Frank Zebley knew he wasn't going to be able to work the door at Moorhead High School sporting events anymore. He was 84 years old, his chronic lung disease was requiring more time on oxygen and he had fallen twice on the ice walking from the Moorhead Sports Center this past hockey season.
Frank told his wife, Jeannine, he would drive her to the games, so she could continue taking tickets at the door. He knew she loved doing it. The two had taken tickets and handed out programs at Moorhead sporting events for more than four decades.
They both loved the people and loved the students. Frank even occasionally paid for some students to get into the games, saying he'd rather have them safe in the building than out looking for something to do.
And they both love each other, married since April of 1959.
"If you quit, I quit," Jeannine said to Frank when he offered to drive her to games.
The faces change every year at high school sporting events. The students grow up, the adults grow old. The athletes and coaches come and go and the student sections stay loud, but with different voices.
Some return to relive glory days, some return with kids of their own, while some go off into the world never to be seen again.
But at Moorhead High School, Frank and Jeannine Zebley have always been there to take tickets. Sure, their faces have changed with age and Frank needs a stool to sit on, but their smiles at the entrance have never left.
"We just love people," Jeannine said.
A blue binder with a sticker of Moorhead's mascot, Spuddy, was given to Frank and Jeannine. When word spread the two would no longer be taking tickets at Moorhead sporting events, notes came pouring in from people on social media about how much the two would be missed. The binder has every note and comment.
Frank had tears in his eyes when he went through the binder. Born and raised in Moorhead, he never completed any schooling past eighth grade. He worked a lot of jobs here and there, delivering telegrams by bike, driving a bus, working at a laundry place and at a hotel. He became a custodian for the Moorhead schools in 1967, where he remained for nearly 40 years.
He never imagined he'd have any impact on people. The two moved to an apartment in Dilworth in 2015 when the upkeep on their home in Sabin, Minn., became too much. They had lived in their house in Sabin since the late 1960s, raising four kids in the process. Sitting at their kitchen table in Dilworth, his oxygen and walker within arms reach, Frank tried to say what the binder meant to him.
"I'm glad I could have an affect on people," Frank said. "It's crazy. I just tried to be kind to everyone."
Jeannine chuckled about the binder. She was touched, but, in a way, confused. She'd adhered to her motto that you go in, do a job and then move on to another job and do that too. She didn't consider anything the two did as special.
"We just did a job," Jeannine said.
Frank speaks softly these days, the noises of his oxygen machine stealing the spotlight. Jeannine, on the other hand, her voice demands attention. Frank rolls his eyes behind her back occasionally as she speaks, but he never stops smiling. Jeannine talks tough, but she never stops smiling when discussing taking tickets.
"All the people are just fun to see and fun to talk to," Jeannine said.
Born in Hawley, Minn., Jeannine moved to Moorhead when she was 4 years old. She made it to high school, but never finished. She, like Frank, worked any job she could. She was a waitress for a drive-in burger place in Moorhead, which is where Frank used to go to see her before they started dating.
"Couldn't find a better woman than that one," Frank said.
Jeannine worked as a babysitter, waitress, drove buses and vans, cleaned houses, worked in the potato fields, hauling 100-pound bags of potatoes, and cooked for multiple schools in the Moorhead area.
She always enjoyed math, so when Frank was asked to take tickets at a Moorhead football game for $15 in the late 1960s, she was all on board. The price is up to around $35 per game these days, but it was never about the money for Frank and Jeannine.
"It was about the people," Jeannine said. "We just loved seeing the people."
The people loved seeing them.
"Frank and Jeannie have been a staple at Spud athletics for the better part of a half-century," Moorhead athletic director Dean Haugo said. "They approached their work at Spud games as though it was the most important job on the planet. They were early to the point where I occasionally wondered if they had the proper game time. Most importantly, they truly cared about the kids on the court or field, our coaches and all those attending Spud events. It mattered to each of them that everyone attending had a great experience."
The two were more than just people handing out tickets.
"After our workout, we always stop by and talk to Frank before the game," Moorhead assistant boys hockey coach Tony Kunka said. "He always had no doubt that the boys were going to play their best game of the year that night. He was always quick to congratulate them on the previous game. I am definitely going to miss seeing him sitting on his stool before the game."
Frank and Jeannine worked the door at Moorhead when Kunka was a player and a coach. They've done the same for current Moorhead head boys hockey coach Jon Ammerman, who stops by to talk to the ticket takers before every game.
On Wednesday, when asked if Moorhead would ever win a state title in boys hockey, Frank was all hope, just as his face is whenever people walk into a Moorhead sporting event.
"They're going to win this season," Frank said. "Go ahead and print that."
In a bin, underneath their bed, in Frank and Jeannine's apartment is a massive supply of Moorhead Spuds apparel. Frank's go-to is a Moorhead Spuds hat that Moorhead football coach Kevin Feeney gave him in the early years of his coaching tenure with the Spuds. Two closets have plenty of orange and black in the apartment as well.
Frank and Jeannine are wondering what they're going to do now that they have Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights free. The two laughed about driving each other nuts, Jeannine with her piano and Frank with always wanting to watch sports.
"We're all going to be nuts," Frank said.
Frank is planning to drive up to the fence at Jim Gotta Stadium to watch Moorhead games. He joked that he knows the people at the door, so he shouldn't get any trouble for not paying.
Frank and Jeannine both said they already miss taking tickets at Moorhead events. They supplied smiles to the people entering games and they were supplied a lifetime of memories.
"Every game is my favorite moment," Frank said. "I loved it all."