Teeny Tenney says ta-ta; residents vote 2-1 to dissolve town

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 22, 2011 - 7:36 AM

A majority - that would be 2 - of the town's voters cast the ballots to dissolve.

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Tenney’s sign overstates its population.

Photo: Jon Tevlin, Star Tribune

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The tiny town of Tenney is no more.

A majority of the town's voters -- there are only three of them -- have decided to dissolve Tenney, which has shared the title of Minnesota's smallest city with Funkley.

The votes won't be officially counted until Wednesday but City Clerk Oscar Guenther and Mayor Kristen Schwab said Tuesday that they voted to dissolve the town. The other vote -- Guenther's sister -- was a no.

"She voted that way because she knows how hard I've worked to keep the town alive,'' he said.

Dissolving the city means that Campbell Township will take over the city's two buildings -- a church that was renovated into City Hall and another church renovated into a community center -- along with four vacant lots, Guenther said. He'd like to keep the two mowers and a weed whip to maintain the lots, but Schwab said that's unlikely.

The little more than $10,000 in the city coffers also will be absorbed by the township. "We're going to try to get some landscaping and culvert work done before that happens," Schwab said.

The downside to the merger? "We lose control of our city," Schwab said. "The upside is that it will be someone else's problem."

Guenther said Tuesday he's spent years trying to recruit people to move to Tenney, which is about 20 miles south of Breckenridge, Minn., near the North Dakota border. "People would say you are in the middle of nowhere," he said. "I would say we're in the middle of everywhere."

The sales pitch didn't work.

So it came time for the whole town to go the way of the vacant general store. "There just aren't enough people to run the town," said Schwab, who became mayor in 2009, a month after moving to Tenney, where the only going concern was the grain elevator. "There's just no hope of growing,'' she said. "It's a little more isolated than some people would want."

The population, which peaked at about 200 in 1910, dwindled to 24 in 1970 and down to five in the 2010 census. When Guenther moved in, "there was Brad, Lorraine and myself," he said. Eventually, a couple with two kids moved in, doubling the population.

"People love the notion of a little town,'' he said. "It's a quaint idea. But when it comes down to it, it's impractical. Maintaining the city's buildings and property takes money and time. It's like having someone near death and you try to prolong life to no avail or just to say farewell."

Tenney's demise means that Funkley -- about 30 miles north of Bemidji -- will get sole title to being the smallest city in the state.

"I'm doing everything I can to keep alive," said Funkley Mayor Emil Erickson. "There's five of us, according to the last census, and we have a few hunters with cabins."

Erickson moved there when he bought the town's bar almost five years ago. "This is a nice community. A good place. I absolutely want to keep the town alive.

"I believe in small government and Funkley is about as small as you can get."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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