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Tiny Town of Tenney to turn 125

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By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Minnesota's smallest town is planning one big day to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Tenney, population 4, will celebrate its 125th year on May 29 with several events and activities during and a street dance later in the night.

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"We have pride in our town, even if we're in the middle of nowhere," said Tenney Mayor Kristen Schwab. "We want to make it a great day for everyone. We hope the people of Tenney who have passed on will be looking down and say, 'At least somebody still cares.' "

Tenney's celebrations will include a silent auction and coffee social from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

At 11 a.m., Tenney's new city offices will be dedicated, and from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. a meal of pork loin sandwiches, beans, chips and beverages will be served. The "Tenney Quilt," popularized in the book of the same name by Heidi Haagenson, will be on display. Haagenson wrote the book about the quilt to pay tribute to women in the tiny town in the late 1920s.

Tenney is planning a classic and antique car show from noon to 4 p.m., and lawnmower racebeginning at 5 p.m.

From 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., Tenney Clerk-Treasurer and town historian Oscar Guenther will lead walking tours of the tiny town located about 42 miles northwest of Morris on Highway 55. There also will be directions available to the cemetery where many of Tenney's founders are buried.

From 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., the band Roxbury will play a street dance.

Tenney was founded in 1885 and named for the lumberman John P. Tenney, who gave land to the railroad when it came through that year.

The post office was established in 1887 and the the city was incorporated in 1901.

Tenney's population reached 200 people early in the 20th century but continued to fall over the next several decades.

Tenney's population fell below 100 in the 1930s andwas 24 by 1970. Population bottomed out at two people sometime after the 2000 census, which listed the population at six.

Last summer, the town consisted of Oscar Guenther, his sister Susan Guenther, Mike and Melissa Earl and their two kids. About the time the Earls moved, Schwab and Mitchell Fink moved in, bringing the population to four.

Schwab, a native of the Slayton area, succeeded Mike Earl as mayor in August 2009. Oscar Guenther, Susan Guenther and Fink make up the town council.

"We have monthly meetings," Schwab said. "We have another couple of people who attend but they aren't residents."

When she learned of the impending 125th anniversary, Schwab remembered how much fun she and others had at the 100th anniversary of Fulda in 1981.

"When it's a milestone event, people really come together," Schwab said.

Tenney has been soliciting donations for its silent auction, and the response has been terrific, Schwab said.

"I think of the decency of people," she said. "There are good people in this area and there are good businesses in this area, and they want to see us succeed."

In addition to the celebration, Tenney's residents hope the day serves another purpose. The town is trying to raise about $20,000 to complete renovations -- including the installation of a steel roof -- on the church building that serves as the city offices and community center.

"There are ways to use the 125th to benefit the city, too," Schwab said. "We get to put on a really fun day and night for people, and the city could get some money to do the work."

The word is getting around. Schwab said she is expecting about 200 to 250 people to come for the anniversary. Media outlets in Fargo, Wahpeton and elsewhere are scheduling interviews with Schwab. WCCO wants to talk about Tenney and the big day, and the city issued an inviation to Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

"She shows a lot of respect and watches out for small towns in Minnesota," Schwab said of Klobuchar. "That's why we have a lot of respect for her."

So over the next week, the town of Tenney will be mowing grass, spraying weeds and grading the town's dirt streets. The Wheaton Dumont elevator that looms over the tiny downtown area will shut down its operations for the day.

Schwab said Oscar Guenther recently marveled that, a year ago when the idea for a town celebration was first discussed, he didn't think he'd see the day.

"He said, 'I never believed this would be possible,' " Schwab said. "But we're getting a heck of a buzz. I think a lot of people are interested in what it's all about. I've seen more vehicles drive through town in the last two weeks than I saw all last summer."

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