When Lester and Mary Ann Stoll arrived in Auburn in 1988, they didn't have the slightest idea of what to expect.
The couple, who are both originally from South Indiana, had recently uprooted their lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin after receiving new jobs in the UniRoyal Plant, now known as Michelin Tire Plant, on the Plains. With five children in tow, the Stolls packed their bags and arrived in what was the land of the unknown for them.
“We didn’t know anything about Auburn,” Mary Ann said. “We were complete strangers in our neighborhood and the only ties we had were our kids who went to Auburn city schools.”
As they settled into their new village, their children began meeting others who grew up in the football falls of Auburn and its culture began to expose itself to the formerly Midwestern family.
“We wanted a way to meet our children’s friends and their families,” Mary Ann said. “We knew there was a university in town but we didn’t have the slightest idea of what a Saturday night in Auburn looked like during football season.
“By 1992, we decided to buy a used RV and head over to the hayfield on Donahue to tailgate. It started as a way for us to meet new people”
That decision, one rooted in the hunt for companionship, spawned into a 28-year tradition larger than the Stoll family could have ever imagined.
That first family tailgate eventually grew into a massive gathering, with guests traveling from as far as Ukraine and Australia to join the Stoll family at their “Stollgate” tailgate.
As the air turned crisp each fall and sounds of the Auburn fight song rang in the air, Lester and Mary Ann continued to gather — eventually setting up a street sign next to their RV that reads “Stollgate Lane” for anyone who might lose their way.
Each year, their tailgate grew. Families like the ones who dedicated the Auburn Tiger Walk sign joined as they continued to welcome more and more each season.
As Auburn marched to the endzone, the Stolls created memories that lasted over two decades. One of their favorite memories shows its face at the last home game of every year — the season-ending Hog roast, presented by Lester himself.
“We do it up every year,” Lester said. “It's one of our favorite parts of the season, even with all the food we eat all year long.”
Another favorite delicacy they have enjoyed at Stollgate is their own take on fried alligator — a rite of passage when playing the Florida Gators.
“We went over to the butcher in Auburn and didn’t have the slightest idea of how to cook it,” Mary Ann said. “We loved it and so did our guests."
“It turned out really well,” Lester added. “Nice for a first try.”
However, things will be different this year. With Covid numbers rising, an unforeseen end to the pandemic and the University prohibiting tailgating on campus for the 2020 season, the Stolls along with hundreds of Auburn fans won't be returning to the hayfield this year.
It will be the first time in 28 years that Stollgate Lane won’t be a turn for those passing by.
As for the Stolls, their interest in getting to know Auburn turned into the contagious love that brings thousands to the Plains each fall. Three of the Stoll children graduated from Auburn while a grandchild followed suit, receiving both a bachelor's and master's from the University.
That love will keep their tradition alive. Lester and Mary Ann said they will miss the camaraderie that comes with the Auburn tailgate culture. However, they plan to return to the hayfield at some point, even if they have to wait a while for the next hog roast.