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Red River Road Trip: McVille, N.D.: Where everybody knows your face

McVILLE, N.D.--When Ardell Knutson drives up to the assisted living facility in McVille, he leaves his keys in the car. With nothing but a penchant for good company in his possession, the former McVille resident greets residents with a "Hello! Do...

Harvey Schmiginske has lived in McVille his whole life. He took to cooking at a young age and is now known as the man to go for any catering event. photo taken in McVille, ND on Tuesday June 30, 2015. (Grand Forks herald/ Joshua Komer)

McVILLE, N.D.-When Ardell Knutson drives up to the assisted living facility in McVille, he leaves his keys in the car.

With nothing but a penchant for good company in his possession, the former McVille resident greets residents with a "Hello! Do you remember me?" After a moment's pause, "Oh! You're one of the Knutson boys," is an answer he gets from Art Howe, who is more than 100 years old.

"But I don't know which one." Knutson doesn't get greeted by his name much now, seeing as many who remembered him growing up are now in the nursing home.

But the Knutson face rings a bell; everyone knew his parents. They were farmers with a homestead a few miles out, a way of life not uncommon in this area. McVille, pronounced "Mac-ville," has been a hub for farming families from surrounding townships, who have come to the city to buy groceries, go to school and socialize since the town's 1906 indoctrination.

As time goes on for the town of about 400 people, ties in the community remain strong. "Everything's seemed to stay the same for the most part," Knutson said as he drives around. He's talking about the friendly faces. But the landscape has shifted in 40 years.



The town

The bowling alley, once the main social gathering place for teenagers, is abandoned.

There was a John Deere dealership a long time ago.

The drugstore is closed.

The school from which Knutson graduated now only goes to sixth grade-students must go to Petersburg, N.D., to finish grades 7-12, after the McVille School System dissolved. But there has also been additions, even if the town is small.

There's a city-owned restaurant, McVille Restaurant, that is a little more than 10 years old. Locals keep it in business, Knutson said, as residents buy a morning cup of coffee there and make sure it doesn't close.

The town also started a volunteer community library in 2011.


The oldest building is now home to an antique store that has displays year-round, but valuables were previously only on display during the annual McVille Days.

Little towns tend to die if citizens don't invest in them. But McVille thrives on community-that's what people like Knutson, who come back, have seen continuously. "I would be typical," he said regarding how he, like many other McVille kids, left to see the world.

Knutson is a professor in Wyoming now, but he rarely lets a summer go by without coming back. The people that stayed

Some people like Knutson go. Others, including Harvey Schmiginske, have stayed. Schmiginske, 85, is still on his feet, serving senior meals at the cafe. He's been a chef and baker for much of his life. If someone has an anniversary, birthday, any sort of celebration-usually at the community center-Schmiginske's catering comes to mind. He's never needed a cookbook; Schmiginske never learned to read. He was born on a farm 10 miles out of town, and went to a country school until eighth grade. The only time illiteracy has kept him back is when he applying to be a nurse's aide; he failed the written test but passed the test "with flying colors" once it was dictated, he said.

Schmiginske has worked in town since he was 20 years old-at the hotel cafe, the bowling alley, catering for weddings, and the Red Willow Lake Resort where McVille residents make their summer homes. He's been a community staple for the last 60 years, and sees no reason to change that. "Young people say there's nothing to do here," Schmiginske said. "But most people that come here like it. It's a good warm feeling to know people, and have a feeling of belonging."

Unique features

The town is also home to the Nelson County Health System The hospital, clinic, care center and assisted living have all provided for McVille residents. According to its website, the Nelson County Health System employs more than 100 people. There's a fire department, volunteer-based, that has done so well that it occasionally helps surrounding small towns. The two Lutheran churches have a large congregation. There's even a municipal-owned golf course. The McVille Dam is a popular site for camping, picnicking, boating and fishing. There will even be canoe races during the 2015 McVille Days, which is scheduled for this weekend. Around 800 people on average come for the McVille Days events-city auditor Renae Arneson says turnout has been consistent. "The town's infrastructure is strong because we're not near any major towns," she said. Even outside of its community, the town has stood out as a unique place, she added. That was the impression Arneson got when she came to McVille. She is a "transplant" to the area-she married into the McVille community. But she has raised her family here comfortably and happily, she said. "I haven't lived here forever, but it still feels like home," she says. "It seems the last number of years, people have moved here from all over the country. Younger people are starting to see the appeal in raising their kids in smaller towns. It really is terrific."


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