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Woman, 93, Selling Heart of Small North Dakota Town

For sale by owner: small North Dakota town. Call: Toots. More than half a century after Edythe "Toots" Hagglund and her husband, Eddie, decided to build a town on a treeless piece of prairie at the edge of a popular fishing lake, Toots is putting the heart and soul of the town on the auction block.

On Saturday, the 93-year-old widow will sell buildings and businesses she and her late husband built over the years with their own hands and their own unborrowed money: more than half a dozen structures including a bar, cafe, dance hall and apartment building, along with a campground and a mobile home court.

"I've got the fondest memories of this place," Hagglund said, sitting in a rocker outside the motel she calls home and plans to keep for a few more years. "It was a dream come true. But I'm just too old. Most of my friends wanted me to sell six years ago (when her husband died), but I held onto it. Now, I figure I better do something."

Only about two of the 16 acres that comprise Sibley are being sold. Private homes sit on the rest of the land, which the Hagglunds sold in the mid-1970s, said auctioneer Tony Heinze, who grew up in the area, watched the Hagglunds build the town from scratch and lives on a rise above the community.

But what will be sold on Saturday is the essence of Sibley, Heinze said, and few people expected Hagglund to part with it.

"She's 93, but I think people are pretty surprised," Heinze said.

Hagglund said she has had no second thoughts about the auction, just as she and Eddie had no doubts when they decided to pursue the dream of building their own community.

"Everything Eddie and I did in life was successful, because we worked together," she said.

The dream started one day in 1954 when the couple, who operated an implement dealership in the town of Sharon, spotted dozens of anglers on Lake Ashtabula during a drive to visit relatives.

"I said to Eddie, 'Wouldn't this be a good place to have a hamburger stand?'" Hagglund said. "That's all it took."

The couple bought a chunk of lakeshore prairie for a couple thousand dollars, planted trees and began putting up buildings. The first was the dance hall, which featured a large neon sign that said "Danceland" and hosted dances and roller-skating. They later added the cafe and other businesses.

"We were just like homesteaders when we came out here," Hagglund said.

In 1960, when the local township board denied their request for a liquor license, the Hagglunds incorporated the town and issued themselves a license. To meet the requirement of 100 residents, the couple "counted cats and dogs" and even coaxed some residents of nearby Luverne to sign a petition saying they lived in Sibley, Hagglund said.

The Hagglunds named the small community after a military general who battled Sioux Indians in the 1860s, rather than after themselves. Their former implement business had carried their name, and "Eddie said, 'That's enough. I don't want any more Hagglund anything,'" Toots Hagglund said. "Eddie wasn't the kind of guy who would brag.

"My insurance man said, 'Why don't you name this town Tootsville?'" she said with a giggle, referring to the nickname given her as a child because she and her mother had the same first name.

Sibley became a hot spot, not only for fishing but for social gatherings.

"When we came here, the kids were just dying to dance and do things," Hagglund said. "There were so many people around who roller-skated and danced on Friday and Saturday nights. And I had smorgasbords. You couldn't find food prepared like you can today. I had to make french fries, pies, cookies, buns from scratch. They loved my buns."

One Mother's Day meal Hagglund prepared drew nearly 1,500 people. "They were lined up sometimes way to the bridge," she said, referring to a lake crossing about the length of a football field away from the dance hall.

Sibley evolved like many other small towns in North Dakota. Though it has never surpassed the 50 or so residents who call it home year-round today, it has paved streets, a city council, park board and volunteer fire department, "just like a big city," Hagglund said with a laugh.

On most summer weekends, the population climbs to 200 or more. There are enough children in town to require a hand-lettered "Please drive slow! Watch for children crossing!" sign on the single road that runs from one end of town to the other.

Heinze said Hagglund's property will be sold either in chunks or as a single package, depending on how the bids go. "Everything should bring anywhere from $350,000 to $500,000," he said.

Heinze said he has had calls from people as far away as Minneapolis, and he expects a large crowd, though "mostly spectators."

John Rowh, who has managed the bar and cafe for 15 years, said he hopes to buy the businesses. He said Hagglund's auction plans "came out of the blue," and many residents want to keep the businesses under local control.

"People are hoping I get it," Rowh said.

Hagglund, an active woman who still does maid duties at the motel, said she plans to continue operating that business "'til I'm 100."

"I love to fish, but I don't have time," she said. "When I'm 100, I'm going fishing."

A night's stay at the motel has increased in cost through the years but is still cheap by today's standards, especially for a facility just a stone's throw from the docks. "Thirty-five dollars a night," Hagglund said. "It was $2 a night when we first built it. And we had people galore."

Hagglund said creating Sibley is the best thing she and her husband ever did, and the time she has spent there has been the happiest time of her life. When the heart of the town passes from her ownership on Saturday, "I'll still be here," she said. "I'll still be enjoying it."

And still looking forward.

"The potential here is just great," Hagglund said, staring out over the lake and smiling. "I'm proud of it."