Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A native Minnesotan reports from flooded Minot June 23, 2011

MY BROTHER-IN-LAW, Neil, lives in Minot.

But he ranks as one of the lucky residents of this North Dakota city. His house lies outside—albeit less than a mile away—and several hundred feet above the flood zone.

Yet, this Air Force man and Minnesota native isn’t sitting idly by because his home has not been threatened. He’s pitching in to help those who face the reality of losing their houses in the worst flooding since 1969.

In an e-mail I received from Neil early this morning, he shares information, insights and, yes, even advice about the current situation—which he terms “exhausting and discouraging”—in his adopted hometown. The overwhelmed Souris River in Minot is expected to crest on Sunday, some five feet higher than any previous flood stage in recorded history for the area, Neil says. The old record was set in 1881, before Minot was founded.

So that’s the situation facing this city, where some 12,000 residents, more than a quarter of the population, have been evacuated and where, says Neil, dikes in several neighborhoods were breached on Wednesday.

Neil has assisted two families in exiting the city.

He writes: “I helped a lady from our church on Monday night as she moved everything either to the second floor or attic. What didn’t go upstairs went into a horse trailer that her brother brought in from out of town late that night. She seemed to take things in stride. Her house was also flooded in ’69 (before it was her house), but came through it okay. It’s extremely well built, nearly 100 years old. This lady trusts that God will provide for her needs, even if her house washes down the river.”

Neil next joined efforts to help his boss’s family. His boss is deployed to Afghanistan.

“I lost track of how many people were there to help them,” Neil writes. “We also helped them three weeks ago, when we moved everything out of their sopping wet basement to the upper floor and garage. Because of the shortage of time allowed to evacuate, we left almost everything there that time. Because of the expected height of the floodwaters and the advance preparation time, we decided to clear everything out of their house this time.”

Yet, Neil continues, “There were easily several pickup loads of stuff that we left behind simply because there wasn’t enough time/energy/resources to move it all.”

At this point my brother-in-law pauses and suggests that we all re-evaluate our possessions, deciding what we really need and what we don’t. “Go through your house and garage and get rid of anything that you haven’t laid eyes on or used in the past three years.” He intends to do exactly that at his Minot home, which is currently on the market; he’s been reassigned to an Air Force base in Missouri.

When Neil and his wife, who is already in Missouri, purchased their house several years ago, they purposely stayed away from the flood zone. “A contractor that we spoke to before buying a house told us the down sides of several locations in this town. One specific neighborhood that he told us to steer clear of is the exact one that we helped my boss’s family move out of; he told us that he wouldn’t even consider building a house down there because the whole area was under water in the flood of ’69,” Neil says.

And then my brother-in-law adds this final statement: “Dikes give people a false sense of security.  No one presently living in this town will ever doubt that again!”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A historic bank and White Buffalo Calf Woman

SET ME IN FRONT of an architecturally-stunning historic building and I’m in history heaven.

Just look at the lines, the colors, the window leading, the carvings…of the Old First National Bank of Mankato building, now a Verizon Wireless Center reception hall.

I didn’t step inside the former bank, didn’t even try a door. I was content last Saturday afternoon to view the exterior with its Prairie School style architecture.

“It’s like that bank in Owatonna,” my husband said as we gawked at the building built of brick, Mankato limestone and terra cotta along Civic Center Plaza in downtown Mankato.

He was, of course, referring to Chicago architect Louis Sullivan’s “jewel box,” National Farmer’s Bank in Owatonna, a brick building with terra cotta accents, splendid for its stained glass windows, arches and other architectural details.

The Mankato building features Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired stained glass and detailed ornamentation along the roof line.

And now it also showcases a bronze sculpture of White Buffalo Calf Woman by South Dakota artists Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby as part of Mankato’s City Art Walking Sculpture Tour.

 

If you peer at the woman’s face, examine her beaded moccasins and the trim on her buckskin dress and pouch, you’ll notice how the colors mimic those of the historic bank building. Whether this Native American sculpture’s placement was planned or accidental, I don’t know, but it fits seamlessly with the historical vibe of the locale, enhancing the whole art viewing experience.

The city of Mankato, apparently named after a varied translation of the Dakota word Mahkato, meaning “blue earth,” owns a place in Minnesota and national history for the mass hanging of 38 Dakota here on December 26, 1862. Three hundred warriors were accused of killing civilians and soldiers and of other crimes during the U.S.-Dakota Conflict. After a public outcry, President Abraham Lincoln commuted the sentences of all but 38. Certainly, Mankato is not proud of this moment in history. But efforts have been made to honor the Dakota at monuments in the city.

And now sculptures like White Buffalo Calf Woman also help heal and educate the public about the Native American culture. According to information on the sculpture placard, this prophetess is the only religious icon accepted by all Native American tribes. She “brings a message of healing, hope and peace among the races to all the people.”

More than just art, I also got a history lesson along a Mankato city street on a Saturday afternoon in June.

PLEASE VIEW MY JUNE 20 post for more photos and information about the Walking Sculpture Tour. Additional images will be forthcoming.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling