“Fifteen years ago, a group of us in town got together and bought the combination café and grocery store in order to keep it in business. The grocery operates on an honor system where you write down what you’ve bought and they bill you for it,” my seatmate on my plane ride from Minneapolis to Grand Forks, ND, Jeff Ryan was talking about his hometown of Hannah, ND (population 20—median age 64.5 years).
Hannah sits up against the Canadian border and has been on a population slide since the early 1900s when it peaked at 1,000 residents, sitting at the end of the railroad line. Ryan was born and raised there, graduating from high school in 1972. There were 10 schools in the county back then. Today they’ve consolidated down to only one.
He told me of the neighboring town of Rock Lake, ND, “If you are over 65, you get to eat free at their diner. Larry Hendrickson, grew up there and moved to CA where he got into the waste hauling business. Several years ago he decided to let the elderly eat for free back home. They send him a bill once a month for those meals.”
Even when people move away, they keep a little bit of their hometown in their heart.