Corliss John Holley — better known in the lakes area as Cork — has lived in many different places, but he always returned to his hometown of Pequot Lakes.
Cork was born on a dairy farm two miles west of Pequot Lakes on Feb. 28, 1933. Today — Thursday, Feb. 28 — he celebrates his 80th birthday at his home on Brown Street, not so far from where his life began. His parents, Arlo and Marvel Holley, farmed on what is now 13th Avenue off of County Road 17.
Cork’s dad helped bring electricity to town, and Cork remembers walking into the house and throwing the electric switch for the first time at age 4 or 5. He also has fond memories of rollerskating at what is now the Cole Memorial Building.
Cork’s siblings — Vonnie (Les) Tweed, Sandy (Walt) Simonson and Sally Peterson also still live in Pequot Lakes.
But Cork’s life took him far from home at times. He always returned because of the people and the school system.
After attending Pequot Lakes School, which is now Scandia North Apartments, where Cork played football and baseball, he served in the Korean War from January 1951-January 1954, becoming sergeant.
After learning cabinet making in Minneapolis, Cork worked in a machine shop for three years before taking his young family to California for three years, where he worked in construction. He had married Lillian Hillstrom and they eventually had three children: Kevin, Kent and Kimberly.
Finding California to be too crowded and busy, Cork and his family returned to Minnesota, living in Litchfield where he worked for a housing company. They then moved to Pequot Lakes, where Cork managed the Milage Station for his sister and brother-in-law, Vonnie and Les Tweed. The station later became Conoco and stood where SuperAmerica is now.
Cork remembers filling vehicles with gas, checking the oil and washing windshields. He recalls picking up vehicles and servicing them while their owners were at work.
Cork then bought Dashorst’s Department Store and turned it into Holley’s Department Store. The store was located where Lakes Latte is today, in the former Marketplace building.
In 1971, Cork was part of the seven men known as The Magnificent Seven who became founders and publishers of the Pequot Progressor, a weekly newspaper for the Pequot Lakes area.
After working construction with Don Langland, Cork again left Pequot Lakes and worked for Champion Mobile Homes in Slayton as a driver and serviceman.
In 1978, Cork married Sheila Schramm, whom he had met when he pulled mobile homes to a lot that Sheila owned in Sioux Falls, S.D. Again, Cork returned to Pequot Lakes with Sheila and her young son, Michael, who became Cork’s son as well.
“It’s just a good place to raise kids,” Cork said. “That’s the reason for coming back all the time.”
Back in Pequot Lakes, the Holleys bought the Frosty Pine Frozen Food distributorship, and Cork also managed the Pequot Feed Mill and Pequot Lawn Spraying Service.
Always opening their door to children, John Miller became like a son to Cork.
In 1988, the Holleys sold their businesses and Cork worked for what was then Peringers in Rice as a truck driver. He retired in 1997 as the only driver in multi-food history nationwide to have driven more than 2 million miles without an accident, ticket or customer complaint.
Since retirement, Cork has kept busy helping Sheila in her real estate position with Edina Realty.
His long list of accomplishments include: Cuyuna Fire District fire chief, Pequot Lakes fire chief with 12 years of service, Chamber of Commerce board member, Boy Scout leader, Fourth of July committee, parade committee chair, fireworks committee, queen contest chair, founding member of the Pequot Brush Pilots Snowmobile Club, committee chair for providing bleacher seating at Pequot Lakes High School, American Legion commander and 50-year life member, VFW life member, 40 & 8 member, 6th District officer of the American Legion, founding member of the Post 49 Honor Guard and still active, and Masonic Lodge and Order of the Shrine.
Cork also is a proud grandpa to 13 grandchildren.
And he continues to love his hometown of Pequot Lakes and the lifelong friends he’s made here. He has lifetime of stories to share.
“People up here are terrific,” Cork said, noting he enjoys the gentler, slower life in Pequot Lakes. “We’ve got good friends. When you get a friend up here, you’ve got him forever.”
Sheila added: “We always had lots of opportunities in our careers to relocate and we said no. We’ve had a great life in this town.”
Cork agreed. “I’m used to the little town. What really keeps me here is people and the friendliness of the old crowd.”
Cork will celebrate his 80th birthday at an open house from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, March 2, at the Pequot Lakes American Legion.