Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Ted from Owatonna” honored for his firefighting efforts February 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:05 PM
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“I HAVE A NEW-FOUND appreciation for what you guys do,” Ted Leon of Owatonna told members of the Faribault Professional Fire Fighters Local 665 Tuesday evening.

It’s the type of comment I’ve come to expect from Ted, who five months earlier stopped on a Saturday afternoon to extinguish a deck fire at my neighbor’s house. He’s not one to call attention to himself or his actions.

Ted Leon, originally known only as "Ted from Owatonna" extinguishes a fire on and under my neighbor's deck with water from a garden hose around 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 10, 2011.

But on Valentine’s Day evening, the spotlight centered on Ted as he received a Certificate of Recognition from the City of Faribault in a formal presentation before a City Council meeting and then afterward an Emergency Action Award from the firefighters during a casual gathering at the fire hall.

Faribault Mayor John Jasinski reads the city's Certificate of Recognition as Ted Leon, Director of Fire and Emergency Management Joe Berg and Jon Bolster of the fire department look on.

Kristin Klocek, left, and her daughter Kayleigh gather with Ted and Kathryn Leon and sons Jack and Thomas at the informal presentation in the fire hall by union president Ed Hoisington, right.

Ted Leon receives his award from the local firefighters union. This type of award is also given occasionally to those who assist at motor vehicle crashes. An award for helping at a fire was last given a year ago to Xcel Energy, Todd Rost of the fire department said.

It was there in the fire station, surrounded by his family, my neighbors and members of the fire department, that Ted expressed his gratitude to firefighters, recognizing the difficulty of their work. He shared, for the first time, how his heart was racing at the scene of the September 10, 2011, deck fire and for hours afterward.

That admission from Ted surprised me given his calm demeanor while fighting the flames. He spotted the blaze while driving on Willow Street, pulled over, instructed his wife, Kathryn, to call 911 and stay in the van with their three sons, and then ran toward the fire.

Kathryn told me Tuesday that the emergency call was actually made by a young man who also stopped. She locked eyes with him and he indicated he had contacted emergency personnel. The fire department arrived within minutes.

Alerted to the blaze by my teenage son, I grabbed my camera and raced barefoot across the street, reaching Kevin and Kristin Klocek’s home just as Ted was pulling a garden hose toward the burning deck.

He remembers focusing on putting out the fire. I remember screaming for my neighbors to get out of their house. Ted and I didn’t communicate. But if we had, I would have learned that he had already leapt through heat and flames to bang on the front door, alerting Kristin and her young daughter, Kayleigh, of the fire.

The City of Faribault, in the Certificate of Recognition, thanked this citizen firefighter, in part, with these words: “Your quick actions ensured the occupants of the home got out safely and the damage to the home remained minimal.”


I, too, thanked Ted Leon—again—Tuesday evening.

When I first thanked him, at the scene of the fire, I knew him only as “Ted from Owatonna.” He didn’t give me his last name that day, when I questioned his identity as he was about to drive away. But he was found anyway, round-about via a blog post I published on the fire. Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio picked up the story in his online NewsCut column. Then The Owatonna People’s Press and The Faribault Daily News published front page stories and photos I had taken, which led to the discovery of Ted Leon.

Ted told me Tuesday he’s not one to draw attention to himself, explaining why he didn’t give me his last name on that day we first met, the day of the fire. He was in a hurry, too, on that September afternoon to get to services at Divine Mercy Catholic Church about a mile away.

He wasn’t in any particular hurry Tuesday evening, posing for photos, but also taking time to thank the firefighters. That’s typical Ted, deflecting the spotlight away from himself..

When an alarm sounded at the fire hall as we were visiting on Tuesday, I advised Ted, “You better get going.” He didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m retired,” he quipped.

Kathryn, who earlier said everything happened so quickly at the September fire that she didn’t have time to worry about Ted, simply rolled her eyes and laughed.

The certificate Ted received from the City of Faribault.

TO READ MY September 10, 2011, blog post about the fire, click here.

To read yet another post about the day Ted was found, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sweet Valentine’s Day memories from the Minnesota prairie

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:06 AM
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An American Greetings valentine from my husband, 1987.

DINNER OUT. Chocolate and roses.

What are your expectations of Valentine’s Day?

After nearly 30 years of marriage, I typically hold no visions of a day celebrated in a big, splashy way. Usually I’ll receive a card, perhaps a bag of Hershey’s kisses and an extra kiss or two from the man I love. He usually reserves flowers for the times when I least expect flowers—when my spirit needs uplifting. I love that about my husband, how he occasionally surprises me with a simple bouquet. This year he surprised me with flowers two days before Valentine’s Day.

February 14, for me, means mostly memories, sweet, sweet memories of childhood years exchanging valentines. The anticipation and preparation for the day nearly equaled the exuberance of the annual Valentine’s Day party at Vesta Elementary School during the 1960s.

At home on our prairie farm, my siblings and I thumbed through over-sized books of valentines at the kitchen table, choosing, then punching hearts from pages, glitter sparkling across our fingers, clinging to the oilcloth or swirling toward the dingy linoleum like a sprinkling of fairy dust.

It was, if anything, magical.

There were no thin, wispy, cartoon or celebrity valentines pulled from boxes. Those would come years later in the modernization of valentines, a mass production move that diminished the romance, the charm, the personal connection that comes only from the precise punching of hearts from paper.

A Brittney Spears valentine my son received 11 years ago from his classmate Vanessa.

We hand-picked conversation candy hearts for classmates, pondering the message we wanted, or did not want, to send. Sometimes we simply taped a single stick of Juicy Fruit or Black Jack gum to the back of a valentine. Canary yellow and bright blue amid all that red and pink.

When all the names were scrawled across valentines, all the names checked from a list, all sugary treats parceled out, all the glitter swept from the kitchen floor, we awaited the morning of the party.

Meanwhile in the classroom, we’d create valentine boxes, creasing white paper around shoeboxes before dipping our fingers into tall jars of thick white paste to adhere the paper and then decorate it with red and pink construction paper hearts.

I remember the challenge of drawing the perfect hearts, of first folding a piece of white scrap paper and then penciling the half-shape of a heart before cutting, then tracing the pattern onto construction paper, cutting again and, finally, pasting.

If shoeboxes were in short supply, which they often were in our house (we didn’t get new shoes all that often), we crafted white paper into valentine bags to tape to our desks.

A valentine my son received from his grandparents probably a decade ago.

With Valentine’s Day excitement came a certain sense of apprehension, first of safely transporting the greeting cards on the bus to school and then opening the valentines distributed by classmates.

Would we get an unwanted lovey, dovey message? Had we chosen the right messages for the right classmates?

Today I have no remembrance of boys who broke my heart on Valentine’s Day. Nor do I remember details of a party that likely involved nothing more than distributing and opening valentines.

Rather, I remember hearts and glitter and clustering around the kitchen table. I remember peeling thick white paste from my fingers and the chalky texture and taste of candy hearts and the delight of unwrapping a stick of gum, then sliding and folding it into my mouth in a burst of juicy flavor.

Those are my memories on this day of chocolate and flowers and love.


© Copyright text 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling