Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: “The disciples” March 27, 2015

Portraits # 14 & 15: The cast from The Last Supper Drama

The cast of the 2012 The Last Supper Drama poses like the Leonardo da Vinci painting.

The cast of the 2012 The Last Supper Drama poses like the Leonardo da Vinci painting.

For 53 years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, has presented The Last Supper Drama.

It’s a remarkable way to begin Holy Week in the darkness of this aged country church. Here actors portraying Jesus’ disciples gather for the final meal with their Lord in a scene straight from Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. Only Christ is missing, replaced by an empty chair.

Judas, in the foreground, is about to betray Jesus with 30 pieces of silver. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Judas, in the foreground, is about to betray Jesus with 30 pieces of silver. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

The drama was penned by long ago pastor, the Rev. Walter Rasche. Only the actors change in the performance that features each disciple speaking about his relationship with Christ.

It is powerful and moving, and a tribute to a congregation which has sustained this Holy Week tradition for more than five decades.

This year’s 53rd drama will be presented at 8 p.m. Sunday, March 29, in the church located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, which is east of Faribault along Rice County Road 24. Food and fellowship follow.

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A shuttered church March 26, 2015

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Church in West Concord, close-up

 

EVERY TIME I SEE an aged church like this shuttered, I am saddened.

Part of that discontent stems from the loss of the old wood-frame church I attended while growing up. It was replaced in the early 1970s by a brick building on the edge of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota.

The “new” church is more practical with no steep steps, everything on one level and more usable space. But it lacks the character of an ornate altar, a balcony, a pulpit looming above the congregation, aged pews, the history of generations worshiping under a roof raised by great grandparents.

Mostly, it lacks memories—of tinseled towering evergreens, singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives” every Easter, sweeping snow from overboots, men’s hats pegged on hooks in the entry, lining up on the basement steps on Christmas Eve, unwrapping wax paper wrapped sandwiches on the side church steps during Vacation Bible School, kneeling before the congregation in my white dress and white shoes for a blessing on my Confirmation Day…

 

Church in West Concord, minus steeple

 

What memories does this former church in West Concord hold? And why is it no longer a house of worship? Did membership decline/grow to the point that the doors were closed? Did upkeep and maintenance costs become unaffordable?

It appears the church has been repurposed as a home or perhaps apartments. Just like St. John’s Lutheran back in my hometown. That’s a better option than the alternative of a final amen.

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Check back next week for a series of stories about the brick building on the right in these two photos. It’s West Concord’s treasure.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Discovering the magic of Santa in a small Minnesota town in March March 25, 2015

PEEF, THE MULTI-COLORED TEDDY BEAR created from the imagination of writer Tom Hegg and brought to visual life by artist Warren Hanson, has always held a special place in my heart. Because of my boy, who is no longer a boy but a young adult.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb's sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

Caleb loved his Beanie Baby-sized PEEF. Slept with the bear. Hugged him. Pressed his patchwork tummy over and over so the bear would squeak.

And then one day PEEF disappeared. Lost. Perhaps fallen from the van on a trip to Grandma’s house. Perhaps… I really have no idea what happened to this fur-roughened-by-little-boy-hands bear.

Somewhere, though, the first two PEEF children’s picture books are tucked away in a box in my house. Autographed during an author visit to Faribault in which Caleb posed for a picture with an over-sized patchwork bear. The location of that photo also eludes me.

PEEF The Christmas Bear reveals how the colorful bear came to be and how he also became Santa’s helper and friend.

This sign shows the artwork for the first PEEF book's cover with local Chad Winsell  as the Santa model.

This sign shows the artwork for the first PEEF book’s cover with local Chad Winsell as the Santa model.

Not until this past Saturday did I learn, though, that the model for that first PEEF book hails from West Concord, a rural southeastern Minnesota community of nearly 800. A sign attached to a chain link fence outside the town’s former school, now turned West Concord Historical Society and Community Center, identifies this town as the home of PEEF’s Santa, Chad Winsell.

Historical Society Director Janis Ray, who seems a reliable go-to source for all things West Concord, explained that Chad was friends with PEEF’s creators, thus became the inspiration for Santa. Chad definitely has that Santa look, that sparkle in his eyes.

Michael "Chad" Winsell. Photo from obituary published by Michaelson Funeral Home.

Michael “Chad” Winsell. Photo from obituary published by Michaelson Funeral Home.

On November 18, 2014, Chad, whose real name was Michael, died after living with a brain tumor for 14 years. He was only 64. When I read his obituary, I understood that this man was more than a model for a book. He modeled the spirit of goodness and kindness and generosity that defines Santa. And for a community to recognize that serves to remind all of us that no matter where you live, who you are, you are valued.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo of Michael “Chad” Winsell from the Michaelson Funeral Home website

 

This is spring in southeastern Minnesota March 24, 2015

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My neighbor's flag pops color into the white landscape.

My neighbor’s flag, attached to his fence, pops color into the white landscape Monday morning.

SUNDAY INTO MONDAY brought significant snow to parts of Minnesota, about eight inches to my community of Faribault.

And many of us are acting like this shouldn’t have happened. After all, we basked in a recent streak of unseasonable 50 and 60-degree temps—shirt sleeve, bike riding, I want to uncover the perennials kind of weather.

But I didn’t.

As a life-long Minnesotan, I know better.

March often brings snow. The wet, heavy type that stresses muscles, that feels like shoveling rocks.

But typically the snow melts quickly under the March sun. That is the single solace I find in spring snowfalls. Their life-span is short.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The pick-up truck March 23, 2015

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The pick-up truck that inspired this most, photographed Saturday afternoon in West Concord.

The pick-up truck that inspired this post, photographed Saturday afternoon in West Concord, Minnesota.

IT’S ICONIC SMALL TOWN. The pick-up truck parked along Main Street within view of the grain elevator.

By my definition, a pick-up serves as a farmer’s all-purpose vehicle. Bags of seed corn piled in the back. Squealing pigs penned for market. Fence posts slid across the bed. Must-have auction purchases tossed in the back.

My image is based upon memory. Yesteryear. My Dad’s red-and-white 1960s vintage pick-up, replaced later by a newer one.

This is a late 1960s Chevy.

This is a late 1960s Chevy.

You can have your shiny new hulking pick-up trucks. I’ll take those aged by history—by the weight of a farmer sliding onto a cracked seat, springs groaning, his seed corn cap nearly brushing the cab interior.

Farmer or not, I don't know. But I told this guy I liked his truck. He bellowed out a big, "Thank you" before firing up the truck.

Farmer or not, I don’t know. But I told this guy I liked his truck. He bellowed out a big, “Thank you” before firing up his unmuffled truck. And just as I shot this frame, a much newer pick-up truck rounded the corner behind him.

I’ll take muddy Red Wings planted on floorboards, grease-stained fingers gripping the steering wheel, smell of cows lingering.

Roll down the windows to the wind. Crank the radio to ‘CCO. Bounce along the gravel road, dust rolling behind in a cloud.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Our newest immigrant families March 20, 2015

Portrait #13: A boy with an unforgettably sweet face

 

Portrait 13, International Festival Faribault 2012, Somali boy

 

He represents the present and the future, the changing face of my Minnesota community, of many Minnesota communities. More and more, Somali and other immigrants are settling in our state, starting life anew.

I photographed this young boy at Faribault’s 2012 International Festival.

Oh, the sweetness of his face and those big dark eyes. I just wanted to hug him.

He possesses a soulful look beyond his young years, a depth that defies definition. I can’t pinpoint precisely what I see, but there’s something in this portrait that mesmerizes me.

Perhaps it is his childhood innocence. Trust. A certain softness. The hint of a smile. Hope.

What do you see in this boy’s face?

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This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Pride and Prejudice March 19, 2015

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Different cultures, all the faces of today's Faribault, mingled during the Fall Festival.

Different cultures mingled during the 2011 Fall Festival in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

8:45 a.m. on Saturday:

A Somali man sweeps the sidewalk in the 300 block of Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault before shops open at 9 a.m.

Late Saturday afternoon:

A woman throws money at a Somali teen working as a check-out clerk at a downtown Faribault grocery store. Throws, not hands.

Why am I writing about these two events observed last Saturday in my southeastern Minnesota community of some 23,000 with a significant Somali population?

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I am sharing this because an undercurrent, OK it’s not even an undercurrent, of prejudice exists in Faribault. If your skin is any color other than white, you are open to possible disdain and contempt.

Vendors, like Riyaam, peddled their wares at the 2011 festival.

A Somali woman peddles her wares at the 2011 International Festival in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve heard it all:

They are taking our jobs, taking government hand-outs, hanging around where they don’t belong. They smell. They dress weird. They don’t know how to drive.

Two weeks ago a young man left his car running, unattended, while tending to business in a residential area of southwest Faribault. Afterward he commented that he shouldn’t have done that because of “the Somalis.” He’s from Northfield, a neighboring town.

Really?

Banadir, a Somali restaurant, is located in historic downtown Faribault.

Banadir, a Somali restaurant, is located in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

For awhile, complaints ran rampant about Somali men hanging out on Central Avenue street corners. People said they were afraid to go downtown. These men live downtown above businesses, some of which are Somali-owned. Sidewalks are their front porches, their place to gather and converse. This is part of their culture, to meet and talk.

I wish those who continually criticize our newest immigrants could have seen the Somali man sweeping a downtown sidewalk. His efforts show respect for and pride in community.

A 60-something white woman throwing money at a Somali teen simply doing her job shows lack of respect.

No matter our ethnicity/skin color, we really need to just respect each other as human beings.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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