Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Pancakes for paper May 13, 2011

MY KNEE JERK REACTION went something like this: I pay taxes and now the school is hosting a pancake breakfast to buy “needed supplies.”

Because things aren’t always as they seem, I called Faribault High School to inquire about the Pancake Breakfast flier which was mailed to me on Thursday along with my son’s mid-quarter grades and information about ordering a $75 high school yearbook.

When the woman who answered the phone couldn’t help, she transferred me to Assistant Principal Dennis Germann’s voicemail. He explained everything to me in two return phone calls and now I feel much better and more informed.

Faribault Masonic Lodge #9 and Faribault Eagles Club #1460 are teaming up to raise monies for school supplies for students at FHS. Notebooks, inexpensive calculators, paper, project supplies, etc. will be given to students who can’t afford to purchase those basics, Germann told me. He added that nearly 50 percent of FHS students qualify for free or reduced school lunches. Translate that into families that could use some extra help with school expenses. The United Way has provided some assistance in the past with school supplies.

Germann welcomes the monies that will be raised at the Sunday, May 15, Pancake Breakfast from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. at the Faribault Eagles Club. Cost of the breakfast, which includes all you can eat pancakes with a serving of sausage and eggs and milk, coffee or juice, is $7 for adults, $5 for students and free for those five and under.

It’s the first time apparently that the high school has been selected as the recipient of this Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. That’s why the flier caught me by surprise and I really didn’t understand the definition of “needed supplies.”

As the parent of a high schooler, and two FHS graduates, I’m happy to see secondary students benefiting from a fundraiser like this. Typically the focus is on elementary age kids. I know how quickly costs add up to buy school supplies for a teen. Last year, if I remember correctly, I forked out $100 for some fancy schmancy calculator my son needed for a math class. Students won’t get fancy calculators like that through this program (I think the school has some available to borrow). But at least they’ll get basic school supplies.

So much has changed in the decades since I graduated from high school and we really only needed 3-subject notebooks, pens, pencils, folders and loose leaf paper.

Now it’s way beyond paper, to needing computers and internet access at home. I bet many families out there can’t afford internet service. Thankfully free internet is available at the public library. But it isn’t always easy for students to get there when they need to do online research.

I wonder also about the cost of class field trips, if some students can’t afford even basic school supplies. I recently wrote a $27 check for my son to go on a field trip to the Science Museum to view the King Tut exhibit. I gave him another $15 for lunch, which even he told me was expensive. How do families with already stretched budgets manage these additional costs?

We shouldn’t need pancake breakfast fundraisers to supplement the cost of education. But we all know times are tough. So thanks, Eagles and Masons, for doing your part to organize this event that will help Faribault families.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tilt-A-Whirl tradition continues in Faribault

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed this Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire along Fourth Street in downtown Faribault in the fall of 2010.

AN AMERICAN ICON amusement ride made in Faribault since 1926 will remain here despite the sale of Sellner Manufacturing to a Texas company.

Jim Hermel and Mike Featherston, co-owners of Gold Star Manufacturing, recently purchased the fiberglass and staging portions of Sellner, I learned in a recent e-mail exchange with Hermel.

That’s good news for Faribault, where the Tilt-A-Whirl, perhaps America’s best-known carnival ride, has been made by the Sellner family since 1926.

If you didn’t realize the Tilt-A-Whirl was produced in Faribault, don’t fret your lack of knowledge. Not until I moved in 1984 into a house blocks away from the carnival ride maker, did I even know this icon ride was made in Minnesota, let alone Faribault.

Local State Representative Patti Fritz tried to get the word out in 2007 by introducing a bill to make the Tilt-A-Whirl Minnesota’s official amusement ride. However, that legislation failed.

My community has also missed the mark on tapping into this home-grown carnival ride as a tourist attraction. But now that the fiberglass ride car portion will continue to be produced here, I believe the opportunity still exists to promote the Tilt-A-Whirl. I’ve always envisioned a fun-focused carnival atmosphere museum and gift shop complete with Tilt-A-Whirl rides, cotton candy, popcorn, activities for kids and more.

Given the current economy, I doubt my vision for a Tilt-A-Whirl tourist site will happen any time soon, unless…

For now I’m content with the fact that Faribault-based Gold Star Manufacturing is contracting with Larson International, Inc., of Plainview, Texas, to manufacture the fiberglass cars for the Tilt-A-Whirl and for other amusement rides. The working machinery part of the business went toTexas.

Gold Star Manufacturing shipped its first carnival ride, Bear Affair, to Toronto, Canada, earlier this month.

Dizzy Dragons, one of the carnival rides that Gold Star will continue to manufacture.

Gold Star will also continue to make the fiberglass bodies for other Sellner-created carnival rides: the Bear Affair, Dizzy Dragons, Ships Ahoy and Pumpkin Patch. Another ride is in the works, Hermel says, and three other fiberglass products are in the development stage.

If anyone can succeed at revitalizing a company which fell into financial hardship, Hermel and Featherston would be the men.

Hermel comes to Gold Star Manufacturing with nearly 30 years in the tire business (selling almost 2 million tires, he says) and with 14 years as executive secretary and manager of the Rice County Fair.

“I wanted to get into something that would offer me a challenge,” the 59-year-old Hermel says.

His partner, Mike Featherston, brings a life-time of experience in the outdoor amusement industry to the new company. Featherston and his family own GoldStar Amusements, Inc., a traveling entertainment business with amusement rides, food and games based in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, and Louisiana. GoldStar contracts for the midway at the Rice County Fair.

Featherston was recently elected second vice chair of the Outdoor Amusement Business Association which aims “to encourage the growth and preservation of the outdoor amusement industry through leadership, legislation, education and membership services.”

Now, as co-owner of Gold Star Manufacturing, Featherston is certainly fulfilling one of those missions by keeping an iconic American carnival ride in production, in Faribault. He and Hermel are continuing the legacy of Herb Sellner who built the first nine-car wooden Tilt-A-Whirl 85 years ago.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Bear Affair photo courtesy of Gold Star Manufacturing