And if Jack needs to get his mind away from football, he’s just an hour away from home. Even if it takes a geography major to find it. The address is actually Leonard, N.D., and if you put it in a GPS it will take you to the middle of an open field.
“You have to be driving here to get here,” Lori said. “There are a lot of people that get lost.”