Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sunday morning message January 23, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:35 PM
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How would you finish this sentence?

This morning, during the children’s message at my church, the pastor emphasized the point of turning to God for help and strength. He showed the kids a hand-embroidered work of art, exactly like the one hanging on my living room wall.

I bought the piece this past summer at a rummage sale at the local Catholic school gym. I paid only 50 cents for this message that inspires and that was carefully, lovingly, stitched by someone who, like me, values these words.

Here’s how the sentence ends:

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Too cold to walk to school January 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:21 AM
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Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota, photographed last winter.

MY SON STAYED HOME from school yesterday. He refused to walk the eight or so blocks to Faribault High School.

I didn’t push the issue. The temperature outside was a bone-chilling, brutal, bitter 25 degrees below zero. Factor in the windchill and the air felt even colder.

I suggested he call a friend for a ride because our car, which has been causing us some problems lately, wouldn’t start—again. And my husband was long gone to work in Northfield with the van.

But my 16-year-old, who isn’t exactly a social butterfly, didn’t know who to call.

So I called the school, explained the situation and he got an excused absence. My son excels academically, so I wasn’t too worried about him missing a day of classes.

I wondered, only briefly, if I qualified as a bad parent by allowing my boy to skip school. But that was simply a fleeting thought as I considered whether I would walk eight blocks in such frigid temperatures. I wouldn’t.

Curious as to exactly how low air temperatures and windchills plunged in southern and central Minnesota from Thursday into Friday morning, I logged onto the National Weather Service Chanhassen office.

Morris, on the wind-swept prairie, recorded the lowest windchill reading, minus 46 degrees at 4 a.m. (I would later learn that International Falls in northern Minnesota recorded an air temperature of 46 degrees below zero.)

Redwood Falls, which lies 20 miles east of my hometown of Vesta, had a minimum windchill reading of minus 39 degrees at 6 a.m. The low temperature was 24 degrees below zero.

Over in Waseca, where two of my sisters and their families live, conditions were a tad warmer with a low windchill of minus 36 degrees at 3 a.m.

Here in Faribault, we had a minus 33 degree windchill reading at 12 a.m. Our lowest temp registered at 29 degrees below zero.

While windchills and air temps vary from one part of Minnesota to the other, the results are the same—it’s simply too darned cold to walk eight blocks to school, or anywhere.

CLICK HERE for a listing of National Weather Service Chanhassen office windchill and temperature readings for central and southern Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Summer is only five months away January 21, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:20 AM
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ON BRUTAL, double digit subzero days like today, when the cold invades your lungs, when tires crunch against brittle snow, when the cold air cuts sharp like a knife, when cars groan, when schools start two hours late, we Minnesotans wonder if winter will ever end.

It will.

In five or six or seven months we’ll have forgotten the cold and the snow and the ice and the long, dark days of winter as we enjoy…

a summer evening at a county fair…

corn-on-the-cob, garden-fresh potatoes and grilled pork chops…

the dog days of summer…

picking strawberries at a Minnesota berry farm…

native prairie coneflowers in bloom…

the sweet scent of freshly-mown alfalfa…

fishing from a dock or a boat…

instead of on the surface of a frozen lake.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The winters of my childhood January 20, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:56 AM
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You could hardly wait to rush out the door and slog through freshly-fallen snow, plowing furrows for a game of fox-and-goose.

You could barely wait for Dad to push bucketsful of snow from the farmyard with his tractor and loader into mountains suitable for scaling.


Three of my younger siblings and I pose atop a snow mountain our dad created in our southwestern Minnesota farmyard in this photo dated February 1967.

You excitedly dug into the sides of snowdrifts, hard as bedrock, to carve out snow caves.

You raced across the tops of those snowdrifts, up and down and all around the world of white.


Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

You packed snow into hard balls, aiming for siblings, wiggling and screaming at the brother who grabbed your collar and stuffed ice-cold snow down the back of your neck.

And when the snow was the perfect consistency, you rolled and packed it into big balls, shoving and grunting and straining, working together with classmates or siblings to build a snowman or a snow fort.

Such were the winters of my childhood on a southwestern Minnesota farm. Fierce. Brutal. But, mostly, fun.

Today, living through one of our snowiest winters in forever, I am reminded of those childhood winters. I would be wise to remember the fun I once experienced on the cold, snowy, wind-swept Minnesota prairie.


This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo. My uncle drove over from his nearby farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse. That's my mom and five of us kids atop the drift.

WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES of childhood winters?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Strike two January 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:41 AM
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Give me a softball glove and I'll miss the ball more than I'll catch it.

HAND ME A BAT to swing at a ball, and I’ll miss.

Place a bowling ball in my hand and I’ll throw it into the gutter.

Toss me a basketball and I’ll completely miss the basket.

Yes, I’m athletically inept. I possess not one ounce of athletic ability.

So when my husband’s boss and his wife hosted the annual company Christmas party recently complete with sports games, I didn’t rush to sign up for an event. I allowed my spouse to do that on my behalf as it really didn’t matter which sport he chose for me. I knew I would fail at all of them.

I suppose that’s not the attitude to have—a loser’s attitude before you lose.

But I know my abilities.

I did not disappoint myself in the dart throwing competition.

When I stepped up to the dart board and aimed, I succeeded in hitting the sheetrock more than the target. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the dart board is situated in a back, unfinished storage and exercise room, meaning that pocking the sheetrock with darts did not automatically disqualify me from competition.

To make my situation even worse, I had an audience, which throws my game even more. I do not like people watching me. But they didn’t stick around for long. Slowly, one-by-one, they slipped from the room as my competitor continued to whoop my butt. No one enjoys a boring game.

By the end of the night, when I once again failed to win a Cabela’s gift card, I decided this really wasn’t fair. There ought to be a game for those of us who are not gifted in sports.

I’d tried pool the previous year. Now I’d attempted darts. That left only Wii bowling, which I feared because I might toss the remote control through the expensive flat screen TV. (I was told a strap would restrain the remote, but I bet I could manage to dislodge and hurdle it like a real bowling ball.)

I excel at word games, so I suggested Scrabble.

That went over well, real well.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Craving comfort foods January 18, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:40 AM
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WITH THE START of a new year, I’ve tried to focus on eating healthier foods. Salads. More fruits and vegetables. Less bread. Less cheese.

The strategy worked for awhile. But then my body demanded more. Grilled cheese and tomato soup. Mashed potatoes and gravy. Macaroni and cheese.

So I caved in to my cravings. I couldn’t help myself. This time of year, in Minnesota, we tend to burrow into our homes, tuck ourselves under fleece throws while snuggled on the couch and wait for spring.

To ward off the winter blues that result from too much snow, cold and darkness, we often opt for hearty comfort foods with a lot of substance.

That said, the other night, instead of opening a boxed macaroni and cheese product, I opted for homemade. Years ago I always made maci and cheese from scratch using Velveeta. That’s how my mom made it, so that’s how I prepared it. But I wanted to try a different version.

I found a yummy recipe for Traditional Macaroni and Cheese on allrecipes.com. I loved the rich cheddar taste. The guys in the household rated it as much better than the boxed mac made with powdered cheese. (What’s in that stuff anyway?) But my husband says he prefers Velveeta to cheddar. Go figure. I’m sticking with the cheddar.


The mac and cheese I made from scratch and seasoned with extra pepper.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough comfort food for one meal, I made bread pudding for dessert with a recipe I also pulled off allrecipes.com. I adapted the Bread Pudding II recipe by substituting dried cranberries for the raisins, cutting the cinnamon to ½ a teaspoon and using only ½ a cup of sugar. I loved it and ate the bread pudding for dessert that evening and for breakfast the next day.

SO TELL ME, what comfort foods do you crave in the deep, dark depths of winter?


Bread pudding laced with dried cranberries because I prefer those to raisins.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The mystery of the brewery and bank paintings January 17, 2011

I DIDN’T GROW UP in Faribault. But I’ve lived here longer than any place in my life—28 ½ years—so I suppose that makes me somewhat of a local.

As such, I’ve developed an appreciation for the history that surrounds me, especially in the downtown. Faribault boasts a historic commercial district graced by many beautiful brick buildings.

So when two paintings of old Faribault buildings mysteriously showed up at my friend Rhody Yule’s art exhibit, I was intrigued. I knew the pieces in the exhibit inside and out, backward and forward, upside down and right side up because I submitted the application for Rhody’s show and then helped select the art.

Then, suddenly, these two additional paintings—of the Fleckenstein Brewery and the Security Bank—appear. How did they get there?


Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck's beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents toured the brewery.

In 1964, Rhody Yule painted this picture of the Security Bank in downtown Faribault. The original 1870 stone structure was covered with a brick facade. The building is no longer a bank.

I asked around, but no one could solve the mystery.

Thanks to my sleuthing husband, who thought to look at the backs of the paintings, the mystery was quickly solved and I had a name and number.

Local history buff Brian Schmidt owns the oil paintings. When he learned of Rhody’s art show, he hustled the two pieces down to the Paradise Center for the Arts because he figured others would be interested.

Brian was right and I had lots of questions for him, starting with, “Where did you get these paintings?”

Turns out he purchased them at Woody Schrader auctions, which are held on Sundays and Wednesdays at Schrader’s Faribault auction house.

As long as we were talking, I didn’t shy from asking Brian how much he paid for the paintings. He purchased the 1964 bank painting for $30 seven years ago. He got the 1976 painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery about 10 years ago for $90.

I told Brian he got a deal. He knew it.

But here’s the best part about this whole story. Brian grew up on the north side of Faribault and often dug for bottles in the “bottle pit” at the Fleckenstein Brewery. He’s also considered the local expert on the brewery, he says, and has some 300 collectible brewery items.

Who better to own these paintings than Brian?

“I love Faribault history,” says this Rice County Historical Society member who is always seeking treasures from the city’s past.

He can tell you that the Fleckenstein Brewery had a 108-year history in Faribault, opening in 1856 and closing in 1964. The Fleckensteins made Fleck’s beer and pop. He’s eager to share more and has invited me and my husband to see his collection.

For now, though, we focused primarily on those paintings.

“I was so glad to put to rest the mystery of the paintings that I own from Rhody Yule,” Brian wrote in an e-mail follow-up to our phone conversation. “I have often wondered where his studio was and who was the man behind the wonderful art work that I found. It was a pleasure to finally see the man who actually painted these wonderful paintings. I will cherish these paintings FOREVER now!”


The former Security Bank, today, along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.

The clock that graces the corner of the Security Bank building has fallen apart. A number of years ago there was discussion about refurbishing the clock, but that didn't happen, I believe, because of the high costs to undertake such a project.

The lovely stone entrance to the Security Bank.

FYI: Rhody Yule, who was a Faribault sign painter for 33 years, never had a studio. He painted quietly at home for enjoyment.

IF ANYONE OWNS paintings by Rhody, please submit a comment here and tell me about the art pieces you have.

If you would like to see the Security Bank and Fleckenstein Brewery paintings, which Brian Schmidt terms “so spectacular and detailed,” check out “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and noon – 5 p.m. Saturday. This first-ever gallery show for 92-year-old Rhody runs through February 26.

Other exhibit paintings of Faribault buildings include one of the old Trinity Lutheran Church and School and the Faribault Woolen Mill.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling