By Marci Narum Photography: Photos by Jacy

At a certain age, most adults begin to recognize they are ‘becoming their parents.’  This realization often comes with the onset of moderate to severe angst. It can also be at least mildly humorous, which brings relief. Comfort also comes from spouses and friends who assure us, “No, you are not your mother” (or father).

Tracy Finneman is becoming her parents in a way that honors them and benefits countless others. She and her brother, Dave Pearce, are living out the influential words they heard so often from their mom and dad.

“There are three phrases that Mom and Dad raised us on. It was like meat and potatoes, and then these three things. And we heard them practically daily, both my brother and I.

‘You’ll never know unless you try.’

‘Can’t never did a thing.’

‘You won’t learn any younger.'”

Tracy’s parents, Tom and Suzie Pearce, lived out those words. Both from the east coast, they met in college and got married. The Pearce’s dream was to move west and build a log cabin together. They settled in Bismarck, started their family, and then built their dream home near the Missouri River, on the site of the now-legendary Papa’s Pumpkin Patch. Tom was killed in a car accident a month after the family moved into the log home.



After his father’s death in 1979, Dave began raising vegetables on the family’s homestead. Papa’s Greenhouse, named in memory of his father, provided fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons for local grocery stores for 12 years. It had been Tom’s dream for Dave.

Papa’s Pumpkin Patch followed in 1983, but only by accident. A family friend asked Dave to grow pumpkins for him—enough to hand out at Bismarck’s annual Oktoberfest parade. But when the parade was moved up to September, Dave and his mom invited elementary school students to pick pumpkins. Thirty-four years later, Papa’s Pumpkin Patch is now the largest outdoor family attraction in south central North Dakota.

“This is a really special place for a lot of people,” Tracy explains. “They come as a family to spend time as a family, to make memories and have fun as a family, and then the bonus is that by their participation the business is able to give back to them and a much broader audience in the community.”



Tracy says Papa’s Pumpkin Patch plans to donate $100,000 from this fall’s proceeds to more than 60 local and statewide charities which support families and education. Volunteers from some of those organizations help during the season; more than 1,800 volunteers participated this year. One of their assignments is to carry on a part of Suzie Pearce’s legacy: paying it forward. She passed away in 2014.

“In Mom’s life there was no limit to her generosity. If she got wind that somebody in her church had a need for something she would find a way to anonymously fill that need. She always took care of others,”  Tracy says.

“So when we have volunteer groups come out, part of their orientation is to tell them that people will leave them with money. Or people will say, ‘Pay it forward,’ ‘Buy cookies for the next five guests,’ or ‘Buy pumpkins for the next three children.’ We tell [the volunteers] their assignment is to follow through with the guest’s  wishes. And it is such a cool thing to see how that touches the volunteers and how it also touches the guests. It’s absolutely amazing.”



The pumpkin patch is only one aspect of Tracy’s life. An entrepreneur at every turn, she is a business consultant with Integrity Partners, Inc. and owns the wildly successful business, Papa’s Granola, which she launched in 2015.

Oh, and Tracy wasn’t even a baker.

“It’s a perfect example of ‘You’ll never know unless you try.’ I had never baked before. I had never thought about it. Well, just figure it out. Just surround yourself with people smarter than you that are willing to help, and lean on them when you need assistance. Find the win-win.”

And it’s working well. In the two years since starting Papa’s Granola, Tracy has developed new flavors, doubled production twice, and doubled distribution to outlets across North Dakota. In the month of November alone, Tracy’s company baked, packaged, and distributed about 1,000 pounds of granola.

“We bake to order,” Tracy explains. “That helps us keep it as fresh as possible. Typically, we bake 150 pounds a day. And that depends on how many orders there are.”


Those three family phrases Tracy grew up hearing stay just as fresh in her mind; part of a simple recipe for living and making decisions.

“I find even working with volunteers at the pumpkin patch, in my business consulting, and making granola; every aspect of my life is just touched by those three notions.

“When I feel like I can’t do something or think, ‘How will ever get this done?’ I hear my mom or dad saying, ‘Can’t never did a thing.’ Which was code for, ‘Figure it out.’

“Or I’ll be working on something and all of a sudden realize I have to do something I’ve never done before, and it can be frightening. And I will hear Dad say, ‘You won’t learn any younger.’”

The repetition of those words gave Tracy and her brother Dave a foundation on which to begin the next generation of their family’s generosity. And to ‘become their parents.’ But most of all, to become the individuals Tom and Suzie Pearce hoped they would be.

“We just grew up believing we were going to do important things. We have God-given gifts and we are to make use of them, and to offer them for others.”   

Click here to see more photos of Tracy by Photos by Jacy.