Where the Boys Are

updated 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/20/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

IT'S HAPPY HOLE ON A TYPICAL FRIDAY night at the Liquor Store lounge, but the mood is somewhat sober. "We need women, we need women," chants farmer Daniel Findlay, 34, pounding his fist on the bar. Trevor Terrell, a mechanic a few barstools down, agrees. "There are no girls here," he says. "None. None. None." Even Dan Meyer, 27—known in these parts as the Hunk of Herman for his burly, lumberjack looks—is hurting. "I haven't had a date," he says, thinking hard, "since...what year is it?"

Welcome to Herman, Minn. (pop. 485), where the farming is fine but the females are fleeing. In the past 10 years, the population of this tiny town 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis has plummeted by nearly 20 percent, mostly because the young women leave to find the kind of jobs rarely available in a farm-based economy. At last count, there were barely 10 eligible women for Herman's 78 bachelors. But even as the bachelors pound the bar in despair, the summer of hope is beginning. That's because ever since February, when a speech by farmer Dan Ellison, 36, on behalf of the Herman Development Corporation about economic growth also mentioned the woman shortage and was picked up by the local media. Herman has become something of a matchmaking mecca. Love letters from as far away as California and Kentucky have flooded the town, and Ellison appeared on the Today show in May.

Last week Herman's annual street dance, normally a modest event in an open field, was invaded by 38 single women from Hibbing, Minn., 200 miles away, who were bused in by a local radio station. "It's an adventure," says Sue Wenberg, 45, a single mother of three from Duluth, who paid $15 for a seat on the WTBX "love bus." "My mother said if I found someone who was 80, I should bring him home for her. I was shocked."

Perhaps no one is more shocked by the response than Ellison himself, who insists that he just wants Herman, whose main crops are soybeans and wheal, to prosper. "We don't want to lose sight of the objectives," says Ellison, who has recently put together a pamphlet advertising Herman's better attributes: three-bedroom homes for as little as $30,000, good schools and little crime. "I just want people to come here and let nature lake its course."

And if nature provides Dan with a woman who likes the outdoors, baseball and, above all, Herman, well, the soft-spoken bachelor sheepishly admits he'd be pleased. Ellison grew up on his family's 2,000-acre farm and, after attending the University of Wisconsin—Stout for two years, returned home to raise soybeans with his parents, Ed and Barbara, both 58. Though he dated several girls in high school, most followed the path of his sister Jane, 38, who moved to St. Paul to become an accountant. (His brothers Bruce, 30, and Mark, 34, are happily married.) "I don't want to have a girlfriend in every city in America because of this," Ellison says. "I would just like to meet someone."

That can probably be arranged. On the evening of the street dance, some 3,000 people turned out to drink beer, dance and marvel at the one-to-one male-female ratio. "This is unbelievable," says Dan "the Hunk" Meyer, who only the night before sat forlorn. "Right now, Herman is a great place to be." Cheryl Johnson, a 35-year-old office worker from Keewatin who rode in on the love bus, agrees. Tired of just baby-sitting her nieces and nephews and ready for a family of her own, she plans to come back for Herman's next big event—the July fair. "I like Herman," she says. "It's a lot like home—except we don't have a grain elevator."

Ellison, in particular, is a man in demand this evening, and Angel Kerr, a 25-year-old office worker from Hibbing, is looking for a mate. "I already have a man in mind," she says flatly. "Dan." Ellison, embarrassed by all the attention, chats briefly with Kerr, but the two do not seem to hit it off, and Ellison wanders out of the fray. Still, he's pleased by the way the evening is going. "It's got a good atmosphere," he says, as he sips a Pepsi. "It's Herman for you."

Though no new Herman marriages are yet in the works, some women are seriously considering moving to town. Two friends from Minneapolis say they plan to open a clothing store here. And the July fair promises to be a bonanza: One California woman has already booked 100 rooms for her friends at a nearby hotel. Better yet, Ellison may actually have found a date. "All I have is prospects now," he admits. "I think I might have to go home and make a few calls tomorrow. This is just exciting as heck."

J.D. PODOLSKY
BRYAN ALEXANDER in Herman

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