Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Poster art showcases Faribault’s historic architecture December 9, 2016

TRAVEL WEST ACROSS the Highway 60 viaduct toward downtown Faribault and you likely will notice the steeples and towers poking above the landscape. Just like on the eastern side of my Minnesota community, these punctuating structures mark numerous historic buildings.

 

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Now Jeff Jarvis, a local historian and artist who works as the City of Faribault’s community enrichment coordinator, has created Steeples & Towers, a photo montage. For a donation to the Concerts in the Park fund, you can purchase this 12 x 18-inch poster featuring 18 spires on educational, religious and residential structures. Places like the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the Hutchinson House, Buckham Memorial Library.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals.

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, was built in 1929 with a Greek theme. Interior features include a Charles Connick stained glass window and Greek murals. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve long valued the detailed architecture that defines so many aged buildings in Faribault. Jeff’s targeted and documented Steeples & Towers poster art heightens that appreciation and focuses awareness. “How dreary buildings would be if they were all square boxes,” he notes.

I agree.

 

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Likewise, Jeff’s artistic eye and historic awareness drew him to photograph 27 windows in historic downtown Faribault. Places like the Alexander Faribault House, the Fleckenstein Building, the post office. He’s created a Historic Downtown Faribault Windows poster, also available for purchase via a donation.

He writes:

The inspiration to do the windows downtown came initially from reading signs placed in the empty downtown buildings—“This building is not empty; it’s full of opportunity.” Reading these struck me as funny. From my point of view as an artist, I see the beauty of the intact architecture and the variety of exterior colors. It seems backward, but to me a full store is almost secondary.

The prize is being able to stroll about in respect and appreciation of the historic district. I see and imagine the stories hidden behind the facades—the limestone backsides, the alleyways with faded vintage lettering, and the add-ons that can be viewed if you look closely.

Of course, there are lots of metaphors or idioms about windows that are fun that could apply to the downtown situation like “God closes a door, then opens a window,” etc. The project itself was like seizing a window of opportunity to teach others to quit quibbling about downtown—to turn their focus instead to one of the lovelier features in town.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Restored historic buildings in downtown Faribault decorated during a past holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Jeff has it right. As a community, we need to seriously appreciate the aesthetic and historical value of the many old buildings that stand in and near the heart of the downtown and elsewhere throughout Faribault. I’m not saying that appreciation hasn’t existed. It has as evidenced in the restoration of many historic buildings, the existence of the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission, the current interest in possible Artspace development and more. But sometimes we get sidetracked, too often complaining about perceived problems or what we don’t have rather than valuing what we do have.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault's Central Park.

The Bavarian Musikmeisters, a 35-member band, perform on July 14 at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And one of those assets—Concerts in the Park—is the benefactor of the historic posters sales. Those summer concerts are a 130-year tradition in Faribault. I’ve been attending these outdoor performances for more than 30 years, since relocating here. I’ve grown to love this Minnesota community. The traditions. The people. And, yes, the steeples, towers and windows, too.

FYI: If you are interested in purchasing these historic posters for a donation to the Concerts in the Park, stop at Faribault Park and Rec, 15 West Division Street, or email jjarvis@ci.faribault.mn.us. Donations will help underwrite concert costs.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Art posters copyright of Jeff Jarvis

 

Experience holiday festivities this weekend in Faribault December 8, 2016

Mike Fuchs guides his team or horses southbound on Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault late Saturday afternoon.

A scene along Central Avenue during the 2015 holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THE SPIRIT OF THE SEASON blankets Faribault this weekend with holiday events ranging from a figure skating show to a kids’ Christmas party to concerts to a home-grown theatrical production and much more.

Dark wood and stone define the cathedral interior.

Dark wood and stone define the sanctuary at The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

When I started jotting a list of events, even I was astounded. I could schedule my entire weekend around enjoying myself rather than focusing on holiday prep. If I wasn’t donating blood on Friday evening, I could kick my weekend off by attending Handel’s Messiah, presented at 7:30 p.m. by the Cannon Valley Regional Orchestra at The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, 515 Second Avenue Northwest.

Some of the cast members of "Wrapped in Love & Glory" pose inside the Faribault Woolen Mill. Photo by Edward Brown.

Some of the cast members of “Wrapped in Love & Glory” pose inside the Faribault Woolen Mill. Photo by Edward Brown and courtesy of The Merlin Players.

I already have tickets for The Merlin Players performance of “Wrapped in Love & Glory,” an original play written by Faribault native Michael Lambert. “The show weaves together the letters, history and music of the women working in the Faribault Woolen Mill to make blankets for the troops fighting overseas during WW II,” according to a TMP press release. Twenty-six songs from that era are incorporated in to the production.

The show opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue, with additional evening performances set for December 10 and 15 – 17. Sunday shows are at 2 p.m. on December 11 and 18. Click here for more information or call (507) 332-7372.

This jar of veggies carries the perfect name, "Summer in a Jar."

Canned produce sold at the summer Faribault Farmer’s Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Also at the Paradise are the creations of area artists. Perfect for holiday giving. Additionally, from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday, the Winter Farmers’ Market opens inside the Paradise with local vendors selling everything from eggs to maple syrup to soap, baked goods and more.

Historic buildings in downtown Faribault are decorated for the holiday season.

Historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Historic downtown Faribault will be one busy place Saturday as Faribault Main Street also hosts its second annual Holiday Snack Contest from noon – 3 p.m. While you shop, you can sample tasty treats at local businesses. All through-out the downtown, local shopkeepers (and even a pop-up shop) offer a variety of goods—shoes, home décor, antiques, electronics, specialty gifts, baked goods, cheese

We wanted to sample all of the beers on tap, so we ordered a flight.

A sampling of flight offerings at F-Town. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And let’s not forget the beer. Drink it on-site at F-Town Brewing, just off Central, or purchase a growler to take home. Or check out a local liquor store for F-Town beers.

The cast, with the little Snowflakes on the right as audience favorites.

A scene from the 2012 ice skating show at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

If you’re out and about with your family, drive to Faribault’s east side for Shattuck-St. Mary’s School’s annual Christmas Walk. The free community event begins with a “Christmas Spectacular on Ice” show at noon in the SSM Sports Complex. Festivities continue thereafter until 4 p.m. on the Shattuck campus with musical performances; activities for kids in Morgan Refectory; visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus (from 1:30 – 4 p.m.) in The Inn; and a 3:30 p.m. holiday concert in The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall.

Kids worked on holiday crafts in the dining hall at Shattuck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

On Sunday, there’s more family-oriented fun, this time at the Faribault Eagles, 2027 Grant Street, as the club hosts its annual free Kids Christmas Party from noon to 3 p.m. for kids 12 and under accompanied by an adult.

Nearby at the Faribo West Mall, shoppers can take in a 3 – 3:30 p.m. Sunday concert by the Faribault High School Orchestra followed by the Faribault Area Community Band’s “A Christmas Concert for Busy People.” That concert title seems especially fitting given the season and all that’s happening in Faribault. These pre-Christmas weekends are busy ones in my southeastern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Interstate juxtapositions December 7, 2016

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I APPRECIATE THE JUXTAPOSITIONS in this image I shot recently along Interstate 94 by Rogers.

The dusting of snow, the directive to stay on track during winter weather via Northstar and then the sign directing motorists to the Super 8 indoor heated pool.

This is, oh, so Minnesota.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Southwestern Minnesota: The place of my heart, in images & words December 6, 2016

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

I shot this rural farmsite/sunset scene while traveling along Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

OFTENTIMES IT TAKES LEAVING a place to appreciate it.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

A farmhouse along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood County near my hometown of Vesta.

There are days when I miss my native southwestern Minnesota prairie with an ache that lingers. I long for wide open space and forever skies,

The grain elevator in Morgan.

The grain elevator in Morgan in eastern Redwood County.

for farm fields and familiar grain elevators,

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

This gravel road connects to Minnesota State Highway 19 between Vesta and Redwood Falls.

for gridded gravel roads

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan.

and flaming sunsets. And quiet.

Sure, I could drive into the country here in southeastern Minnesota and see similar sites. But it’s not the same. This is not my native home, the place that shaped me. Although decades removed, I shall always call the prairie my home.

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading "home."

Minnesota State Highway 67, one of the roadways leading “home.”

With family still living in southwestern Minnesota, I return there occasionally. And that, for now, is enough. I drink in the scenery like gulping a glass of cold well water tasting of iron and earth. I am refreshed, renewed, restored.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

This lone tree along Minnesota State Highway 19 near the Belview corner has been here as long as I can remember.

I need to view the prairie, to walk the soil, to reclaim my roots. I need to see the sunsets, to breathe in the scent of freshly-mown alfalfa, to watch corn swaying in the breeze, to observe snow drifting across rural roadways, to feel the bitter cold bite of a prairie wind.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

A farmer guides his John Deere tractor along Minnesota State Highway 67 near Morgan.

There are those who dismiss this region as the middle-of-nowhere. It’s not. It’s a place of community, of good hardworking people, of Saturday night BINGO and Sunday morning worship services. It’s lines at the grain elevator and fans packing bleachers at a high school basketball game. It’s acres of corn and soybeans in the season of growth and tilled black fields in the time between. This place is somewhere to those who live here. And to those of us who were raised here.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

Every trip back along Minnesota State Highway 67, I am drawn to photograph the electrical lines that stretch seemingly into forever.

For me, this land, this prairie, shall always be home.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Recommended Minnesota reads December 5, 2016

THIS TIME OF YEAR, when daylight fades too early into evening darkness, when I want nothing more than to stay indoors cozied against the Minnesota cold, I find myself gathering books. Stashing, stacking, sequestering them in my home.

And then I read, snugged into a corner of the reclining sofa that no longer reclines (unless the husband yanks on the redneck handle he’s improvised to replace the broken pull). I tuck into a fleece throw in hues that linger autumn.

Then I read. Of mystery in prose and poetry. Of fictional places. Of memories. Words wrapping stories around me. Writers writing so I can read. Of their experiences. Of their imaginations. Of their struggles and joys and moments.

Often I choose to read local, a subconscious decision tracing to my years writing book reviews for a now-defunct Minnesota magazine. But I am also drawn to Minnesota writers because of the connection I have to them. We are, or were, of this place, of these people.

In honor of Minnesota reads, I direct you to these books:

 

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Under Minnesota Skies: John and Dorothy Hondl Family History and Farm Memories, penned by sisters Bernadette Hondl Thomasy and Colleen Hondl Gengler, is promoted as a family memoir of farm life in the 1940s-1960s that reflects on Czech and German heritage. The farm referenced in the book sits near Owatonna and has been in the Hondl family since 1881.

I can relate to much of the book’s content. The hard work and joys of farm life. Making hay. Filling silo. Tending livestock. This memoir, too, prompts long-forgotten memories of licking Gold Bond Stamps, of the South St. Paul Stockyard, of listening to WCCO 8-3-0, of driving tractor, of yearning for books.

Turning the pages of Under Minnesota Skies is like flipping the pages of a photo album detailing rural life. Except in words. Email the authors at kbthomasy at aol.com or dcgeng at frontiernet.net to purchase an autographed copy. Or buy the book at Little Professor Book Center in Owatonna or online at amazon.

 

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Voices: Past & Present, The Talking Stick Volume 25, is an eclectic collection of writing by Minnesota authors, or those with a strong Minnesota tie. Published by the northern Minnesota Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, this anthology includes 139 poems, 26 pieces of creative nonfiction and 20 works of fiction from 118 writers. So a good sampling of Minnesota talent.

Getting published in this book is a competitive process. Two of my poems, “Confessions in a Grocery Store Parking Lot” and “Prairie Garden Memories” are among the works printed in this 25th anniversary edition. Order on amazon.

 

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Finally, anyone interested in rural life, should read the books penned by prolific husband and wife team Gordon and Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville. The pair offer children’s picture books in their “A Farm Country” and “If I Were a Farmer” series. They have also written American Farm Heritage and poetry volumes for adults.

The Fredricksons’ books truly are a tribute to the rural way of life. These books can be purchased on the authors’ website, via amazon or at these Minnesota locations: Secret Attic in Northfield; The Old Hotel, New Market; and Bongards Cheese Shop, Bongards.

TELL ME: What local books have you read? What local books are you purchasing as Christmas gifts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bell-ringing moments bring smiles & gratitude December 3, 2016

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday morning in Faribault. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday morning in Faribault. Photo by Randy Helbling.

“WE’LL GET YOU on the way out,” he said, his smile wide.

I admit to skepticism. But, as promised, the pre-teen stopped after exiting Walmart Saturday morning to drop money into the Salvation Army’s signature red donation bucket.

“You’re a man true to your word,” I acknowledged, thanking him for his gift.

 

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Likewise, I thanked many others—from kids to seniors—who donated money during my two-hour shift of ringing bells with my husband. I greeted every customer with a smile and wishes for a good morning and a Merry Christmas. Some looked me in the eye and repeated the greetings. Others hurried past, heads down. Whether they could give or not, I wanted them to feel my warm holiday welcome.

 

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Many made me smile. Like the cool teens dressed all in black. They pushed coins into the slotted bucket then danced across the parking lot. I never expected them to give. Just goes to show.

Or the girls who gave as they entered Walmart and again on the way out. “We got two kisses,” one said to the other as they walked away. She was referencing the Hershey kisses I give to kids who give. It adds to the fun—to tell kids, “Wait a minute, I have something for you—a kiss.” And then I reach inside the pocket of the red Salvation Army apron and deposit a foil-wrapped kiss in their palms. And they smile like I’ve just handed them the most precious gift.

 

Randy ringing bells.

Randy ringing bells.

My husband’s favorite moment came at my expense when a man stopped, pointed upward and asked, “What’s that up in the sky?” I followed his sight line…to the sun. And then I laughed, getting the joke. And he laughed. And Randy laughed. We haven’t seen the sun through grey clouds in days.

But in that moment, the sun shone like a blessing upon us and our morning of volunteering for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

So thankful for this newer & safer stretch of Highway 14 December 2, 2016

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Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato late last Sunday afternoon.

Heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 14 between Nicollet and North Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2013.

IN MARCH 2013, I penned a post, “Hope for one of Minnesota’s most dangerous rural highways.” That would be US Highway 14, specifically between North Mankato and New Ulm.

Back then, I quoted the Minnesota Department of Transportation:

The U.S. Highway 14 corridor between New Ulm and North Mankato in Nicollet County recorded 250 crashes from 2006 to 2010. This overall crash rate is consistent with comparable rural state highways. However, 11 of those crashes had either a fatality or a serious injury, leaving this portion of Hwy 14 with a fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable rural state highways. Safety in the area from North Mankato to Nicollet and at the intersection of Hwy 14 and Hwy 15 north of New Ulm is of particular concern.

Did you catch that? A fatal and serious injury crash rate 50 percent greater than comparable highways.

I don’t doubt those statistics and that assessment. For decades I’ve traveled Highway 14 to and from my native southwestern Minnesota. Heavy traffic, narrow lanes, and few opportunities to safely pass make this roadway particularly dangerous.

U.S. Highway 14 under construction between Mankato and Nicollet.

Barrels and signage guide motorists onto a detour in the final month of Highway 14 construction between Mankato and Nicollet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.

But now at least 10 miles of Highway 14 are safer due to the completion of a construction project which expanded the roadway from two to four lanes between North Mankato and Nicollet. Several years of putting up with detours was worth it.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

Westbound on the new Highway 14 heading to Nicollet.

For the first time Thanksgiving weekend, my husband and I traveled on the recently-opened four-lane. It’s great. Simply great. As the smooth highway stretched before us, we considered how reassuring to have a median rather than rumble strips and pylons separating narrow traffic lanes. No worry about cross-over, head-on or rear-end crashes.

You'll see lots of semis traveling this stretch of rural Minnesota highway.

Lots of semis travel this stretch of rural Minnesota highway where rumble strips and pylons once separated lanes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

We considered how the traffic flowed rather than clogged. On the old two-lane, a driver traveling below the 55 mph posted speed or slow-moving farm equipment could back up traffic. And when drivers get impatient, they don’t always use good judgment.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

The highway skirts Nicollet to the south. I wonder what impact this will have on businesses in this small town.

As Mankato has grown, becoming a regional shopping and cultural destination, and as our society has become increasingly more mobile, traffic has continued to increase along Highway 14. The need has existed for quite some time to expand this roadway. It makes my occasional travel to the region faster, easier, safer. I can only imagine how grateful are those who live in this area.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

The four-lane ends shortly after the exit into Nicollet.

Now, if funding would be appropriated to finish the expansion to four-lane between Nicollet and New Ulm, I’d be even more pleased.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

West of Nicollet, signage warns drivers that Highway 14 goes back to two-lane.

But if it’s like the just-finished project, there will be decades of talk and multiple studies and crashes before that happens. Sigh.

© Copyright 2106 Audrey Kletscher Helbling