Keeping their town

KINBRAE -- One of the oldest, and without a doubt the smallest, city in Nobles County will remain just that -- an incorporated city. The eight residents of Kinbrae recently gathered at the home of Mayor Glen Grunewald, where they successfully fil...

Kinbrae population
Barb and Hollis Chepa, (from left) Robin and Dwight Meintsma, Glen Grunewald and canine Sophie Brae, representing more than half the official population of Kinbrae, gather Wednesday afternoon on the town's Main Street.

KINBRAE -- One of the oldest, and without a doubt the smallest, city in Nobles County will remain just that -- an incorporated city.

The eight residents of Kinbrae recently gathered at the home of Mayor Glen Grunewald, where they successfully filled an open seat on the city council and appointed a city clerk. Had the positions not been filled, residents would have faced the potential dissolving of their city.

The decision to remain a city came a few weeks after a Jan. 27 meeting between Kinbrae residents, the Graham Lakes Township board, Nobles County Attorney Gordon Moore and Nobles County Auditor-Treasurer Sharon Balster. At that meeting, attendees discussed the protocol for dissolving, and residents were left weighing the pros and cons.

"We just didn't realize that we were going to lose as much as we were going to," said Grunewald of their decision.

"We didn't see any advantage in it," added Dwight Meintsma, who is serving a four-year term on Kinbrae's city council. "We're still able to operate financially."


Residents were most concerned about losing their street lights if they became unincorporated, and Grunewald said they still would have had to do "everything we're doing now."

"We have to do something with garbage anyway, and we still have to pay for city lights," Grunewald said.

"We decided to be a city as long as we can," he added. "Nobody wanted to dissolve once we found out all that we were going to lose."

In order to comply with state statute regarding city office holders, the residents of Kinbrae have now filled their vacant council and city posts.

Tom Grunewald, a cousin to Glen, will fill a two-year term on the Kinbrae City Council. It is his first time serving in a Kinbrae city office.

"We gave him an option," said Glen Grunewald with a laugh. The option was to either serve on the council or see their community dissolve.

Joining the Grunewald cousins and Meintsma on the city council is Hollis Chepa. Meintsma's wife, Robin Meintsma, volunteered to serve as the city clerk, and Glen Grunewald's wife, Bonnie Grunewald, will remain as the city treasurer. That leaves two of the town's residents without city posts -- Hollis Chepa's wife, Barbara, and another Grunewald cousin, Randy.

The full council is in stark contrast to what happened during the Nov. 4, 2008, general election, when no votes were cast to fill the city offices.


"Every position was open in November," said Glen Grunewald. "We were told not to vote on anything because it would make it easier to dissolve (the city)."

The one most interested in seeing the community dissolve, however, was the former city clerk who moved out of town, he said.

Grunewald said with the loss of the former city clerk and a council member, he wasn't sure the vacancies could be filled with the residents who remained.

"We weren't sure, since we were all kind of related, (if it would be OK)," said Grunewald.

Now, confident in their decision to remain a city, the residents of Kinbrae are back to enjoying their little town.

"I think it means a lot. We've been a city all these years and I think it's great to see it stay a little city," said Meintsma.

History lesson

According to "An Illustrated History of Nobles County," by Arthur P. Rose, Airlie had been the name first selected for the community located in Section 11 of Graham Lakes Township. The town was formed along the Southern Minnesota railroad, which was built through the area in the spring of 1879. The name Airlie was in honor of the Earl of Airlie, president of the land company that owned the site on Clear Lake.


By December 1879, survey information identified the town as DeForest. The federal census of 1880 showed a population of just 19 residents.

A fire on April 20, 1883, nearly wiped out the community. It destroyed the town's elevator, while residents managed to save the depot.

"In August 1883, the name of the DeForest station was changed to Kinbrae," writes Rose. The name change was made by the Southern Minnesota Railroad.

"For a time thereafter the post office and town site were known under the old name, but later these were changed," writes Rose.

In the first issue of the Kinbrae Herald, published on Sept. 20, 1894, the editor claimed Kinbrae's population was 150. At that time, the town included two general stores, one hardware store, a lumber yard, a blacksmith shop, a stock buyer, two grain elevators, a hotel, post office, depot, newspaper, millinery store, Presbyterian church and a school.

Today, the town's only business is the Kinbrae Supper Club, which is owned and operated by the Meintsmas.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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