Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Proud to be an American in Kenyon, Minnesota August 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:31 AM
Flags fly in the Field of Honor at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park during Rose Fest.

Flags fly in the Field of Honor at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park during Rose Fest.

A tag marks the flag flown in honor of LTC Kevin Duffy.

A tag marks the flag flown in honor of LTC Kevin Duffy.

Military artillery at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park.

Military artillery at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park.

I’ll admit that, as the daughter of a decorated Korean War veteran, I possess a soft place in my heart for Americans like Mike McDonald, Marty Budde, Mark Hegseth and Donald Meese.

I met all of them Sunday afternoon at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park. Three of the four were gathered at a picnic table in this Minnesota Highway 56 roadside park prior to the closing ceremony for a weekend Field of Honor flag display during the town’s Rose Fest.

Meese came a bit later with his wife, Judy, to photograph the flag honoring their son-in-law, Lt. Colonel Kevin Duffy, a full-time Army man who recently served in Afghanistan.

The temporary flags could be placed in tribute of anyone, not just military people, said McDonald, president of the Kenyon Veterans Color Guard, the organization sponsoring the flag event.

“It’s to show everyone that this is the United States of America,” the Vietnam veteran said, looking toward the rows of 201 flags posted on either side of the highway near the town’s grain elevators. “The best way to do that is with a flag.”

The Field of Honor also raises money for the color guard, which marches in parades, attends veterans’ funerals, presents school programs and is working to build Kenyon’s vets’ park. Dollars from last year’s first-ever Field of Honor, which featured 80 flags, paid for a sign and new flagpole. A donation of $20 per flag is suggested.

The vets’ group hopes to add another military symbol to the artillery already in the park.

You simply have to admire guys like McDonald, who are striving to publicly honor those who have served or who are serving. As a Vietnam vet, the Kenyon man understands the importance of honor. He came home to a mostly ungrateful nation in turmoil over the Vietnam War.

Today he said it feels “awesome” to be appreciated for his service in Vietnam. He served as a crew chief door gunner aboard a Huey helicopter.

His friend and fellow color guard member Mark Hegseth of Kenyon flew an Air Force A-1E airplane in ground support and rescue missions in Vietnam.

Marty Budde, a retired military man and color guard vice president from rural Faribault, was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam era. Donald Meese of Nerstrand served with the Army Reserve for 23 years.

Although I didn’t have time to hear their personal in-depth stories of military service, I heard enough to know that these men deserve to be recognized—for giving of themselves to their country and for now actively working to honor all veterans.

They are striving, said McDonald, to change attitudes so that no other soldier feels unwelcome upon returning home from war, like he and so many others were decades ago.

Donald Meese snaps a photo of the flag flown in honor of his son-in-law, Lt. Col. Kevin Duffy of the U.S. Army.

Donald Meese snaps a photo of the flag flown in honor of his son-in-law, Lt. Col. Kevin Duffy of the U.S. Army.

The official Kenyon Veterans Color Guard flag.

The official Kenyon Veterans Color Guard flag.

Kenyon Veterans Color Guard members Donald Meese, from left to right, Marty Budde, Mike McDonald and Mark Hegseth.

Kenyon Veterans Color Guard members Donald Meese, from left to right, Marty Budde, Mike McDonald and Mark Hegseth.

A plaque in Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park honors Major Benjamin Danielson, whose fighter jet was shot down in Laos in December 1969. He was missing in action for years before a bit of his remains were positively identified. He was laid to rest back home in Kenyon in 2007.

A plaque in Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park honors Major Benjamin Danielson, whose fighter jet was shot down in Laos in December 1969. He was missing in action for years before a bit of his remains were positively identified. He was laid to rest back home in Kenyon in 2007.

To read an interesting collection of military stories from around the country, get a copy of God Answers Prayers—Military Edition, True Stories from People Who Serve and Those Who Love Them, edited by Allison Bottke and published in 2005 by Harvest House Publishers. The book includes “Faith and Hope in a Land of Heartbreak,” a story I wrote about my dad, Korean War veteran Elvern Kletscher of Vesta, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2009 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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WW II vet supports troops August 24, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:40 AM
Howard Homeier's patriotic pickup truck parked in downtown Kenyon, Minnesota.

Howard Homeier's patriotic pickup truck parked in downtown Kenyon, Minnesota.

You gotta appreciate a guy like Howard Homeier.

Sunday afternoon I saw him toolin’ west on Minnesota Highway 60 through downtown Kenyon in his dark green 1951 or 1952 Chevy pickup (he’s not sure which year), flag a wavin’ from the truck.

Mounted to the front bumper, secured inside a special frame he built, a sign proclaimed “Liberate Iraq. Support Our Troops. Call Your Congressperson!”

Now this was a guy I just had to meet.

So when Howard steered the vehicle left and pulled in across from the VFW, I was there waiting, expecting some young redneck to spring out of the pickup.

Instead, I got Howard, a World War II veteran and member of the Kenyon Veterans’ Color Guard. Maybe Howard’s a redneck, maybe not. Doesn’t matter.

What matters is that Howard served in the U.S. Army during World War II, in the China Burma India Theater. I think I’ve got that right. When we were chatting, I was without my notebook and pen. Howard found a dried up pen and scrounged a 2002 Kenyon Lumber Mart receipt from the glove box so I could etch his name onto the scrap of paper. Hey, whatever works. I wanted to get this Kenyon veteran’s name spelled correctly.

Howard obliged my request for photos, even letting me crawl inside his pickup so I could photograph the small poppy-topped American flag that protrudes from the Chevy’s ashtray.

He apologized for his messy truck. I didn’t care, didn’t even see much of a mess, only a cracked, well-worn seat, a big old steering wheel and that flag displayed by one patriotic veteran.

The flag has been inside his truck for quite some time, Howard said, and the “Support Our Troops” sign in place for three-plus years now. He’s pretty darn proud of it, but was quick to share that not everyone appreciates his viewpoint. He drove his pickup to a nearby country church, he said, and was asked by the pastor to remove the sign. Can’t have that in the church parking lot, the reverend said.

“What did you do?” I asked.

“What could I do?” he replied. “Took it off.”

Right then and there I wanted to find that clergyman and tell him a thing or two about respecting men like Howard who’ve faithfully served our country. But I kept quiet, because I didn’t want to stir up trouble. And, given we live in a free country, the pastor is entitled to his opinion too. But I could tell the whole incident bothered Howard, a lot.

Then this WW II veteran showed me two laminated cards, both paying tribute to soldiers like him. “Field of Honor. This Flag is in Honor of Howard Homeier,” one card read. Howard had just come from a ceremony at the Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park, where 201 American flags were flown over the weekend during the town’s annual Rose Fest.

He was beaming, this patriotic WW II veteran, this American who supports our troops.

Proud World War II veteran Howard Homeier in his early 1950s vintage Chevrolet pickup truck.

Proud World War II veteran Howard Homeier in his early 1950s vintage Chevrolet pickup truck.

Inside Howard Homeier's Chevy pickup.

Inside Howard Homeier's Chevy pickup.

Howard Homeier drives his Chevy down Minnesota Highway 60, the main drag through Kenyon.

Howard Homeier drives his Chevy down Minnesota Highway 60, the main drag through Kenyon.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Watch for upcoming blogs about the “Field of Honor” at Kenyon Veterans Memorial Park and about this Goodhue County community’s celebration of Rose Fest.)


 

Tornado terror in Minneapolis August 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 3:42 PM

When tornadoes hit the metro area on Wednesday afternoon, I was concerned. My oldest daughter and other extended family members live in south Minneapolis.

I was pretty certain Amber was OK as she works in St. Paul. But I wasn’t sure about everyone else, including my mom, who was in Minneapolis visiting her brother.

Turns out everyone, and everything, was fine. Almost.

My niece Tara and her husband, Andy, who live in Plymouth, were driving to the Mall of America, inching along in stop-and-go traffic on Interstate 35 Wednesday afternoon, exactly when the tornadoes touched down.

As Tara tells the story, she first noticed a small branch or shrub blowing in the air while they were parked at a dead stop in the construction zone. By then the rain had mostly subsided.

Andy saw the foliage too, she says, but thought only that strong winds had blown something off a tree.

I’LL LET TARA PICK UP THE TALE: “He (Andy) continued to watch the cars around us as we crawled forward, and I continued to watch the debris. It wasn’t until I saw the tree branch/shrub swirling around again, this time accompanied by a head or foot board of a bed, that I started to freak out and realize it was a tornado.

“I opened my window to listen for sirens, but there was nothing. The sky wasn’t a funny color, there was no rumbling, and WCCO radio wasn’t saying a peep about bad weather.

“Areas of 35 were also starting to flood. There was an area on the other side where the water was up to the top of the vehicle tires. The water was rushing like a river as the person was getting out of their vehicle and the water was spilling through the cracks of the barrier into our lane so we had to maneuver the car quickly into the other lane. I’m not sure if our side completely flooded like the other side because we were trying to get out of there as quickly as possible.

“The one thing I fear the most was within 50 feet of me yesterday! It was quite a scary experience and I don’t care to EVER be that close to a tornado again.”

I understand my niece’s fear and respect for tornadoes. During my childhood, a deadly tornado hit the farming community of Tracy some 25 miles to the south and west of my home farm. Nine people died. The images of that devastation are forever imprinted upon my memory.

Then, some 30 years ago, a tornado hit the farm where I grew up, demolishing the silo, tossing farm wagons around the fields and causing other damage.

I am thankful that my niece and her husband escaped the August 19 Minneapolis tornado unscathed, on the day of their third wedding anniversary.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Nighttime roadblock outside Faribault August 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:10 AM

It’s 11:10 at night and my phone rings. My sister Lanae, who has just left my house, is on her way home from Faribault to Waseca after attending a family picnic in Minneapolis.

“There’s something big going on out here,” she says. “I’m stopped outside of town and there are cop cars all over.”

We speculate that she may have arrived on the scene of an accident. But she sees nothing, except all those squad cars.

“I’ve gotta go,” she blurts abruptly and then she is gone, just like that.

Soon her car pulls into my driveway.

Now she is inside my kitchen telling me about the roadblock. A cop walked up to her car “with a big, honkin’ gun,” she says, and ordered her to back up and leave. She did. No questions asked.

She is still shaken and keeps repeating “big, honkin’ gun.”

I can only imagine how Lanae felt, to have a police officer approach her vehicle with a mammoth weapon in the pitch black of the night.

We pull out the map and figure a new route for her to get home. And she leaves, even though I suggest she stay overnight.

That night I dream, about an escaped prisoner holding my family hostage. I know this nightmare comes from my sister’s experience, from my subconscious fear.

Later I learn there was no accident, no hostage situation, but rather people shooting at bats with a shotgun. A story in the local newspaper reports the bat shooters used 28 shells. Law enforcement arrived because of shots fired and apparently the situation was still unfolding when Lanae drove into the area.

I am relieved, but angry that my sister had to go through this frightening experience because of such stupidity.

How crazy are these people, to fire shotguns in the dark of night, at bats?

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the Bode family heritage August 20, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:21 PM
Photo copies of my great grandparents, Karl and Anna Bode, were displayed at the Bode family reunion on August 16 in Courtland, Minnesota.

Photo copy portraits of my great grandparents, Karl and Anna Bode, were displayed at the Bode family reunion on August 16 in Courtland, Minnesota.

This stained glass window is among many from the old church building incorporated into Immanuel Lutheran's new house of worship.

This stained glass window is among many from the old church building incorporated into Immanuel Lutheran's new house of worship.

Voices raised in unison, we sang, “God’s Word is our great heritage and shall be ours forever… Lord, grant while worlds endure, we keep its teachings pure through-out all generations.”

While we sang this hymn, accompanied by the same pipe organ that has graced Immanuel Lutheran Church in rural Courtland for 114 years, I sensed the presence of those who had gone before us. In the music, in the stained glass windows, in the polished pews, I felt the closeness of family.

“You have a great heritage of faith,” said the Rev. Wayne Bernau, as he welcomed those of us gathered for worship this past Sunday morning. Afterwards, we would meet for a Bode family reunion in a day of food and talk and sharing of our history, here, upon this soil where our forefathers settled, farmed the land, built this country church, and now lay buried in the adjacent cemetery.

The pastor read, his tongue tripping over the German words inscribed upon the tombstones of my maternal great-great and great grandparents. I strained to hear and understand the German I had once learned, had spoken, had now mostly forgotten, this, the native tongue of my ancestors.

Later, in the cemetery, several of us would try to decipher the German: “Das blut Jesu Christi des Sohnes Gottes macht uns rein von aller sünde.” The blood of Jesus Christ, the son of God, makes us clean from all our sins.

We gave up trying to translate a bible verse from the book of Psalms and instead laughed, then apologized to our great-great grandparents, Karl and Luise Bode, for our language lapse. We posed for a photo behind their tombstone, laughing some more, hoping they appreciated our joyfulness, even in a graveyard.

Again, that closeness of family prevailed, as we recited the books of the bible in an effort to determine the source of another gravestone verse. Recitation. Good Lutherans remembering their memory work, just like the good Lutherans before us.

And then, across the grass we walked, past numerous tombstones chiseled with the Bode name. Bodes everywhere. Some from our branch of the family; some from others.

We paused before the graves of Karl and Anna Bode, our great grandparents. More photos.

And then, a snake skin discovered, picked up. The mood turned playful as a slithering baby garter snake was snatched from the grass, passed around to some, shunned by others. Again, we felt, not disrespectful, but embracing of grandparents who likely would have valued our humor.

Later, we sat elbow-to-elbow beside our Bode relatives, dining on grilled pork chops, potatoes and an assortment of other food. Then, for dessert, the absolutely perfect choice—ice cream with “skunk cookies.”

Fudge-striped cookies to most. But to those of us who are the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Lawrence and Josephine Bode, “skunk cookies,” a name derived from the chocolate stripes that slice through the store-bought cookies grandpa always kept in his kitchen after grandma’s death.

Memories. Family. Blessings.

Heritage through-out all generations, shared on a Sunday afternoon in August at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, during a reunion of about 150 Bode family members.

A snippet of a photo from the July 1938 family reunion in Courtland attended by 511 Bodes. My grandparents, Lawrence and Josephine Bode, are in the center of the picture, between the adults holding the babies.

A snippet of a photo from the July 1938 family reunion in Courtland attended by 511 Bodes. My grandparents, Lawrence and Josephine Bode, are near the center of the picture, between the adults holding the babies.

Bode family members, including me, behind the letter "B," gather around the grave of my great-great grandparents, Karl and Luise Bode.

Bode family members, including me behind the letter "B," gather around the grave of my great-great grandparents, Karl and Luise Bode.

Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, rural Courtland, is filled with the gravestones of many Bodes. This particular Bode tombstone does not belong to one of my direct relatives.

Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, rural Courtland, is filled with the gravestones of many Bodes.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Return to my blog for more photos of Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, the home congregation of my forefathers.)

 

The friendly Oliver 1655 August 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:16 AM
The beautiful "eyes" of an Oliver 1655.

The beautiful "eyes" of an Oliver 1655.

Vintage 1970s Oliver 1655

Vintage 1970s Oliver 1655

If you grew up on a farm, you likely harbor a fondness for a particular brand of ag machinery.

For me, it’s the John Deere. Nothing quite matches the distinct putt-putt-putt I remember of my dad’s yellow-trimmed green tractor.

And then there was always that annual social outing to John Deere Day at the implement dealership in Redwood Falls. I recall little about that event except watching John Deere movies at the local movie theater and eating vanilla ice cream from a little plastic cup with a wooden spoon. One year my cousin Kevin won a coveted silver dollar in a door prize drawing.

Such memories.

I also have an affinity for the B Farmall, the tractor I learned to drive around the farmyard as a youngster.

Those tractors are long gone, replaced by bigger, more powerful equipment.

Fortunately, many rural folks today appreciate vintage tractors, collect and restore them. Like this Oliver 1655 from a Faribault area farm. Since I’m more of a John Deere girl, I really know nothing about Olivers, only that this 1970s Oliver 1655 appeals to me visually.

I mean, just look at that friendly face with those big, gorgeous eyes.

An identifying name on the Oliver 1655

New Idea built the loader on this Oliver 1655.

A Faribault area farmer collects Olivers, including a 1655 from the 1970s.

A Faribault area farmer collects Olivers, including a 1655 from the 1970s, which he still uses to farm.

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wabasso, home of the white rabbit August 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:04 AM
This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso, a small farming community in southwestern Minnesota.

This road-side sculpture welcomes travelers to Wabasso, a small farming community in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota.

Wabasso's water tower, painted in the school colors and adorned with a white rabbit, the school mascot.

Wabasso's water tower, painted in the school colors and adorned with a white rabbit, the school mascot.

Does Minnesota exist west of Mankato?

Of course it does.

But I’ve noticed through the years that lots of southeastern Minnesotans think the state’s western border ends in Blue Earth County. Heck, a lot of metro residents think there’s nothing outside of “the Cities,” except Duluth and Brainerd and maybe St. Cloud and Rochester.

So when I tell folks I grew up on a farm outside of Vesta and graduated from Wabasso High School, I typically get a blank stare, a questioning look, a “where’s that?”

I then follow up with my own question: “Do you know where Redwood Falls is? Marshall? Vesta is along highway 19 half-way between the two towns.”

If that explanation still doesn’t work, I say, “southwestern Minnesota.”

Yes, I’m proud of my home area, where I traveled this past weekend for my 35-year Wabasso High School class reunion. WHS is in Wabasso, a town of 650 in the heart of Redwood County and a 20-mile bus ride from my childhood home.

Wabasso—home of the rabbits, the white rabbits. Please don’t laugh.

Through the years, we Wabasso students took our share of ribbing about the school mascot. I mean, compared to Wildcats and Tigers and Falcons, a lowly rabbit fails to evoke any image of strength or fierceness.

But there’s a reason behind the mascot. And it is found in the translation of Wabasso, a Native American word for “white rabbit.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow even wrote about Wabasso (not the town) in his epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which is based on native stories and legends.

Longfellow writes in Part II, The Four Winds:

“But the fierce Kabibonokka
Had his dwelling among icebergs,
In the everlasting snow-drifts,
In the
kingdom of Wabasso,
In the land of the White Rabbit.”

Longfellow got it right on the “everlasting snow-drifts,” which, in the winter, spread like a vast sea of sculpted waves across the flat prairie.

As for a white rabbit… There’s a giant replica along State Highway 68 in Wabasso. That’s in southwestern Minnesota. You know, west of Mankato.

Wabasso's white rabbit

Wabasso's white rabbit

© Copyright 2009 Audrey Kletscher Helbling