Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

One year later: A thank you party in flood-damaged Hammond September 21, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, residents of  Zumbro Falls and nearby Hammond were evacuating their homes during a devastating flash flood.

They were not prepared—could not have been prepared—for the rapidly rising Zumbro River that would inundate their homes and businesses on September 23/24, displacing them for months and many of them permanently.

Within three weeks of the flooding, while on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors, my husband and I drove into Zumbro Falls. There I met Jackie, Tracy and Susie. Just down the road in Hammond, I met Katie.

Tracy Yennie of Zumbro Falls, whom I photographed shortly after the flood which left her without a home and living temporarily in a shed.

These four women shared their stories and frustrations and worries with me. In return, I published what I today consider some of the most powerful posts I have ever written. Click here to read this flood series published on October 11, 2010.

Flooding in Hammond, one year ago. Photo by Susie Buck.

My coverage of the flood did not end then. These women so impressed me with their fortitude, their strength and their outspokenness that I continued to follow one of them, Katie Shones of Hammond, throughout the year. Katie was my go-to person any time I wanted an update from her Wabasha County community of 230. Not once did she suggest that I was intruding into her life. In fact, she has gone above and beyond in answering my many questions. She also introduced me to her dear friend, Tina (Marlowe) Mann.

Tina and I have never met, but we’ve corresponded numerous times via e-mail. Like Katie, Tina has always, always, been forthright and open with me. She allowed me to share her story in a March 13-19 series. Click here to read the first of those six posts.

Via my connections with Katie and Tina, I was able to inform you of the need for volunteer help in Hammond. And at least two readers responded with crews to assist in Hammond. Others of you may have responded in ways that I’ll never know.

This weekend Hammond is celebrating its recovery with a “Thank You” party. “We would like anyone who was impacted, donated, volunteered, or showed compassion for Hammond to come back down and see how far we’ve come and allow us to show our appreciation – the Hammond way!!!” Tina wrote in a recent e-mail. She invited me to attend and said I could spread the word.

So, if you fall into that “impacted, donated, volunteered or showed compassion for Hammond” category, make your way to this picturesque riverside berg on Saturday, September 24, to celebrate with Tina and Katie and their families and the other residents, and former residents, of Hammond.

The first day back into their flooded Hammond home, Vicki and Dallas Williamson had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. The family did not move back. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Tina, who now serves on the city council; Hammond Bar co-owner Janice Farris; Hammond Café co-owner Cindy Campbell; former Mayor Judy Radke; and flood-affected resident Beau Mischke did the initial planning for the party and pulled in many local residents to help with activities, according to Tina.

Here’s the schedule of events:

  • 2:30 p.m., park dedication
  • 2:45 p.m., Kiddy Carnival
  • following the carnival, horseshoes at the Hammond Bar & bean bags at the Hammond Cafe
  • 3 p.m., corn husking in the park
  • 5 p.m., free sweet corn and hot beef sandwiches
  • Also, live music by Led Penny and Bad Logic and fireworks at dusk.

As you might guess in a small town, the entire event and door prizes are being covered by donations from businesses, residents, friends of Hammond and clubs. I’m not going to list them for fear of omitting someone.

Suffice to say you would be impressed.

And just one more thing. Tina tells me that by the end of the month, 12 crab apple trees will be planted on Main Street and in the east end of the park in honor of the children of Hammond affected by the flood.  Those, too, have been donated, by a Rochester nursery and garden center. Click here to read an earlier post about the affect of the flooding on Katie Shones’ children.

I never doubted that the folks of southeastern Minnesota would rebound from the devastating flood of September 2010. I knew it when I met Jackie, Tracy, Susie and Katie. These are strong, determined women. Nothing would stop them from reclaiming their communities.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

CHECK BACK FOR A POST tomorrow in which Tina Mann shares her thoughts on the past year and how her community has worked toward recovery. As in the past, Tina speaks with an honest, open voice that will touch your heart.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hurting hearts in need of prayer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:30 AM
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WHAT DO YOU SAY? What do you say? What do you say to your sister-in-law who has just learned that her father has died in a single-vehicle accident in southwestern Minnesota?

What do you say when your heart hurts, when all you can do is cry and you need to console someone who is hurting more than you?

What do you say?

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry… I love you.”

As your voice breaks and the tears fall and there is silence on the other end of the phone line, you pull yourself together. Not because you can, but because you must. You want your sister-in-law to hear you speak, to feel your love embracing her, in your words, on the worst day of her life.

This was my Tuesday.

First came the phone call early Tuesday morning from my other sister-in-law with the news which sent me reeling, my heart racing, the tears flowing in a river of grief.

“… dad was killed in a car accident last night…”

Sketchy details that don’t matter because they won’t bring him back—the husband, the father, the grandfather, the brother, the uncle, the man loved by so many.

It is my duty to inform three of my younger siblings, my mom… What do I say? How can I tell them?

So I phone my husband first, barely able to still my trembling fingers to punch the numbers into my cell phone. I can hardly get the words out, to tell him the awful, awful news. He offers to call my family. But I tell him, “No, I can do this.”

And I do. First my brother, who is on vacation and whom I am unable to reach. In my voice message I instruct him to call me, that it is important.

Then I speak to my sister, who will contact my other sister.

I call my eldest daughter, leave a message with the other daughter. My son will get the news when he arrives home from school.

And then I must tell my mom. But I don’t want her to be alone, so I call my aunt—her neighbor—to deliver the news in person. I phone my mom 10 minutes later, after my aunt has arrived, and my grief breaks through again in words overwhelmed with emotion.

Later my aunt phones to tell me we reached my mom just in time, before a friend called with the news of Steve’s death. In a small town, word travels quickly.

And so my Tuesday ebbed and flowed with grief in more than a dozen phone calls made and fielded. The message left with my youngest brother, mourning the tragic death of his father-in-law. The husband and father trying to be strong for his wife and their children.

I cry for my young nephew and my teenage niece and their mom and her mom and my youngest brother. All of them. A family hurting.

And then when I can calm myself, if but for a moment, I bow my head in prayer, asking for God’s comfort and peace to bless this grieving family.

It is all my sister-in-law has asked of me—to pray.

And now I am asking you. Please pray.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling