Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Riding out a storm in a camper along Lake Minnewaska August 3, 2011

A MONTH AGO, soon after my cousin Marilyn Schmidt and her husband, Dan, arrived at Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood, their daughter Heather Rokeh called with news that a storm had just swept through the Marshall area.

That was late Friday afternoon, July 1. The Schmidts would return to their farm 17 miles northeast of Marshall to find their home and outbuildings damaged by an EF-1 tornado.

A July 1 tornado caused this damage to the Schmidts' shop on their Wood Lake area farm. Eave troughs were ripped from their house and damage done to the roof and siding.

Fast forward a month to this past weekend, when the Schmidts gathered for a family camp-out at Waska Wood in Long Beach along the north side of Lake Minnewaska by Glenwood. Marilyn and Dan were the only two family members still at the lake when a storm rolled in around 7:30 a.m. Monday, August 1.

Unlike an earlier summer storm at the lake, when they had adequate warning and time to seek safety in a nearby shelter, this time the couple had only a moment’s notice—no warning siren—and no time to reach the shelter.

“We saw that we were suddenly in a warning to take cover on TV,” Marilyn says. “The wind hit hard and fast, lasting about one hour. It was scary as we were stuck to ride it out (in their new camper purchased on July 1 and delivered two weeks ago). The branches were flying and soon the trees were snapping and uprooting. We had a large cottonwood uproot behind our camper which fell next to our camper. We felt and heard the thump and the branches brush the trailer.”

The tree that fell behind the Schmidts' camper.

Marilyn, that would scare the you-know-what out of me, too. Last summer I rode out a storm packing 70 mph winds along Redwood County Road 5 north of Walnut Grove and that was scary enough, without the falling trees. You can read about that frightening experience by clicking here.

But back to the extended Schmidt family and their experience: Several of their campers were damaged with a tree crushing the front of one, holes punched into the roof on another with rainwater flooding the interior, and windows and deck rails broken.

A hole punched in a camper roof.

A broken bedroom window in a camper.

Despite all the damage, Marilyn’s daughter Heather says, “I’m just so thankful no one was hurt in all of these storms. I thank the good Lord everyday that he keeps us safe.”

Once the winds subsided, the Schmidts emerged from their camper to check on other park residents and to survey the damage. Trees were down everywhere with power lines. Mobile summer homes in the park next door were totaled by the storm. Boats and docks were ravaged.

That’s when Marilyn decided they should drive into Glenwood to buy a rake and help with clean up. They drove through a flooded State Highway 29, with the aid of a Minnesota Department of Transportation pilot car, into town. Glenwood was a mess with trees and power lines down everywhere, she says, and streets teeming with rescue and utility crews, plows and fire trucks.

Upon returning to the campground, the couple worked side by side with other campers cleaning up brush and debris. “I find it remarkable the resilience of people to quickly get to work and clean up everything,” Marilyn says. “…people were telling stories about how they took the storm. Some were emotional and in shock that such a storm would hit so soon again.” The storm a month earlier, with 80 mph winds and heavy rain, also caused significant damage.

Says Heather: “How unlucky can we all get? Seriously!”

I don’t know, Heather. A storm on July 1. A storm on August 1. If I were you, I’d keep a close eye on the sky come September 1.


© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Throw that ear of corn and other family reunion memories

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:17 AM
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“I WANT TO COME to your family reunion,” my friend Mike told me recently after I filled him in on all the fun my extended family has at our annual reunion.

That reunion happened this past weekend in Vesta, a town of about 300 in Redwood County in southwestern Minnesota. This is the place where my great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, settled and where their son, Henry, my paternal grandfather, raised his family.

Every year on the last weekend in July, we gather here—at the city park if the weather is nice, in the community hall if it’s too hot or rainy—to reconnect. Only once in recent years have I missed the reunion, for a wedding. Otherwise I keep my calendar clear for that date because, honestly, I love seeing my aunts and uncles and cousins and their families and my mom and siblings and their families.

Carli had a little fun with her name tag.

My Dad, who died in 2003, grew up with nine brothers and sisters, so you can imagine the size of our reunion, even when everyone doesn’t show up. We’ve finally resorted to wearing name tags the past two years just so we can identify everyone and who belongs to whom. And, yes, even the occasional boyfriend or girlfriend or other friend of a relative attends. We are welcoming that way.

Recently we infused new energy into a reunion that, for the younger generation, had become a bit boring. Seems they found simply sitting around, visiting and eating not all that exciting. I totally get that because even I want to do more than sit for hours.

Two years ago we added a Saturday evening campfire complete with homemade wine tasting, smores, snacks (Kletscher reunions always include lots of food), singing and old-fashioned games like gunny sack and 3-legged races. My cousin Vicki and her husband, Dave, also created a texting competition popular with the teens and young adults.

Family members toss ears of corn during the old-fashioned game competition Saturday night.

This year we didn’t have a campfire, but we still met at the park until the heat, humidity and mosquitoes chased us out around10 p.m. But we got in those old-fashioned games, with an ear corn toss added this year. Vicki and Dave also planned a few other games, including a treasure hunt. I teamed up with two cousins and an aunt and her elementary-age grandchildren. Smart move. When we adults determined that the clue “pop, popcorn and hot dogs” meant a concession stand, we pointed across the softball diamond and told the granddaughters to run. They did. We cheered them on.

More games continued following Sunday’s potluck. And let me tell you, the Kletschers know how to cook. Hotdishes crammed nearly every inch of one banquet table with salads and desserts jammed onto another.

Contestants in the Minute-to-Win-It competitions gathered around a table right after the potluck. To the left you'll see some of the food that family members brought. Many dishes had already been removed from the table.

We’d barely finished our meal when my sister Lanae set up the first of several Minute-to-Win-It games she pulled together. I stepped up to photograph the action. Last year I was in the thick of it, planning activities and leading a family trivia competition. This year I wanted to observe the fun.

And the kids had a blast. I could see it in their smiles and hear it in their laughter and in the pounding of their feet racing to the prize table.

Contestants had a minute to stack 36 plastic cups.

In another minute event, competitors maneuvered pasta onto spaghetti.

All ages participated in a rock-paper-scissors tournament coordinated by my cousin Jeff. I lost in the first round.

The younger kids could select a duck from the duck pond and win a prize.

Family members lined up to get temporary tattoos and their faces painted. I was among the first to get a tattoo. My cousin Greg, who didn't know about the tattoo parlor, saw my butterfly tattoo from across the community hall and said, "I didn't know Audrey had a tattoo." Well, now you know, Greg.

While planning games takes time and effort, it’s almost a necessity if we are to keep the young people interested in our reunion and connected as a family. By competing against each other or working together as a competitive team, they are getting to know one another. They are building memories.

Even my 17-year-old, who in years past grumbled about attending the family reunion, now looks forward to it. He protested when we told him we had to leave late Sunday afternoon for the 2 ½-hour drive back to Faribault.

Already the family in charge of next year’s reunion has selected a Mexican theme and is talking piñatas and tacos. We laughed at the idea since we’re a bunch of Germans. But we’ll go along with the theme, as long as we can bring our sauerkraut hotdishes.

CLICK HERE TO READ about the 2010 Kletscher family reunion in the blog post, “Making memories at a Minnesota family reunion with red Jell-O and, um, underwear.”

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling