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Many people like to donate money to a good cause, but Russ and Cindy Rytter like to donate both time and money to make Kenmare's Pioneer Village a better place.
Dedicated to preserving local history... Russ and Cindy Rytter stand in front of the Rytter Implement Museum in Kenmare's Pioneer Village. The Rytters recently made their second sizeable donation to Pioneer Village to help enhance the history of the area.
By Marvin Baker
Many people like to donate money to a good cause, but Russ and Cindy Rytter like to donate both time and money to make Kenmare’s Pioneer Village a better place.
The Rytters, who are retired from their work as medical school lab technicians at the University of North Dakota, insist Pioneer Village is an important and necessary part of this community.
“This has been a passion of mine,” Cindy Rytter said. “When they organized in 2001, I jumped at the chance to get on board.”
Officially known as the Lake County Historical Society, Cindy Rytter is on the executive committee that operates Pioneer Village.
In 2011, the Rytters made a $10,000 donation and this year it was $5,000. But the money is just part of the equation.
Russ Rytter has donated a lot of physical labor over the years as has Cindy who has been a tour guide, as well as one of several volunteers who has helped maintain the buildings and artifacts.
There’s no mistaking history is important to the Rytters and Cindy Rytter made a point that should resonate with the general public for a long time.
“I inherited a box of pictures when my mother passed away and they weren’t labeled,” she said. “I always tell people, label your pictures, otherwise kids who inherit them may not know who they are in the photographs.”
Russ Rytter added that a lot of young people probably don’t care about something like that but they certainly will when they get older and often times it’s too late by then.”
Russ Rytter said his appeal comes from his father Viggo, who he said would sit up at a scaled-down Pioneer Village and give tours.
There’s also the artifacts, the buildings, the period clothing, and as Cindy Rytter said it, those things tell us about the people who settled in this part of North Dakota.
Cindy Rytter is a transplant from Texas and met Russ while they worked in the UND Medical School. She admits she’s learned a lot from the people of this area through the history that sits on the northeast side of Kenmare.
“I found out a lot about the area, the old towns, the nationalities,” she said. “My mother was an antique dealer and I’ve always had an interest in antiques and I personally like to decorate, and now, a chance to have this village...”
The couple both say that it’s unfortunate that numerous local people don’t even know Pioneer Village exists or what it has to offer.
“Most people don’t know what’s up here,” Russ Rytter said. “They know it’s here, but not what’s here.”
Oddly enough, Pioneer Village has a unique history all to itself.
Once part of a temporary housing area for Boeing personnel building regional missile sites, the village took a slow start in its beginning.
Russ Rytter said people were operating the village for as many as 10 years with essentially nothing to do but give an occasional tour.
“Then, there was interest to form a board,” Cindy Rytter said. “I was so excited to get the keys, open the doors and see what was here. We established hours, but didn’t know where to start. It was so disorganized.”
That’s when “husbands” got pulled into the picture, according to Cindy.
The volunteerism began and changes began to happen.
“This has been a labor of love the past 14 years,” Cindy said. “And Russ got pulled into it.”
They both said that Bryan Quigley needs to be mentioned in this story as well because he has done a tremendous amount of work to keep the village operational.
In 2011, after the Rytters donated $10,000, the Rytter Implement Museum was built in their honor.
“Although we need more buildings, Rytter Implement filled quickly,” Cindy said. “People have been very generous with their donations and we are out of space.”
Still, they would like to see more buildings. In fact, Cindy said the historical society has made its best attempt to obtain the vacant gas station at Foxholm.
“It’s a unique building and it’s going to ruin,” she said. “We could get the Carpio bank and it has been offered, but it (brick building) is so expensive to move.”
Room for more volunteers
According to Russ, one of the other issues is Pioneer Village is running out of space. As a routine, there is plenty of room, but during Pioneer Day on the second Sunday of July, parking becomes an issue.
Otherwise, the village needs new volunteers, according to the Rytters. Those who have been involved are aging and it seems that a small group of people are maintaining it.
Anyone with an interest in history, the gooseneck area of Ward County, old buildings, old clothing and the like, would be a good fit.
There’s also a military area with donated uniforms of area veterans.
The Rytters would like to see young people get involved but understand it’s a different time now because working people are so busy. Thus retired people would be the best fit.
The village has a dress shop, a bank, a newspaper, a church, a hall, a general store and numerous others.
In all, there are 21 buildings and Cindy Rytter says it takes a lot of energy to give tours through 21 buildings.
But, it’s a labor of love for the Rytters and they admit it. “To me, this is just heaven,” Cindy said. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished in the past 14 years.”
Russ added when high school reunions take place in Kenmare, they always make it a point to stop and many out-of-staters who have roots here, make Pioneer Village a destination.
“Those who have seen it, always praise us and congratulate us for keeping it open,” Cindy said.
They truly have done a lot in recent years, including placing foundations on three buildings earlier this year to stop the wood underneath from rotting.
And the Rytters are right there supporting it and supporting anything the Lake County Historical Society can do to enhance history in northwestern North Dakota.
“When I can help someone with their history, I will,” Cindy Rytter said. “We work with scrapbooks, plat books and funeral records. Anytime I can hook somebody up, I’m happy.” ... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!