John Pike: A friend, father and grandpa to many

A good businessman. A close friend. A father figure. A man who liked to be on the giving end of a practical joke.

That’s how longtime businessman John Pike was being remembered last week after his unexpected passing July 18 on his rural Princeton farm.

Many people came to know John Pike on Tuesdays.

That’s the day he and his wife Lorraine held livestock and sales auctions at the Princeton Livestock Market. The couple purchased the “sales barn” in 1981 and quickly became a fixture on the north side of Princeton with their weekly sales and biannual horse auctions.

Those days are long gone. The auction barn was home to its last sale on Sept. 11, 2001. Soon afterwards, a twin home and townhouse development rose on the land where horses, cows, chickens and goats were accustomed to going for sale.

John Pike had been around the auction barn long before he and Lorraine purchased it. John’s uncle, the late Al Pike, started the business in 1941.

In the early days, the auctions were held on land leased at the Mille Lacs County Fairgrounds. Al built the auction barn around 1950. Al’s son Wayne Pike later owned the sales barn. John bought the sales barn from his cousin Wayne in 1981. He operated the barn with his wife Lorraine, son Joel and daughter Terri Puffer for 20 years.

The auction barn also was home to John Pike’s own farm. Pike milked dairy cows at the barn and also raised beef cattle there.

Longtime friend Richard Reckinger recalled how Pike quit high school after the 10th grade.

“His Dad and uncles were auctioneers and there was no doubt in his mind that he was going to be an auctioneer,” Reckinger said.

“With that being the case, he figured he didn’t need no more schooling,” he said.

John was a familiar sight each morning at the K-Bob Cafe. Pike had a special table near the restaurant’s counter. Everyday he had one wheat pancake with a special diet syrup, recalled longtime friend Barry Hatch.

“Everybody knew him,” Hatch said.

And Pike knew everybody. Pike was an easygoing guy who always had a smile on his face, Hatch said.

Pike used his time at the K-Bob to get caught up on the prior day’s news. He shared, with his friends, the locations of  good, upcoming auctions. And from time to time, those friends would let Pike in on where a good auction might be, Hatch said.

After selling the sales barn, Pike added a second stop to his morning routine — McDonalds.

He also became a close friend to those in the morning coffee clutch, Reckinger said.

Pike rarely ate at McDonalds because he was full from that wheat pancake at the K-Bob, but he seemingly always had a diet Coke in his hand,” Reckinger recalled.

“He’d get all the news over at the K-Bob and then come over and share it with us,” Reckinger said.

“He shared a lot of old-man nonsense,” Reckinger said. “He’ll really be missed around here.”

There’s no doubt that Pike made lifelong friends at the sales barn and that those friendships trickled over into the post-sales barn days at the K-Bob Cafe and McDonalds.

But it was the people in his personal life that Pike may have touched the most.

Jeannie Lind grew up near John Pike’s home. Pike was a friend of the family and often made stops by her childhood home for regular visits.

“John played Santa Claus for us,” Lind said.

“And when it snowed, he’d hook a sleigh up to his horse team and come over for a visit,” she said.

“John always made the rounds, even if he could only stay five minutes,” Lind said.

Lind worked at the sales barn under Pike for a few years and saw firsthand the magic that he brought to those around him.

“He was like a second Dad to us,” Lind said. “He was the one who you called if you needed something — and he was always there.”

Pike will be missed dearly, Lind said.

Lind recalled how, as a child, she really wanted a pet rabbit. But her parents wouldn’t let her have one.

“John knew, so he brought me my first bunny rabbit,” she said. “That’s just how he was.

Lind said Pike didn’t have any grandchildren of his own, so he became grandpa to a lot of employees at the sales barn.

“He was a dad and a grandpa to a lot of people,” she said.

Pike also liked to have a good laugh.

As a matter of fact, he was laughing the morning of the day that he died.

Pike was at McDonalds that morning and Barry Hatch was in a little bit of trouble with his wife Norma.

“My wife was getting after me and he was laughing so hard,” Hatch recalled.

Lind also remembered a day that had Pike laughing.

“We were at the sales barn, and my Mom, sister and I had these really nice cow costumes. We were the Milk Maidens,” Lind recalled.

“He brought us out into the sales ring and tried to sell us,” she said.

A practical joke led to a lifelong business for Arnold and Bernice Sanborn.

Arnold wanted to start a farm, so he went to talk to John Pike about buying a steer, Bernie Sanborn recalled.

“John pulled a trick on Arnold,” she said.

When Arnold came home later that day, he had a heifer sitting on his property.

“Arnold kept it and we named it Sugarfoot,” Bernie recalled. “That’s how we got started with a dairy farm.”

“Many times over the years, I asked John to look out for some cows for us. I’d say I was interested in six or so,” Arnold said.

“It never failed. I’d come home to find 12 or so,” Arnold recalled.

John Pike wasn’t just an auctioneer, Bernie Sanborn said.

“He was a very nice man, he was just a nice person,” she said.

“I thought he was invincible. I thought he’d be here forever,” Lind said.