A growing friendship takes root

Margaret Tripp and Ken Chopp enjoy the vegetation they’ve developed during their time at Salem Home in Hillsboro. “The plants offer a nice place for us to relax with our coffee and take in the sights and the smells,” Chopp said.When life threw weeds at two longtime friends in Hillsboro, they responded by planting the most beautiful flowers and greenery they could find.

Margaret Tripp, who lives in Salem Apartments, and her friend of 40-plus years, Ken Chopp, who lives in Salem Home, started with one plant three years ago.

“That number of plants has now grown to 81,” Tripp said, pointing to the far south end. “I started this one by breaking it off and sticking it in the ground of another plant.”

The plants provide more than just beauty; both friends have gone through challenging times.

One year ago, Tripp suffered a stroke, and her sons were glad she came to Salem because her friend was there. They met because Tripp and Chopp’s wife knew each other from Selden in northwest Kansas.

“His wife and I went to school together,” she said.

They agreed that if it should ever happen that one of their spouses would pass away, they would let the other one know.

“Ken’s wife died of Lou Gehrig’s disease,” Tripp said. But not before she saw him struck down with illness not long after his retirement in 2000.

“I liked fishing at Marion Reservoir on my pon­toon boat,” he said. “But in 2003, while camping, I got West Nile disease and within five to 10 days the symptoms started showing. I started getting tired and told my wife we needed to go. We went home, and that was on a Thursday.”

On that day, Chopp slipped into a coma. It was Sept. 13 when he went into rehabilitation facilities. By June 2013, he was walking again, but doesn’t remember much else.

Chopp said he had a lot of nerve damage, but was able to do some dancing until 2012.

“I think the older I get, the nerve damage shows up more,” he said.

As a young man, Chopp worked for the Rock Island Railroad and served four years in the Marine Corps.

Tripp worked many jobs, too, but her favorite was as an interior decorator.

Even though they have had ups and downs, Chopp and Tripp would always return to talking about what brings them joy today.

“We have a lot of large elephant ears,” Tripp said, citing one of the plant varieties they have nurtured. “This is one we didn’t even have before.”

Making a start

Tripp said they spent about $600 on potting soil and pots that first year.

“We then researched what plants we thought would work best for our area,” she said.

Chopp described wheelbarrows filled with Sweet Williams and morning glories that don’t open until after 8 p.m.

“But they are so beautifully white when they do open up,” he said.

Tripp pointed to the petunias, noticing how some were sneaking up through the cracks of the sidewalk.

Many of their plants are annuals, Tripp said, but that doesn’t worry them.

“Sometimes they will come back another year,” she said with a smile.

Another fun part about their hobby are the “mysteries” that happen.

“We have a real mystery plant,” Tripp said. “It just one day showed up when I opened he door, and it’s been here ever since.”

Known as a monkey plant, Tripp said they can see eyes and the outline of its face if they look closely.

“We didn’t plant him, but sometimes birds drop seeds,” she said. “We didn’t notice any come down, but our monkey plant is here now.”

Tripp and Chopp aren’t looking for rescue plants. They consider the plants for their personal pleasure to enjoy while having a cup of coffee in the morning.

“The plants offer a nice place for us to relax with our coffee and take in the sights and smell the smells,” Chopp said.

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