CAVALIER, N.D. – Monday through Friday, Jeremy Ratliff rolls out of bed at 2 a.m. in his home across a farm field from Cavalier to start preparing for his shift at a news-talk radio station – in Jacksonville, Fla.

Ratliff co-hosts the Morning News show on WOKV-104.5 FM in Jacksonville from his Cavalier basement. His wife, Elisa, teaches online microbiology classes for Clark State University in Springfield, Ohio, and their children, Aubrey and Amelia, attend elementary school in Cavalier.

The Ratliffs and several other couples were drawn to northeast North Dakota because they perceive it has a safer, less hectic lifestyle, said Dawn Mandt, Red River Region Council executive director. Many of them have family ties to the area.

“They stretch throughout our region – Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina, Walsh counties,” she said.

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The return of couples with young children has increased since the coronavirus pandemic hit, she said.

''COVID has enabled remote work and made it a more common practice, so it's giving people a choice of where they want to live instead of where they have to live,” Mandt said.

Elisa Ratliff, 37, who lived in Cavalier during her elementary school years, moved from Jacksonville to Cavalier in August 2020. After traveling with their daughters last summer to the town of about 1,100 to visit her stepfather and mother, she was reminded of the advantages of small-town living, she said.

That includes no traffic jams, easy access for the Ratliff children to bike or walk where they want to go and a community of friendly, helpful people, she said.

Jeremy Ratliff, 38, who had grown up in Milwaukee and lived in large cities during his adult life, also was ready for a change in lifestyle, so the couple decided to move to Cavalier. He joined his wife and two daughters in November 2020, bringing radio equipment with him.

The initial plan was for Jeremy to work remotely for News WOKV-104.5 FM until the radio station could find someone to replace him. But once in Cavalier, he and the radio station decided the arrangement worked well, and he could continue working.

''All I really need is high-speed internet, an access system and a microphone,” Ratliff said. ''It’s normal now to work from home. If I have a meeting I can hop on Zoom.”

Meanwhile, if he needs to go to the radio station in person, he has access to inexpensive direct Allegiant Airline flights from Fargo to Sanford-Orlando Airport in Florida, a two-hour drive from Jacksonville. Recently, Ratliff took the airline to Sanford for a couple of weeks while a co-worker was on vacation.

He was happy to return to Cavalier after spending time in the city, and breathed a sigh of relief when he was on the highway back to the small town, he said.

Teaching remotely for Clark State University has gone smoothly for Elisa, who just finished a summer school session.

''I posted my summer grades on Monday,” she said last week.

Elisa and Jeremy Ratliff talk about their first year working remotely from their air bnb in downtown Cavalier, ND. Jeremy works as a news anchor for a radio station in Jacksonville, FL, and Elisa teaches microbiology for a college in Dayton, OH. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
Elisa and Jeremy Ratliff talk about their first year working remotely from their air bnb in downtown Cavalier, ND. Jeremy works as a news anchor for a radio station in Jacksonville, FL, and Elisa teaches microbiology for a college in Dayton, OH. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

This fall, besides teaching an online class at the university, Ratliff also will teach six science classes for students in grades 8-12 at North Border High School in Walhalla.

Though their jobs at the university and radio station are thousands of miles from Cavalier, the Ratliffs are firmly rooted in the community.

During the short time they’ve lived there, they have remodeled a house they call the “Cozy Cottage” and the second floor of a former business, the “First Avenue Loft,” into Airbnb rentals.

Eventually, they plan to add a coffee bar and cafe on the main floor of the building downtown. They hope to have evening hours and be open on weekends so they can serve people who attend events at the pocket park across the street from the Cozy Cottage.

Though the Ratliffs are busy juggling two jobs, two rentals and attending their daughters’ activities, their Cavalier lifestyle still is less hectic than when they lived in larger cities, they said.

''It’s quiet here,” Elisa said. 'It’s a nice place to raise kids. They can ride their bikes to swim and they can ride bikes to my parents’ house. They love that they can ride their bikes to school and have some freedom.”

It’s also a place where everybody knows your name – even before they’ve been introduced to one another, Jeremy said.

“I walked into Wayne’s Variety and Wayne (Jenson) started to talk to me like he knew my name – and he did,” Ratliff said.

“These small towns are a gem,” Elisa said. “I realized that we have a special treasure here that isn't in other places.”