Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My classmate, Marlene, dies in a New Ulm house fire February 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:08 AM

Marlene (Schmidt) Gulden, senior class yearbook photo, Wabasso High School Class of 1974.

WHEN I HEARD of a house fire in New Ulm that claimed two lives Valentine’s Day evening, I considered for a fleeting moment that the victims might be known to me. My mom has lots of cousins living in the area. But, New Ulm is a fair-sized community, so what were the chances?

That all changed Monday evening, when I opened an e-mail from my Wabasso High School classmate, Sue. She delivered the news that our classmate, Marlene (Schmidt) Gulden, and Marlene’s husband, David, perished in the fire.

Although I have not kept in touch with or seen Marlene in some three decades, the news still hit me hard. I expect that classmates will die perhaps of a heart attack, cancer or motor vehicle accident. But a fire? No.

According to information published in The New Ulm Journal, the Guldens were pulled from their smoke-filled home and given CPR, but later died at the New Ulm hospital. The news story continues to explain how firefighters were hampered in their efforts when a second fire truck, and then snowplows, became stuck in the couple’s long, narrow, snow-filled driveway.

Truly, the deaths of Marlene and David are a tragic loss not only to their families and friends, but to the New Ulm community.

And within the community of Wabasso High School, Class of 1974, Marlene’s death, especially, has left us with aching hearts. In a class of 89 students, you know each other pretty well.

While Marlene wasn’t in my circle of closest high school friends, I certainly considered her a friend. Really, we were all friends.

When I think about Marlene, I remember her physical beauty—she had lovely straight hair that framed a beautiful face. She always looked nice.

But mostly, I remember her quiet inner beauty. And her kindness, yes, her kindness.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling