Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Flood clean-up help needed in Faribault and surrounding area September 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:26 PM
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Floodwaters flooded this rural home (left) at the intersection of Minnesota Highway 3 and Rice County Road 29 north of Faribault. This photo was taken late last Saturday morning from CR 29 by the Straight River bridge.

IF YOU’RE WILLING AND ABLE, you can assist residents of Faribault and the surrounding area with clean-up following last week’s devastating floods.

That’s according to a Code Red recorded telephone message I just received from Rice County Sheriff Richard Cook. After I got over the initial scare of hearing the words “Rice County Sheriff’s Department,” I listened, and then listened again to the request.

Here’s the deal: If you can volunteer with flood clean-up, report to the volunteer coordination center at the Rice County Fairgrounds 4-H building in Faribault. Or, you may register to volunteer by calling (507) 332-6234.

Those in need of clean-up assistance may also call (507) 332-6234.

Click here for flood information updates from Rice County.

If you can assist, please do. Organize your friends, your co-workers, fellow church members, neighbors, whomever, and help with the clean-up.

Rice County Road 29 northeast of Faribault was closed last week due to flooding in the area along the Straight River. The road and adjoining Highway 3 were reopened by Sunday.

The rushing Straight River touched the underside of the Rice County 29 bridge.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating history and heritage at Christdala Church

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:45 AM
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Christdala's 1880 altar and pulpit join at the front of the Swedish Lutheran church.

THEY COULD NOT HAVE KNOWN, but a hymn they/someone chose for the annual church celebration happened to be my favorite.

Beautiful Savior, King of creation,

Son of God and Son of Man!

Truly I’d love thee, truly I’d serve thee,

Light of my soul, my joy, my crown.

And so I sang, in verse two of fair meadows. Verse three, of bright the sparkling stars on high. And the final verse—glory and honor, praise, adoration.

Only occasionally did I glimpse at the service program, at the words I’d memorized in childhood, sung decades later at my wedding. Beautiful Savior.

Everything about Sunday afternoon at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church in rural Millersburg was beautiful. Sunshine. The pure, clear voice of the soloist singing of saints gathering at the beautiful river. The wisps of steam rising from a percolating coffee pot that I glimpsed through a church window while sitting in a front pew. Art on the lawn by my friend Rhody Yule.

On this September day, descendants of the Gustafsons and other Swedish immigrants who founded this church in 1877 gathered to celebrate their heritage and the 1878 Gothic Revival style wood-frame church that has been preserved.

Voices raised together in song, accompanied by the 1886 pump organ, the church’s second organ. Heads tilted to hear the pastor speak: “Jesus is all about setting us free. Today you are set free.”

The clunk of wood as worshipers settled into pews. Bread dipped into wine. Bowed heads and box elder bugs.

And outside, on the lawn, ham sandwiches and lefse and cake in a lunch spread out on tables, in an open stretch of grass between gravestones.

Hugs exchanged. Here, atop a hill, they gathered—friends and family—to worship, to honor the Swedish immigrants who established this congregation, Christdala, Christ’s Valley.

Communion ware at Christdala and a memorial inscription on the altar cross.

Christdala's baptismal font

Numbers on the hymn board mark the celebration date, September 26, 2010.

Hymn board numbers are worn from years of use, reflecting the long history of this church.

Restoration and preservation of Christdala was detailed, right down to matching the replacement carpet, left in photo, to the original framed carpet sample at the right.

Reminders of the Swedish heritage rest atop a cupboard in a corner of the sanctuary.

All of the windows in Christdala are tipped in blue and yellow, the colors of the Swedish flag. This shows the front door opening south to an archway that frames the valley below.

Inside the entry of Christdala, fresh fall flowers sit next to a print of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

The front doors of Christdala open to reveal a painting of the church hanging inside the entry.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church sits atop a hill along Rice County Road 1 west of Millersburg.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An attack in Argentina and how I’m dealing with the crime in Minnesota September 29, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:50 AM
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WHEN THE PHONE RANG early Tuesday afternoon and I picked up to a dial tone, I didn’t think much of it. Just another telemarketer, I figured. But then, the phone sounded again and my 20-something daughter was on the line, speaking to me from Argentina.

“It’s good to hear from you,” I say, surprised really that she is calling given we spoke only several days earlier.

“Well, uh, Mom, I was robbed last night,” she tells me.

I am shocked, momentarily speechless, until I spit out the dreaded words, “Are you OK?”

She is. But her purse and all of its contents are gone—her debit and credit cards, and other important identification, her cell phone and camera. She is stranded, without money, or access to money, with only her passport, in northern Argentina, hours and hours away from her temporary home in Buenos Aires and 6,000 miles from her Minnesota home.

I am thankful, first, that she has not been physically hurt. She sounds fine; she’s had more time than me to digest what’s happened.

Then I ask for details because I need to know how this happened. My daughter shares how she and her friend Ivanna were walking through a “nice neighborhood” toward downtown around 8:30 p.m. Monday when a man came out of nowhere from behind them. He grabbed for my daughter’s purse and as she fought off her attacker, Ivanna screamed for help. Eventually the man got the purse as my daughter fell to the ground. Her assailant, in his mid 30s, sprinted away, hopping onto the back of a motorcycle driven by his accomplice.

Then my second-born tells me she saw no gun, no knife, and I am relieved, yet scared all over again thinking about the possibilities.

All I want is to see my daughter, to hug her, to feel her hair brushing against my cheek, to tell her I love her, to keep her safe.

But for now I can only listen and offer words and lay out a plan to deal with the aftermath of this crime. She and Ivanna immediately went to the local police station. My daughter tells me they waited for an interminable time to speak to the single employee who was working. Several other employees there were simply joking around, she says, and offered no assistance.

Vicariously I am already angry with the police system in this large northern Argentine city. I wonder what today will bring when the two must return to the police station to work on a composite sketch of their attacker.

Back here in Minnesota, I have already spent hours on the phone contacting companies and agencies about the stolen cards. Everyone I’ve talked to has been kind and understanding when I explain what has happened. That reduces the stress level some. Yet, all the phone calls, all the directives to do this and that are wearing on me. During several conversations my voice cracks and I struggle to keep from totally breaking down.

I know this could happen to anyone, anywhere. My oldest daughter, who lives in Minneapolis, tells me this, that this crime could happen on the streets of Minneapolis. She is right. Yet, when an assault like this occurs in a foreign country, 6,000 miles from Minnesota, the whole situation becomes more complicated by distance and communication issues.

I have no doubt that my daughter will recover. She is a strong woman.

As for me, I am counting the days now—23 of them—until she arrives at The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I cannot wait to have my daughter back, safe in my arms, far from the men who would rob her, and me, of our security.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Praise for a 92-year-old artist September 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:17 AM
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The historic Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church.

INSIDE THE SMALL country church, I place my hand atop his, the coolness of his skin seeping into the warmth of my fingers. I feel the slight tremble of his hand, a hand that for some seven decades lifted brush to canvas and metal and wood as he painted.

He is cold, even though dressed in layers. I am warm in my short-sleeved shirt. We wait—me in the stiff-backed pew and him in a folding chair.

In just a few minutes, I will introduce my 92-year-old artist friend to a sanctuary full of worshipers, briefing them on his life as a painter. But how do you condense seven decades of painting into 180 seconds? I do, because I don’t enjoy public speaking and I have time constraints.

He is Rhody Yule, a former sign painter by day. And by night he painted to express himself in hundreds of portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and religious scenes created through the decades.

On this Sunday afternoon we have come by invitation of the Christdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association of rural Millersburg to showcase nine of Rhody’s religious paintings, including one of Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church which he painted in 1969.

This is his debut public art showing and I am thrilled at the opportunity for Rhody, first the subject of a magazine feature article I wrote and now, I am honored to say, my friend.

A humble man of faith, who on more than one occasion has claimed that his paintings “ain’t nothin’” or “aren’t much,” deserves this public display of his art.

So on this perfect Sunday afternoon in September, when the sun filters through leaves tipped in red and golden hues, my husband and I have come to this hilltop site to set his paintings upon easels against the backdrop of the 1878 wood frame church. A woman in reverent prayer. Judas betraying Jesus. The Last Supper.

The simple lines of the church provide an ideal backdrop for Rhody's paintings.

Rhody's depiction of Judas betraying Jesus is among the paintings displayed.

"Our Glorious Savior," "The Empty Tomb" and "The Last Supper" on exhibit.

Jesus appears to, and blesses, doubting Thomas in Rhody's painting.

Rhody calls his painting of the suffering Christ, "Misery."

Here in the churchyard, on a strip of grass between the church and the gravestones of Swedish immigrants, those who have come for Christdala’s annual worship service/open house peruse the nine religious paintings, chat with Rhody, chat with me. They share their admiration for his art.

I am smiling. This is as it should be. Praise for the artist, the slight wisp of a man who, since age 16, has quietly sketched and drawn and painted for the joy of creating.

Artist Rhody Yule sits next to some of his paintings displayed at Christdala.

As the afternoon gathering draws to a close, Rhody gives his Christdala painting to the preservation society. I am unaware that he planned to do this. “It belongs here,” he tells me later. That is so Rhody, to quietly, without a big to-do, present his Christdala painting to those who will most appreciate it.

Rhody's 1969 painting of Christdala church.

THANK YOU to B. Wayne Quist for inviting Rhody and me to participate in Christdala’s annual open house. I am especially grateful for this opportunity to display Rhody’s art for the first time ever. He has also been accepted for a solo art show January 14 – February 26, 2011, in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for posts about historic Christdala, which closed in 1966.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault flooding, more photos September 27, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:48 AM
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This image, taken Saturday afternoon, shows flooded Second Avenue N.W. looking toward Faribault Foods' offices and canning company on the left, and the former Faribo Woolen Mill and Alexander North Park on the right.

FOR ANYONE WHO’S TIRING of my flood photos, I offer no apologies. Right now we Faribault residents are a bit obsessed with the natural disaster that has struck our town.

As I’ve toured the flooded areas during the past several days, I’ve discovered a sense of community that I’ve never felt in my 28 years here. As we gather along the banks of swollen rivers, peer over bridges, stand beside flooded roads, we understand that we are not only witnessing history, but we are a part of history.

That bonds us. We exchange stories—of raw sewage in basements, of failed sump pumps, of  “I’ve never seen the river this high.” While our stories may differ in detail, the setting, here, in our Midwestern community along the Cannon and Straight rivers, is the common thread that weaves together our experiences.

We can’t stop taking photos, which, pieced together, become a patchwork quilt of memories, of history, of stories.

This shot taken from North Alexander Park frames the former Faribo Woolen Mill along the banks of the flooded Cannon River. The two dams here are no longer visible, river water touches the bottoms of the two bridges and some park land is under water.

The flooded Cannon River by the former Faribo Woolen Mill on the right and Faribault Foods canning company on the left along Second Avenue N.W.. The Woolen Mill dam is no longer visible.

This picnic shelter in Father Slevin Park, on a wedge of land between two branches/two dams of the Cannon River by the former Faribo Woolen Mill was covered with river water.

Cannon River waters edged onto park land near the entrance to North Alexander Park.

Water from the swollen Cannon River covers the roadway into North Alexander Park.

The Cannon River skims both bridges along Second Avenue N.W. To the right is Faribault Foods canning plant.

The bike trail to the left (not pictured) near Second Avenue N.W. is flooded.

I shot this scene along Second Avenue N.W. by the Rice County Historical society. Homeowners through-out Faribault have been pumping water, or raw sewage, from basements.


ALL OF THESE FLOOD PHOTOS were taken Saturday afternoon, September 25, 2010, from North Alexander Park and along Second Avenue N.W. by the Rice County Historical Society.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A birthday treasure September 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:42 AM
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TODAY IS MY BIRTHDAY. I need to think for a minute exactly how old I am. Take 2010 minus 1956 and you get 54. Yeah, that would be right.

Funny how the years pass and you lose count after 40, or 50. Where did time go?

I bet my mom wonders that, too, today. How could her second-born of six already be “that old?” Yeah, how?

Birthdays back when I was growing up aren’t like birthday celebrations today. Years ago, we gathered with extended family—grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins—a whole houseful crammed into a farmhouse. Pans of bars. Red Jell-O. Summer sausage sandwiches. Homemade dill pickles. Coffee brewing in the kitchen. Bottled pop and Schell’s beer.

And when we left for home around midnight, we wished the birthday girl, or boy, “many more birthdays!” Tradition. Sweet words, sweet wishes.

Because my birthday fell the day after my parents’ wedding anniversary, I seldom “had company” on my birthday. The relatives would come the night before to celebrate the anniversary, then forget all about my special day.

But my mom made my birthday memorable by baking an animal-shaped cake, chosen from a slim book of cake designs. There was no present from my parents—they didn’t have the money for a gift—and I didn’t really know I should expect one. My animal-shaped cake was enough, although my godmother always sewed an outfit for me. She knew I needed new clothes more than anything.

One year my Aunt Rachel gave me a greeting card with an adjustable green-stone ring tucked into a treasure chest. An emerald in my eyes. I slipped the ring onto my skinny girl finger. I wore the ring every day, all the time, until one day I lost it.

Of all the birthday cards I’ve received in my life, I remember that one and how I cried when the mock emerald became buried treasure in our farmyard.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood art in Faribault September 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:10 PM
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IF BEAUTY CAN BE FOUND in floodwaters, then today I discovered it in these images I composed of Faribault Foods’ offices along Second Avenue N.W. across from the Rice County Historical Society.

Faribault's September 2010 flood will go down in the history books.

With “just right” lighting, with the building and landscape and sky reflecting upon the water in the flooded street, the scenes seem almost surreal. My unedited photos possess a serene quality that belies the angst the floodwaters have caused for residents and business owners and government officials.

A roadway arrow directs motorists from Second Avenue N.W. into North Alexander Park.

Just across the street, a resident pumped 3 ½ feet of raw sewage from his basement.

But you would never think that, viewing these images, this flood art.

The light and reflection create a surreal image of Faribault Foods.

This is my favorite image of the Faribault Foods' office. To me this appears more a painting than photo.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling