Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I’ve never met Garrison Keillor, but… June 8, 2011

SO, HOW WOULD YOU feel if a photo you took was incorporated into a video/slide show narrated by Garrison Keillor?

Would you slip on your red shoes, lace up the laces and dance a polka?

Since I don’t own red shoes like Keillor and I don’t polka, I enthused to my husband repeatedly about my stroke of luck. I haven’t really boasted to anyone else. We don’t do that sort of thing here in Minnesota. But, I thought maybe I could tell a few of you. A photo I shot of winter on the Minnesota prairie is part of a video/slideshow narrated by our state’s most famous storyteller.

Now, how does this happen to a blogger like me who happily blogs along each day with words and photos from Minnesota, without a thought, not a single thought, that Keillor may someday come into my life. Well, I didn’t exactly meet him and I haven’t exactly spoken to him, but…

A MONTH AGO, Chris Jones, director of the Center for Educational Technologies at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, commented on my January 7, 2010, blog post, “Wind and snow equal brutal conditions on the Minnesota prairie.” He was inquiring about using my photo of winter on the prairie in a video/slideshow for retiring President R. Judson Carlberg and his wife, Jan.

Typically I do not personally respond to comments via email. I am cautious that way, protective of my email address and of anybody out there who may not have my best interests in mind. So I didn’t, just like that, snap your fingers, fire off a response to Jones. First I sleuthed. Honestly, I had never heard of Gordon College and I sure can’t spell Massachusetts.

Here’s what I learned from the college’s website: “Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, is among the top Christian colleges in the nation and the only nondenominational Christian college in New England. Gordon is committed to excellence in liberal arts education, spiritual development and academic freedom informed by a framework of faith.”

I am Lutheran and that all sounded conservative enough for me.

So I emailed Jones, with several questions. You really didn’t expect me to not have questions, did you? I asked Mr. Gordon College guy: “Could you explain to me the nature of this video, which photo you are interested in using and where this video will be shown?”

That’s when he dropped Garrison Keillor’s name as the video/slideshow narrator. Sure. Yeah. Use my photo. Wherever. Whenever. Fine with me. Credit me and Minnesota Prairie Roots, send me a link to the completed video and allow me to blog about this and we’ve got a deal.

And so we did. Have a deal. After I promised not to publicly share the video with you. Sorry, I wish I could because it’s an entertaining media presentation, but I gave my word.

I also gave my word that I would make it clear to you, dear readers, that Garrison Keillor doesn’t just go around every day narrating surprise media presentations for college presidents’ retirement parties.

He met Jud and Jan Carlberg on a cruise. They struck up a friendship and, later, when the college was planning the video/slideshow, a Gordon writer “thought boldly, imagining this as a wonderful surprise for the Carlbergs, and started making inquiries,” Paul Rogati, Gordon’s CET multimedia designer, shared in a follow-up email. “When Mr. Keillor agreed to record the narration, the script was written for his style of monologue, with a reference to the winters on the prairies of Minnesota. Your image was a perfect match.”

"The photograph," taken along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota.

And that is how my photo taken in January 2010 along Minnesota Highway 30 in southwestern Minnesota became connected to Garrison Keillor.

My prairie picture is one of many, many, many images incorporated into this retirement tribute to a “tall Scandinavian scholar from Fall River, Massachusetts” who was inaugurated as Gordon’s seventh president “in a swirling March blizzard” in 1993.

Yes, the whole piece is pure “A Prairie Home Companion” style and it’s a pleasure listening to Keillor’s silken voice glide across the words penned by authors Jo Kadlecek and Martha Stout.

The monologue opens like Keillor’s radio show, but “on Coy Pond on the campus of Gordon College.” It is a pond which “sometimes freezes up solid enough to go ice fishing on,” Keillor professes. And “there are rumors of an ice fishing shack being built” by the retired president with more time on his hands.

Several other references are made to Minnesota in a presentation that mixes humor with factual information about the Carlbergs’ 35-year tenure at Gordon, a “college which includes Lutherans” and which offers students off-campus experiences in places like the Minnesota prairie.

Then, finally, at the end of the video, the Carlbergs are invited to “sometime come up to the prairies of Minnesota to see what winter is all about.” A snippet of my photo appears on the screen, slowly panning out to show the full winter prairie landscape frame.

I’m not sure which the Carlbergs will do first in their retirement—sneak past Gordon College security and park an ice fishing shack on Coy Pond or visit southwestern Minnesota in winter, where, no doubt, “all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.”


WHEN (not if) the Carlbergs travel to Minnesota in the winter, they will also see scenes like this on the southwestern Minnesota prairie:

An elevator along U.S. Highway 14 in southwestern Minnesota.

The sun begins to set on the Minnesota prairie.

Barns abound in the agricultural region of southwestern Minnesota, this one along U.S. Highway 14.

A picturesque farm site just north of Lamberton in Redwood County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


12 Responses to “I’ve never met Garrison Keillor, but…”

  1. Congrats! Now that you are linked up with the famous can we still call you by your first name???? All kidding aside – Glad to hear that they used a real photo of Minnesota in winter. Keep taking those pictures.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Nancy. I was impressed that Gordon College went to all the effort of securing, as you said, a “real photo of Minnesota.” They could have put in any winter image from anywhere and called it good.

  2. Bernie Says:

    Good for you! You should be proud.I’m proud of you. I’m also impressed and not surprised that you didn’t jump in and say yes right away. you are a good little sleuth.
    Now when I listen to A Prairie Home Companion I will think of you.
    Soon you will be too famous for us to talk to. *teasing*

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Maybe I should have added that I attended Garrison Keillor’s live radio show at Winona State University several years ago. That was a Christmas gift from our daughter and a great one at that.

      As for my detective skills, I apparently learned something from reading all those Nancy Drew mysteries while growing up.

  3. Aaron Brown Says:

    Congratulations! I’m always in awe of your eye for landscapes.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Thanks, Aaron. I think my “eye for landscapes” may have something to do with growing up on the wide, endless expanse of the prairie. I also always strive to pay attention to my surroundings, really seeing, not just looking.

      As you can likely tell, I shot this Minnesota winter prairie image through the passenger side windshield of the car. Often times the challenge lies in keeping the car windows clean enough for photography, especially during those winter months. And then I need to be quick enough to compose and snap a photo in a moving vehicle. Surprisingly, I’ve managed to capture some of my favorite photos while on the move.

  4. Bernie Says:

    Wow…impressed! I actually just finished reading one of Garrison’s books and ready to start another. I just giggle when I read them, cuz, yep pretty much how life typically is in small towns in the Midwest. Beautiful picture, as all of yours tend to be, but was hard for me to look at winter scenes..ugh, didn’t it just end?
    Heard through the grapevine that there was an article about you in the Gazette?? Did you post about that?
    Have a great day!

  5. Vince Morris Says:

    Call it a denouement, perhaps: http://www.gordon.edu/carlberg/obituary/

    Thanks for your role, along with Keillor’s, in timely celebration of a well-lived life.

    Vincent Morris, Gordon ’88

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