Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Top Minnesota Prairie Roots posts honor “strong women” December 31, 2010

GARRISON KEILLOR, in defining the residents of his fictional Lake Wobegon, characterized all the women as strong.

The same could be said for four women I met this past fall while pulling together a series of stories that I’ve selected as my most memorable posts of 2010 here at Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I had no difficulty choosing my favorite posts, because, hands down, the eight stories I wrote in the aftermath of devastating southern Minnesota floods were clearly the most powerful, emotional and heart-wrenching stories I shared in 2010.

A Zumbro Falls home destroyed by the late September flood.

These posts, interestingly enough, evolved by accident. My husband and I were on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors when we drove into Zumbro Falls, a Wabasha County town of some 200 that was inundated with late September floodwaters. Everywhere we looked, we saw damaged homes.

That’s where I met Zumbro Falls resident Tracy Yennie, who lost her home in the flood. This hard-scrabble young woman willingly shared her story, as did Jackie (I didn’t get her last name), Susie Shones and Katie Shones of nearby Hammond.

Tracy Yennie hangs out in downtown Zumbro Falls 2 1/2 weeks after floodwaters destroyed her home..

These women spoke openly, honestly and frankly about their frustrations, their fears and their concerns about the future. Yet, despite that, they, Yennie especially, maintained a semblance of humor. When Yennie pondered my question about life returning to normal, she replied: “What’s normal? Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”

Throughout their ordeal, Zumbro Falls residents maintained a sense of humor, like that seen in this sign I photographed on the garage of a flood-damaged split-level house along Water Street.

If you have not read these powerful interviews with the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond, then go to “Archives” on my home page, click on “October 2010” and scroll to my October 11, 13 and 14 posts.

You will be impressed by the strength of these women.

In addition to these four, I will also remember a family that was cleaning up their flooded Zumbro Falls property. I asked to photograph them, but the mother lashed out at me, refusing my request. In that moment and in the next moment, when I saw the blank, sad look on her young daughter’s face, I realized the personal, emotional depth of this tragedy.

I was forever changed by that encounter.

The flood-damaged garage of the Zumbro Falls resident who refused my request for a photo.

My stories also brought out the goodness in others. Gary Schmidt of the Twin Cities responded to a November 12 appeal for help in the flooded region. He offered to bring some 10 volunteers to Hammond for several days around January 20. He’s with a church group that has assisted flood victims during the past six years in New Orleans, Rushford, Iowa City and Indiana.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery in Hammond, where a portion of a building once stood. The building was lying in a heap in the street.

When I last heard from Schmidt, he was coordinating with a Woodbury church group that helped earlier in Hammond and with Katie Shones, the Hammond resident I interviewed.

You can expect me to follow-up on that volunteerism.

And, next fall, you can expect me to revisit the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond. I’ve promised them I’ll return.

A sign of hope in Zumbro Falls, next to a gas station, on my visit there less than three weeks after the flood.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




Minnesota Prairie Roots’ top 10 posts for 2010

WHAT WERE THE MOST-VIEWED Minnesota Prairie Roots posts during 2010?

Surprisingly, three of the posts which are in the top five this year were also in the top five last year.

But I’m going to keep you in suspense about those posts as we count down, beginning with the 10th most-viewed post in 2010.

10) “Inspired by Dr. Seuss: My sister’s fat cat,” a Dr. Seuss-type poem published along with three photos of my sister’s cat came in at number 10 with 392 views.

My sister's fat cat, Sable.

9) Whenever I write about old churches, I’m almost guaranteed that my readership that day will soar. So I was not surprised to learn that “Inside the 1894 Valley Grove Church” ranks as my ninth most popular post for 2010 with 411 views. In this story, I take readers inside the historic hilltop country church near Nerstrand.

Simplistic Norwegian style inside the 1894 Valley Grove Church, as viewed from the balcony.

8.) I have no idea why “Saturday ‘steals’ (deals)” held so much interest for Minnesota Prairie Roots readers. Maybe the 447 viewers who clicked on this story are avid garage-salers, just like me, looking for a deal.

The "new" Toshiba TV my husband got for free at a church rummage sale.

7) Like churches, barns bring lots of readers to Minnesota Prairie Roots. In “I love old barns,” I show readers the barn where I labored as a child—feeding cows, scooping manure, bedding straw and more. This post got 484 views.

The early 1950s barn on the Redwood County dairy farm where I grew up is no longer used.

6) When floods ravaged southern Minnesota this fall, I was there, photographing the disaster and interviewing survivors. My “Flooding in Faribault” post (among numerous flood stories) got 519 views.

A roadway arrow on flooded Second Avenue N.W. by the Faribault Foods office directs motorists into North Alexander Park.

5) “Henna tattoos and body art by a “gypsy woman,” which was the fourth most popular in 2009, fell a notch to fifth place in 2010. I still cannot figure out why this story about a henna tattoo artist at the Kenyon Rose Fest has drawn so much interest, with 530 views in 2010.

Henna art at the Kenyon Rose Fest

4) “An autumn drive in Rice County, Minnesota” attracted 549 views as I took readers on a Sunday afternoon drive through the countryside. Local tourism officials, take note. I’ve done my share to draw attention to the Faribault area.

A corn field ripens against a back drop of trees.

3) “Preserving the past at Immanuel, Courtland, MN.,” which was the most- read post last year, slipped to third in 2010 with 623 views. In this story, I take readers inside the home congregation of my maternal forefathers.

A view of Immanuel from the church balcony.

2) The second-place ranking of  “In praise of preserving country churches” does not surprise me as this post was featured on the homepage of WordPress.com on July 10. The Freshly Presssed selection garnered a record number of blog visitors, 1,052, on a single day. This post had 1,304 views in 2010.

An altar painting was transported to Moland Lutheran Church south of Kenyon by horse-drawn wagon from Faribault in 1893.

1) Finally. Number uno, the most viewed post during 2010 was written on November 5, 2009, following a presentation at Faribault High School. “Rachel’s Challenge: Start a chain reaction of kindness,” about the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, got 1,702 views. Last year, this was also one of my most popular stories, coming in at number five.

Rachel Scott, who died at Columbine, and the inspiration for Rachel's Challenge.

I wish I could explain the reasons behind the top 10 rankings. Some I can. I’ve noticed that certain topics—like churches and barns—really interest readers. But henna tattoos and fat cats? Figure that out.

IF YOU MISSED ANY of these most-viewed posts, click on the highlighted titles/words, which will link you to the stories.

DISCLAIMER: These are unscientific results given I simply pulled stats from my administrative page but did not factor in how long, for example, a post has been on Minnesota Prairie Roots. That can skew numbers. However, I am confident the above summary is fairly accurate.

CHECK BACK FOR MY PERSONAL favorite posts of the year.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling