Ruso on the rise

North Dakota’s tiniest town to double

Kim Fundingsland/MDN The old jail still stands at the center of Ruso. During its final days it served as a blacksmith shop.

RUSO – The state’s smallest incorporated city, on the verge of collapsing following the untimely death of its longtime mayor, is back bigger and better than ever. In fact, within a few months, the McLean County community is expected to experience a 100 percent population increase from two residents to four.

When Bruce Lorenz, 86, longtime Ruso resident and mayor for more than 30 years, died this past July the population of his beloved Ruso dropped to two. According to the North Dakota Century Code, it takes a minimum of three residents for a community to be incorporated.

Lorenz told the Minot Daily News earlier this year that, “If I ever leave I’m sure that will be the end of Ruso.”

For a time it seemed his conjecture was correct. Ruso’s two remaining residents, Terry and Laurinda Roloson, were not enough to meet the state requirement that “an incorporated municipality shall have at least three council members.” However, don’t quite count out Ruso just yet.

“We want to keep it going for Bruce’s sake,” said Laurinda Roloson.

A meeting was held earlier this week to discuss options for the state’s tiniest town. The entire population turned out and came up with a solution to keep an official designation possible for Ruso. Laurinda Roloson is the town auditor, husband Terry and Michelle Schmaltz are council members and, after a necessary waiting period, Greg Schmaltz will be appointed mayor. That action is expected to occur Sept. 6th.

It was discovered that Greg Schmaltz, who has had a mailbox in Ruso for several months and checks on his horses and chickens there every day, qualifies as a resident.

“You have to have at least three people,” explained Leslie Korgel, McLean County auditor. “Laurinda was here a couple of weeks ago and she said she had the issue resolved with the state and the League of Cities.”

Schmaltz has had a residence under construction in Ruso for the past two years. He and his wife, Michelle, currently live in Velva but anticipate moving to Ruso later this year.

“We’re working on it. We’re looking at fall to finish everything up,” said Schmaltz. “I’ve got a septic tank now and a sewer guy coming over in October to hook it up. By the end of November everything should be finished. That’s my time frame.”

Their arrival will be a population boom, at least by Ruso standards. The number of city residents will double. Schmaltz, an avid Ruso supporter, is excited about making the move and thinks others may even follow in his footsteps.

“Other people have expressed interest in moving out there. We don’t want things to slow down,” remarked Schmaltz. “I’m about preserving what little is left of Ruso. I’m proud of being out there.”

Being an incorporated city means Ruso will receive some tax dollars. Not much, but some. The city received $154.95 from the state this past January. The amount includes Ruso’s share of coal conversion and severance taxes, highway tax, oil and gasoline tax and state aid. Ruso has no property tax.

“We use the money for snow removal. We don’t get plowed out by anybody,” said Laurinda Roloson. “There’s three street lights and the city pays for garbage removal.”

The city’s “about to be” mayor will undoubtedly have a voice in how the small amount of funds are allocated in the future, but don’t look for any major changes.

“Everybody gives me a hard time about becoming mayor,” laughed Greg Schmaltz. “I’m not even sure what to say. We’ll just go ahead and take it one step at a time and take it from there. I don’t claim any politician status.”

Ruso was first incorporated in 1909 and had a population of 141 in 1910. The city’s last remaining business, the elevator, took its last load of grain in 1956. The city’s small Lutheran church, which never had running water, was shuttered in 1997.

Ruso is located along N.D. Highway 41, approximately two miles north of Strawberry Lake.