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Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service, Published June 24 2011

Tiny Tenney, Minn., no longer a city after vote to disband

TENNEY, Minn. - This town is history. The three registered voters of Tenney voted 2-to-1 this week to dissolve the city.

Mayor Kristen Schwab petitioned for the dissolution after residents struggled to get enough members to have a City Council.

“At one point we had more cats and dogs than people,” said City Clerk Oscar Guenther. “It might still be that way.”

The Wilkin County city about 20 miles southeast of Breckenridge had five people in the 2010 census, tying with Funkley for the smallest Minnesota city.

In 1910, the city had 185 people, according to the census.

Resident Mitch Fink, who grew up in the Wahpeton, N.D., area, recalls visiting Tenney as a boy.

“Back then, this was a town,” said Fink, who is Schwab’s boyfriend. “This was a little community.”

But many of the residents were older and the population began to fade, he said.

Now the town has two homes that are occupied and a third that’s being renovated.

Many properties are abandoned, and Schwab has tried unsuccessfully to contact owners to keep up their lots or pay the city for lawn mowing.

Tenney has one business, the Wheaton Dumont Co-Op Elevator, which pays the lion’s share of the city’s roughly $10,000 in property taxes.

The city owns two former churches. One is the meeting place for the City Council and the other is a community center.

Schwab, who moved to Tenney in July 2009 and became mayor the following month, said she lived in the Twin Cities for 15 years and was burned out on city life.

“I like the solitude and the isolation myself,” she said.

Fink also enjoys the rural setting.

“You can yell at somebody across town and they might hear you,” he said.

Guenther, who has lived in Tenney for nine years, said his favorite time in Tenney is at night after the elevator is closed and he can hear the birds.

“I don’t quite live on the edge of the world, but you can see it from here,” Guenther said.

About 250 people gathered last year to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Tenney, named for John P. Tenney who gave land to the railroad in 1885.

Many who attended were descendants of former Tenney residents, some traveling from as far as Alaska, Schwab said. They sold T-shirts that said “The Tiniest Town Around.”

“I think they’re going to be disappointed,” Schwab said. “It’s always hard to see your hometown die away like that.”

But even though locals are fond of their town and former residents are nostalgic, it just wasn’t practical to continue as a city.

Schwab, Guenther and Guenther’s sister, Susan, were the three registered voters eligible to participate in the mail ballot election.

Schwab and Oscar Guenther voted to dissolve the town and Susan Guenther voted to continue the town because of efforts her brother made to rejuvenate it.

In six months, the city will be dissolved and become part of Campbell Township.

But residents plan to continue saying they’re from Tenney.

“We’re still here,” Schwab said. “Just barely.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590