Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Council vacancy generates 17 candidates in Faribault, now time to choose one February 2, 2023

Serving on the Faribault City Council is about more than attending meetings and making decisions. It’s also about being involved in the community. Here council member Peter van Sluis, left to right, Mayor Kevin Voracek and councilman Royal Ross serve chili and engage during the Faribault Main Street Chili Cook-off in October. The WTF on Vorack’s tee stands for “Welcome To Faribault.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2022)

JUST MONTHS OUT from the general election, 17 individuals applied for an open seat on the Faribault City Council. The current council is tasked with choosing the individual who will fill the spot vacated by Jonathon Wood with two years remaining in his term. The council invited interested individuals to apply, resulting in the unprecedented 17 applicants.

It’s interesting to note that in the November election, three candidates ran unopposed for three council seats. Two incumbents were re-elected with the third winner a newcomer and our first person of color elected to the council.

Without talking to each of the 17 applicants, I can only speculate on their reasons for wanting to join the council. Some come with a history of government and community involvement, whether locally or elsewhere. Some are life-long Faribault residents, others newcomers. Some are young, others more advanced in age. Whatever their reasons for wanting to serve, I hope they approached this with open minds (and not with personal agendas), with a strong desire to do what’s right and best for Faribault, all of Faribault.

I know some of the people on this candidate list personally. I can easily envision them sitting on the council, doing their homework, carefully researching and considering issues, listening, voicing their thoughts. I can see them investing the time, energy and effort needed to make informed decisions that affect not only how this city operates, but also Faribault residents and businesses.

From my perspective, the ability to listen, really listen, is vital. That means listening to all voices—heard and unheard, loud and quiet.

I don’t envy the current council’s task of filling this council vacancy. They met, narrowed the choices down, and are sending follow-up questions to the five remaining contenders. Those individuals will be asked to give short presentations at a council workshop session next week.

I’m grateful that so many individuals applied to serve on the Faribault City Council. Seventeen. That’s an incredibly high number of people willing to devote their time and energy to issues that affect my community. Whomever the council ultimately appoints, that individual will help shape the future of this city, shaped, too, by its rich history.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter in Minnesota: Oddities, insights, warnings February 1, 2023

Treacherous winter driving conditions along Minnesota State Highway 19 just north of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota in January 2013. These weather conditions are not uncommon on the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted and edited file photo 2013)

WINTER IN MINNESOTA can be decidedly difficult in the sort of way that challenges us to either adjust, adapt or embrace, or flee to Arizona, Texas or Florida.

That got me thinking. If you’re not from the Bold (Cold) North, you may be unfamiliar with our winter weather obsession and terminology. Wind chill is an oft-referenced word in Minnesota winter weather forecasts. Defined, that’s the feels like temp on skin when wind meets air temperature. The result is not pleasant with repeated warnings of exposed flesh can freeze in just minutes. That’s the time to layer up, don long johns, pull out the heavy parka or down coat, shove hands into mittens (not gloves), wrap your face and neck in a scarf, clamp on a warm hat and lace lined boots over thick wool socks. Or stay indoors. Just for the record, recent Minnesota wind chills have been between 20-35 degrees below zero.

Experts, like the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, advise us to carry winter survival kits in our vehicles and to stay inside should we become stranded or go off the road. Call for help and wait. Exiting your vehicle is risky as in risk becoming disoriented and lost in a snowstorm if in a rural area or risk being hit by a vehicle if your vehicle slides into the ditch along a busy interstate. Just recently a driver was struck while doing exactly that; he’ll be OK.

Ice fishing on Union Lake in Rice County. Some anglers don’t fish in houses, but rather in the open air, sitting on overturned 5-gallon buckets. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

YES, MINNESOTANS REALLY DO DRIVE ONTO FROZEN LAKES

Regarding risk, Minnesotans continue to participate in a sem- risky winter sport. Ice fishing. As absurd as this sounds to those who have never lived in a cold weather state, this is the sport of angling for fish on a frozen lake. It can be (mostly) safe if anglers follow basic rules for ice safety, the first being that no ice is ever 100 percent safe and know your lake. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources offers basic ice thickness guidelines such as stay off ice less than four inches thick. If it’s four inches thick, you can walk on lake ice. Nine to 10 inches of ice will support a small car or SUV. You’ll need 16-17 inches to drive a heavy truck onto a frozen lake and so on. Every winter vehicles plunge through the ice and people lose their lives on Minnesota lakes.

Yet, we Minnesotans continue to embrace the sport, exercising caution. Clusters of simple pop-up temporary day houses to homemade wooden shacks to fancy sleep-overnight factory models create mini villages on our frozen lakes. Anglers hang out therein, drilling holes in the ice, drinking beer, playing cards and doing whatever while waiting for the fish to bite. Decades have passed since I participated in this winter sport. But I did. It was the cracking noise of the ice that got to me.

Randy shovels snow from our house rooftop during a previous winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

PENGUINS, FIRE & UP ON THE ROOFTOP

Ice. I quite dislike that aspect of winter. And we’ve had a lot of ice this winter on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, every hard surface. As I age, my fear of falling and breaking a bone is real. I deal with ice by either staying off it or walking like a penguin.

Recently I observed my neighbor trying to remove ice from his driveway with fire fueled by a small portable propane tank. It was the weirdest thing—to see this flame in the black of evening aimed downward onto his cement driveway. It didn’t work well. The next evening, two of them were out chipping at ice the old-fashioned way with a long-handled bladed tool designed for that purpose.

Yes, we chip ice from our sidewalks and driveways. We shovel snow from our roofs in an effort to prevent ice dams (of which there are many this winter). Getting through a Minnesota winter, especially one as snowy as this season, requires fortitude and effort.

This oversized Minnesota driver’s license hangs above a rack of buffalo plaid flannel and other shirts at the A-Pine Restaurant near Pequot Lakes in the central Minnesota lakes region, aka Paul Bunyan land. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

CELEBRATING PAUL BUNYAN STYLE

Winter here also requires plenty of flannel, our unofficial winter attire. I recently purchased two flannel shirts to replace two that I’d worn thread-bare. I love my flannel. It’s comfy and cozy and warm and makes me feel Paul Bunyan authentic. If you’re unfamiliar with Paul, let me explain. He’s a legendary lumberjack, a symbol of strength and endurance. And he wears red buffalo plaid flannel. My community even celebrates flannel with the Faribault Flannel Formal, set for 5:30-9 pm Saturday, March 11, at Craft Beverage Curve (10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and Corks & Pints)). And, yes, that means attendees wear flannel, sample hotdishes (the Minnesota term for casseroles) and participate in lumberjack games. Yeah, sure, ya betcha. This is how we survive winter in the Bold (Cold) North.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

United Way opening community-focused used bookstore in Faribault January 31, 2023

Rice County Area United Way is opening a used bookstore in the vacant Dandelet Jewelry building. A bookstore was once located in the corner building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

ONCE UPON A TIME, Faribault was home to bookstores, the first inside the mall, the second downtown on Central Avenue. Both closed years ago. But soon we’ll have a bookshop back in town, located in the former Dandelet Jewelry store, right next to the corner building that once housed Central Avenue Books.

Elizabeth Child (Photo source: E. Child)

This new as yet unnamed bookstore, though, will be decidedly different. The bookshop, a project of Rice County Area United Way, aims to do more than simply provide the community with a place to purchase gently-used books. It will also become a welcoming community gathering space, according to United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Child. She envisions a colorful children’s area in the back of the store where kids can mingle and read. She envisions adults dropping in, coffee in hand, to browse bookshelves and engage in conversation. She envisions local art displayed and perhaps events featuring artists and writers.

Gordon Liu, board chair of the United Way, created a book-themed display for the Faribault Winterfest holiday window decorating contest. It reflects the bookstore plan for the Dandelet building and Liu’s love of books and reading. He was recently reappointed to the Library Advisory Board. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

A sense of community involvement defines the vision for this used bookshop. Child and her board of directors are open to ideas and possibilities and are actively seeking community input. They want this gathering place to reflect Faribault’s multi-cultural population; to add value to the downtown; to promote literacy via access to books; to inspire people to read; and to increase the United Way’s visibility in Faribault. The United Way currently has an office in Northfield following the merging of the Faribault and Northfield United Ways into a county-wide entity in 2019.

A small United Way sign lies atop “snow” in a window display inside the former Dandelet Jewelry building. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

The nonprofit, funded primarily by workplace partner and individual donations, aims “to mobilize caring resources to improve lives,” Child said. That’s further defined on the website: Our focus is on education, health and financial stability—the building blocks for a good quality of life.

Faribault is a diverse community, shown here in Gordon Liu’s “Frosty the Snowman” window display. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

A bookstore fits within that mission with a focus on literacy, bringing people together and providing affordable books. The United Way is already collecting books, with an emphasis on “gently-used” in all genres. No textbooks, encyclopedias, business or outdated books needed.

The Art Deco style can be seen in the black and cream colors and the strong lines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Planning and work continue on the bookstore with an anticipated spring opening at 227 Central Avenue North, hours to be determined. The 1882 building, which is in Faribault’s Historic Commercial District and on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of 13 purchased by a local investment group in an effort to revitalize downtown. Originally, the structure housed Dandelet Dry Goods. It became a jewelry store and watch repair business in 1925 with the Dandelet family modernizing the original Italianate facade in the Art Deco style during the 1930s. Child noted the vacant building retains Art Deco elements inside, including a chandelier. Built-in shelves, which once displayed jewelry, remain. Those will be repurposed for books as the United Way readies the space with mostly cosmetic changes like painting, adding display tables and more. A first floor bathroom will be installed. Any exterior changes/improvements will be made by the building’s owners.

From jewelry to books, both gems… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Volunteers will run the bookshop with United Way board member Dave Campbell overseeing the operation. There’s already a sense of excitement within the community about the bookstore, Child said. She expects that interest to grow once the shop opens.

Faribault boasts a downtown brimming with aged, historic buildings. Revitalization and renovation are ongoing. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo January 2023)

Child’s efforts to open a United Way bookstore began seven months ago in a most unexpected way—in a conversation during a three-hour ride from North Carolina to the Atlanta airport. Her friend Florence, whom she first connected with via an online pandemic-inspired poetry group, mentioned how much she enjoyed volunteering in her small town nonprofit bookstore. That proved an enlightening moment for Child, who took the nonprofit bookstore idea and ran with it…to her board. And now, in a few months, Faribault will have a new, welcoming place to gather, a place to buy gently-used books, to engage in conversation, to connect as community.

#

FYI: If you have gently-used books to donate, contact Dave Campbell at 507-210-4066 or email him at Davec1953 at gmail.com

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering the Holocaust January 29, 2023

A quote and story in “Transfer of Memory.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

Without hope you didn’t survive…

I photographed that quote in the summer of 2014 while viewing a traveling exhibit on the Holocaust, “Transfer of Memory,” at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. The singular summary word hope themes portraits and accompanying stories of Minnesota Holocaust survivors.

Panels showcase portraits and stories in “Transfer of Memory.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

“Transfer of Memory” was, and remains, one of the most powerful exhibits I’ve ever viewed. It is the personal stories, paired with portraits, which imprinted upon my heart and spirit the utter brutality, the unfathomable cruelty of the Nazis against Jewish people.

Today, just days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, the date in 1945 marking the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi’s largest killing center and concentration camp, I am reminded of the survivors featured in that traveling exhibit.

I am reminded, too, of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Six. Million.

Cover image from Goodreads

Recently, I read three books of historical fiction about young men and women imprisoned in concentration camps. These books by Heather MorrisThe Tatooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey and Three Sisters—are difficult to read. Heart-rending. Awful. Yet, with that underlying theme of hope accompanied by incredible strength. Like the “Transfer of Memory” exhibit, they imprinted upon my heart and spirit the utter brutality and unfathomable cruelty of humankind.

When I read of current day antisemitism and hatred directed towards other individuals because of their skin color, ethnicity, religion, etc., I find myself wondering, “Why?”

#

FYI: Click here to learn more about the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas and its “Transfer of Memory” exhibit. Please consider bringing this exhibit to your community. Click here to read my 2014 post about the exhibit in Owatonna.

“Transfer of Memory” is currently on exhibit in Jones Commons at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis until February 28. Special events are also planned. A forum with a Holocaust survivor is set for 10 am Sunday, February 12. And at 4 pm Sunday, February 26, Janet Horvath performs on her cello and celebrates the release of her memoir, The Cello Still Sings: A Generational Story of the Holocaust and of the Transformative Power of Music. Click here for more information about the exhibit and events at Plymouth Congregational.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look at German POW camps, including in Faribault January 28, 2023

The Rice County Historical Society, host of the POW presentation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2022)

JUST BLOCKS FROM THE VACATED SITE of the former Faribault Canning Company, a group packed a Rice County Historical Society Museum meeting room Thursday evening for a lesson in World War II-related regional history. Specifically, we learned about German Prisoner of War camps in Minnesota and Wisconsin from Matt Carter, executive director of the Dakota County Historical Society. He offered an overview of those camps, which included 15 in Minnesota, one at the canning company in Faribault. Carter is a native of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, home to a POW camp. Growing up, he never learned about the camp in school. That prompted him to later research, write about and present on POW camps in the US.

Former Faribault Daily News reporter Pauline Schreiber photographed the Faribault POW Camp barracks shortly before they were torn down in 1990. (Photo courtesy of the Rice County Historical Society)

WORKING AG-RELATED JOBS

I’ve always held an awareness of Camp Faribault and the prisoners who worked at the canning factory and on area farms. I also knew of the low-slung buildings housing the POWs who arrived here in June 1944. Those barracks were torn down in 1990 during an expansion of Faribault Foods, as the canning company came to be called. The business still exists today, in a sprawling manufacturing and distribution complex opened in 2017 in northwest Faribault’s industrial park.

Back during WWII, with millions of Americans off to serve in the military, POWs like those in Faribault offset the local labor shortage. Faribault Canning requested 200 prisoners to assist during the summer months with pea and sweet corn processing. The company paid the government 55 cents an hour for each POW laborer. That covered food and other living expenses. Prisoners received 80 cents a day for their work. Carter noted that the Faribault-based POWs worked within a 25-mile radius, some also laboring on farms, others installing power poles for Dakota Electric Association and 60 contracted to work for the local Andrews Nursery Company.

Some of the buildings remaining at the former Faribault Canning Co (Faribault Foods) site. I know nothing about the use or ages of the buildings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

SETTLING IN AT CAMP FARIBAULT & BEYOND

POW camps were scattered throughout Minnesota with other nearby branch camps, as they were termed, in Owatonna, Montgomery and St. Charles. Camps farther north focused mostly on logging. All were offshoots of barbed wire-secured base camps (where prisoners initially arrived and were processed) in Algona and Clarinda, Iowa. Once prisoners settled in community camps like Faribault, they still remained under guard, although much more loosely watched. An estimated 450,000 – 600,000* prisoners arrived in the US on Liberty Ships during WWII to live in repurposed Civilian Conservation Corps camps, on fairgrounds, even in tents, Carter said. In Faribault, the POWS moved into barracks built by the canning company.

WEDDINGS, PROPAGANDA & “CODDLING”

Within the confines of his just-over-an-hour-long presentation, Carter presented an excellent overview of POW camps, adding some details that I found notably interesting. For example, proxy weddings were performed by local clergy. Under Geneva Convention rules, German prisoners could legally marry women back in Germany. Prisoners would gather flowers for the missing-brides prison camp weddings. Across the ocean their brides perhaps did the same while marrying absent grooms not seen in years.

Carter also shared that prisoners watched newsreels of German war atrocities as part of a reorientation program in the camps. Viewed as propaganda by some POWs, they responded by distributing handwritten propaganda while traveling on secured trains. Baffled by how these leaflets were dropped, officials determined that the papers were dropped down toilets and then onto the rails.

The third bit of shared information that struck me involves food. Newspapers reported how well prisoners ate, how they were being “coddled,” Carter noted. He showed a list of menus, which confirms the generous meals. The reaction was an outcry from an American public living on rationed foods and upset about the treatment of German-held US soldiers. In 1945, POWs were no longer allowed to buy beer, soda or cigarettes. And some of their food choices became less desirable (like hearts and liver).

Once the war ended, prisoners were repatriated, a process that took time. Many later returned to the US because of how well they were treated here, according to Carter. That was encouraging to hear. Even in war-time, kindness existed.

Matt Carter referenced this book during his talk, citing it as a good source of information about POW camps in Minnesota.

DIGGING DEEPER

Today all that remains of the Faribault POW Camp is a marker by the former canning company. If there are stories and photos, I am unaware. But I’m inspired now to dig deeper. I’ve already checked out Prudence by David Treuer from my local library. The novel focuses on a German soldier who escaped from a Minnesota POW camp. I also intend to read Anita Albrecht Buck’s Behind Barbed Wire: German Prisoners of War in Minnesota during World War II.

And maybe some day I’ll travel to Algona, Iowa, to visit the Camp Algona POW Museum and learn more about this place which housed prisoners sent to Minnesota, including to Faribault.

#

*Because of differences and discrepancies in record-keeping, the number of prisoners housed in US POW camps is uncertain. Some sources claim 600,000-plus, while Carter estimates closer to 500,000 prisoners based on his research.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nebraska the movie, not the place January 27, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

An edited photo of the DVD cover. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo January 2023)

IT TAKES A LOT for a movie to hold my interest. I’d rather read a book. But the 2013 film “Nebraska” certainly grabbed, and held, my interest.

By self-admittance, I seldom watch movies. I can’t recall the last movie I saw inside a theater. Or rather, I should clarify, the last time I watched a movie in its entirety in a theater. I walked out on a “John Wick” film not even an hour in. That was on a rainy Memorial Day weekend in 2019 when, for lack of anything better to do, Randy, Caleb and I decided to go to the movies. I knew nothing of “John Wick” or the level of violence portrayed in this series. I watched for awhile, fidgeted, closed by eyes, then walked out, demanded a refund and got one. I haven’t been inside a movie theater since.

Yes, I acknowledge ignorance about movies, about the film industry, about actors and actresses and nearly anything Hollywood-related. I mostly dislike the obsessive hype and adoration. Certainly, talented creatives exist in the field. But often the attention and praise heaped on Hollywood seem excessive.

Faribault’s vacated Family Video, closed in February 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

But then along comes a film like “Nebraska,” which Randy found at our local library while I was browsing for books. Buckham Memorial Library is our source for DVDs since the closing of Faribault’s Family Video about a year ago. Not that we frequented the video rental store much, but occasionally. Just like we occasionally check out movies from the library. Our kids laugh that we still watch DVDs. But, hey, we still get our television reception from a rooftop antenna and don’t stream anything. We are old school that way and I’m OK with that. Like I said, I prefer reading a book.

Back to the 10-year-old film “Nebraska.” Although it didn’t win any of the six Academy Awards for which it was nominated, it should have. I loved everything about the movie which tells the story of Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) on a road trip from Billings, Montana, to Lincoln, Nebraska, with his son David (Will Forte). The plot revolves around the aging Woody’s belief that he’s won a mega sweepstakes prize. You know, the kind of “prize” announced in a mailing to unsuspecting folks who, like Woody, fail to read the fine print.

The storyline premise is basic and believable, the characters realistic. As the plot progresses and word gets out about Woody’s presumed wealth, family and friends appear, wanting a share of the money. Greed emerges, just as in real life when families squabble over inheritances and possessions.

This shot of Main Street in Belview in my home county on the prairie looks similar to scenes in “Nebraska.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted & edited file photo)

Set in rural America—from small town Main Street (Woody’s hometown) to corner bar to rural cemetery—the scenes in “Nebraska” look a lot like the southwestern Minnesota prairie where I grew up. No surprise given the Nebraska filming locations. I felt comfortably at home in the landscapes of this movie while settled in my Minnesota home.

That the film shows totally in black-and-white strips the scenes, allowing characters and dialogue and setting to shine without distractions. At first I thought this was a Coen brothers (of “A Serious Man” and “Fargo” fame) movie. It’s not. Alexander Payne directs “Nebraska.” The music reminds me of the music in “Sweet Land,” another all-time favorite film.

“Nebraska” mixes drama and comedy to create a movie that is simultaneously entertaining, sad, funny, insightful and every day ordinary. Kate Grant (June Squibb), the strong and opinionated woman married to Woody, delivers some of the film’s most powerfully honest and comedic moments.

I wish I’d viewed this movie in a theater rather than horizontally elongated on a TV screen. I know for certain that I would have sat there focused, fully-engaged, eyes wide open until the very end.

TELL ME: Have you seen “Nebraska”? If yes, what are your thoughts on the film? Any movies you recommend I check out from my local library or view in a movie theater?

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winter diversion: Vote for Minnesota snowplow names January 26, 2023

Graphic credit: MnDOT website

NEWS THAT VOTING has opened for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Name a Snowplow” contest came at just the right time—as two clipper systems bring more snow into a state already overwhelmed by snowfall this winter. Voting comes also as the coldest air since mid-December is about to descend, dropping temps to below zero this weekend in most parts of Minnesota.

It’s been quite the winter. So this MnDOT contest is providing a humorous mental respite from the cold and snowy reality of January in Minnesota, with three months of winter to go.

Three years ago MnDOT launched its first snowplow naming competition, inviting the public to submit names for the big orange trucks that clear our state highways of snow and ice. This year 10,000 names were submitted, which have been narrowed down to 60 choices. Online voting is open until midnight, Friday, February 3. The winning names will grace eight snowplows in MnDOT’s eight districts.

I breezed through the names, quickly choosing my top three. Participants can vote for up to eight. I chose Blader Tot Hotdish (a reference to Minnesota’s culinary delight, Tator Tot Hotdish), Orange You Glad to See Me (picked for obvious reasons) and Spirit of ‘91 (a reference to the Halloween Blizzard of 1991, a multi-day blizzard which dumped single storm record snowfalls throughout the state; three feet in Duluth).

Last year’s winners included Ctrl Salt Delete (an obvious tech reference to the salt used to de-ice roadways), Blizzard of Oz (actress Judy Garland, aka Dorothy, born as Frances Gumm in Grand Rapids, MN.) and No More Mr. Ice Guy.

And in the 2020-2021 contest, Plow Bunyan (honoring legendary Minnesota lumberjack Paul Bunyan), F. Salt Fitzgerald (Minnesota-born novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald) and Duck Duck Orange Truck (a reference to Minnesotans’ insistence that the game Duck, Duck, Goose is, indeed, Duck, Duck, Gray Duck) were among the winning names.

I love this diversion from talking solely about the weather, as we Minnesotans are inclined to do, especially in winter.

This contest also puts a positive spotlight on MnDOT, which too often delivers the bad news of road closures, crashes, road construction, impossible driving conditions and more. “Name a Snowplow” is, simply put, genius creative marketing.

FYI: To vote, click here and follow instructions to cast your ballot. I don’t see any rules requiring Minnesota residency to vote.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota prairie roots revisited, remembered, reflected January 25, 2023

My “Hope of a Farmer” poem exhibited at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum. The exhibit also includes my poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

WHEN I RETURNED to my beloved southwestern Minnesota prairie in September, I did so with one primary purpose—to see my poetry showcased in the “Making Lyon County Home” exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall. Any additional attractions—like viewing a public art sculpture outside the local ice arena and a stop at Brau Brothers Brewing—would only enhance the day trip.

Randy Walker’s “Prairie Roots” sculpture defines the entrance outside the Red Baron Arena on Marshall’s east side at 1651 Victory Drive. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

My one regret is that Randy and I didn’t stay overnight, allowing more time to explore local sites without feeling rushed. Forty years have passed since I visited Marshall en route to the Black Hills on our honeymoon. The college and county seat town lies 20 miles to the west of my hometown, Vesta in Redwood County, and 140 miles from my current home in Faribault.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2013)

This area of Minnesota is the place of my roots. My prairie roots. It is the place of wide open space, expansive skies, small towns and endless acres of cropland.

A prairie sunset photographed from Minnesota State Highway 67 between Redwood Falls and Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

The land where I grew up inspired my blog name, Minnesota Prairie Roots. The name fits me as a person and a creative. The sparseness of the prairie taught me to notice details, to fully engage my senses. To appreciate the landscape and people. The vastness of the flat land and the star-flushed night sky and achingly beautiful sunsets. Here I connected to the land—bare feet upon dirt, bike tires crunching gravel, dirt etched into my hands from working the soil. Here I connected to the people—down-to-earth, hardworking, linked to the land.

A favorite children’s picture book about the prairie gifted to me by my friend Kathleen.

For those who are not of prairie stock, the sparse landscape can seem uninteresting, empty, desolate. Even I admit the challenge of “if you’re not from the prairie…” A children’s picture book by that title, written by David Bouchard and illustrated by Henry Ripplinger and published in 1995, speaks to the prairie sun, wind, sky, flatness…grasses.

The tall grasses stretch to the prairie sky. The bent tops of the stems are also meant to resemble hockey sticks given the sculpture’s location outside the ice arena. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Tall grasses are often associated with the prairie. Yet, those grasses were mostly missing from the landscape of my youth as cultivated crops covered the earth. But on our farm site, a sliver of unmown grass grew between granary and grove and gravel driveway, stretching high, stems bending in the wind. That Little House on the Prairie (Walnut Grove is 20 miles from Vesta) space opened summer afternoons to imaginative play. I hold many memories rooted in those tall grasses, in the prairie.

Depending on the time of day and viewing point, the steel grass stems showcase different colors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
The sculpture reflected in an arena window. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)
Just another view of the grass stems, emphasizing the orange and yellow hues. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Prairie Roots. That name graces a public art sculpture outside the Red Baron Arena in Marshall. Minneapolis artist Randy Walker was commissioned by the City of Marshall in 2018 to create the sculpture reflecting the prairie landscape. I knew in advance of my September visit that I needed to see this artwork if time allowed. We made time. Walker used 210 painted steel poles to represent tall stems of grass, prairie grass. They are colored in hues of yellow, orange, red and green, reflecting seasonal changes and light.

Prairie grass grows within the sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2022)

And in between all those steel stems, prairie grass grows, thrives.

A grasshopper clings to a steel grass stem in the “Prairie Roots” sculpture. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

I even spotted a grasshopper on a steel stalk, taking me back decades to the hoards of grasshoppers that amassed and hopped through that patch of uncut grass on the farm.

Viewing the sculpture toward the field, this perspective shows the meandering course of the Redwood River in the Marshall area on the floor of the gathering space. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo September 2022)

Walker’s sculpture holds visual appeal against an expansive backdrop sky and open field (when viewing the art from the arena entrance outward). Via that perspective, I see the enduring strength of the prairie, and the immensity of land and sky, this place of my Minnesota prairie roots.

Please check back for more posts about my day trip back to southwestern Minnesota in September 2022.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Humorous honesty from the granddaughter January 24, 2023

When my grandchildren say the darndest things, I think of Art Linkletter’s “House Party” and his “Kids Say the Darndest Things” segment. Their answers to his questions proved honest, humorous and entertaining.

KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS. I can vouch for that. I raised three kids, cared for many others and am now the grandmother of two, one going on seven, the other just turned four.

Recently the grandkids, Isabelle and her little brother, Isaac, stayed overnight. During that short stay, Izzy elicited laughter with her honest observations and her leadership skills.

An outhouse repurposed as a garden shed at my brother and sister-in-law’s rural southwestern Minnesota acreage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

First the honesty. I don’t recall how we got on the topic, but at some point I shared that I grew up in a house without a bathroom. Taking a bath meant my dad hauling a tin tub from the porch into the kitchen every Saturday evening and then Mom filling it with water. Our bathroom, I explained to Izzy, was a little building outside with two holes cut in a bench. And in the winter, we used a covered pot set inside the unheated porch.

I don’t know that Izzy understood all of this. But, as she sat there listening to Grandma spin tales of the olden days, she assessed. “It sounds like a different world to me!” I laughed at her observation. She was right. Growing up in rural Minnesota in the 1950s and 1960s was, most assuredly, a different world from hers. My granddaughter lives in a sprawling suburban house with four bathrooms. In 1967, my family of birth moved into a new farmhouse with a single bathroom. And a bathtub. Today I feel thankful to live in a house with one bathroom. I wouldn’t want to clean four.

I took this award-winning photo of BINGO callers at the North Morristown July Fourth celebration in 2013. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Then there’s BINGO, which we play nearly every time we’re together with Isabelle and Isaac. They were introduced to the game at the Helbling Family Reunion and have loved it since. The kids take turns not only playing, but also calling numbers.

Isabelle has advanced greatly in her BINGO-calling skills. This time, in addressing us, she called us “folks.” I don’t know where Izzy heard that term, but it’s certainly more rural than suburban lingo. I suggested she might be ready to call BINGO next summer at North Morristown’s annual Fourth of July celebration. Unincorporated North Morristown is a Lutheran church and school and a few farm places clustered in the middle of nowhere west of Faribault. Izzy seems well-prepared to call BINGO numbers to the folks there.

I should have shared with my granddaughter that, when I was growing up, we covered our BINGO cards with corn kernels during Vesta’s (my hometown) annual BINGO Night. I expect she would have responded as a child 60 years younger than me: “It sounds like a different world to me!” And I would have agreed.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on rabbits in “The Year of the Rabbit” January 22, 2023

A children’s picture book features zodiac animals in this story focused on the Chinese New Year.

THE FIRST TIME I NOTICED a grouping of rabbit-themed books displayed on a table at my local library, I passed right by. That’s odd, I thought to myself. The second time I glimpsed those books, I walked over and looked. Turns out 2023 is The Year of the Rabbit and this book collection is a way to celebrate.

Today, Sunday, January 22, marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar New Year, the year when the rabbit takes zodiac animal center stage. The rabbit symbolizes luck (no surprise there; think a good luck rabbit foot), diplomacy, peace, compassion, kindness, all words I can get behind. We’re overdue for a year of people and nations treating each other with respect, kindness and decency.

This road-side white rabbit sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

While I’m not into the zodiac, I respect the Asian culture. And I like rabbits…because I am a Rabbit. Clarification, I was a Rabbit, as in a Wabasso Rabbit. I graduated from Wabasso High School, a southwestern Minnesota school with a white rabbit as its mascot. I can almost hear the laughing. A rabbit as a mascot? Yes, I admit to hearing a fair share of put-downs about being a lowly Rabbit. But don’t underestimate a rabbit/Rabbit.

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2012)

There’s a reason behind the chosen mascot. The town name, Wabasso, is a Dakota word meaning “white rabbit.” So it makes total sense that the public school would choose a rabbit mascot. This prairie region of Minnesota is rich in Dakota history.

The WHS gym in 2009. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2009)

For me, rabbits are part of my personal history. I hold many memories of overall Rabbit pride. Pep fests, football and basketball games, theater, writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks… Attending a small rural Minnesota high school with mostly farm kids from the communities of Wabasso, Wanda, Lucan, Seaforth and Vesta (my hometown) was a good fit for me. I am forever proud of being a Rabbit.

The sign marking the current building came from the old building. And apparently back in the day, a “u” looked like a “v.” The school looks different than when I attended WHS. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 20029)

Next year, 2024, marks The Year of the Rabbit for me. In that calendar year, my WHS graduating class celebrates its 50th class reunion. Unbelievable. I once considered people who’ve been out of high school for 50 years to be really old. I don’t think that way any more, although I do admit my advancing age.

As we reunite, we’ll pull out our yearbooks and reminisce. We’ll pull out our smartphones to share family photos. We’ll celebrate the years we were Rabbits. And we’ll celebrate, too, the lives we’ve lived since, lives I hope have been filled with peace, kindness and love.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling