MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Dawson, Minnesota is “gnome on the range,” where you will find a little city within a city. And it’s growing. Every year the town adds a new “resident,” but this year, was different.

About 1,400 people live in the town of Dawson, but that doesn’t account for the entire population. Every city has its thing. And in 1987, the first gnome moved to town.

“One day I came out here and a guy was laying on the grass taking a picture of his eight-inch gnome with our gnomes,” Sharilyn Bates said.

The idea came from Ruth Solem’s sister, Alta.

“She said, ‘You know what Ruth? I think it should be gnomes,’” Solem said.

It was a way to promote the city, but the gnomes themselves actually promote the people. Each one stands for someone whose given back in a selfless way — including Ruth.

Resident number one was “Daws,” short for Dawson. Then came Ted Christianson, a former governor from the city. Since then, every year at Riverfest, someone new is gnome-ward bound, bringing with them a legend. A firefighter, a basketball coach, a doctor, and a baker are just some of the 42 residents of “Gnometown.”

“There are several teachers out here who were nominated and made impressions on people,” Bates said.

The original gnome creator was an art teacher named Doug Larson. When he left, Loren Femrite took over.

“I’m more of a fabricator. Not necessarily an artist,” Loren said.

He’ll be up at all hours creating a town character out of concrete, working from the bottom up. In the end his gnomes can weight up to 600 pounds.

“I’ll probably do 6, 8, 10 inches a day. It takes 3 or 4 days,” Loren said.

As different as each one is, they share two common characteristics. Their hats are bent and they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Once or twice a gnome has unwillingly left the city, the victim of pranksters.

“Vern Stevens, a principal, was stolen. We thought he was gone forever. All of the sudden it showed up in Montevideo with a bra hanging around its neck and beer cans all around him,” Bates said.

But the folks who pour their heart and soul into these little creations would prefer they stay put. Because even though they don’t say a word, they speak volumes about the people.

“The stand-out feature is the size of the feet compared to all the other gnomes,” Richard Pollei said.

Pollei is a former teacher and mayor, and he also helped start a volunteer ambulance service. He and his wife have called Dawson “gnome sweet gnome” most of their lives. As they get ready to move, Pollei is realizing that his love has grown for his friends and neighbors, thanks to the smallest citizens.

“I’ll miss the people a lot. The town has meant a lot to us,” Pollei said.

Because Riverfest was cancelled this year due to COVID-19, Gnometown did not get a new resident this year, but they’re hoping to add a new one next year.

There are 19 people on the gnome committee who have to sort through dozens of nominees each year.

John Lauritsen

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