Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Winona Winhawks represent Minnesota for “most unique high school mascot” honor March 6, 2013

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WinhawksTHE WINONA WINHAWKS beat out four other Minnesota high schools this week to advance in the next round of selecting the nation’s most unique high school mascot.

In an online contest sponsored by the High School Sports Staff of USA TODAY, the Winhawks defeated the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, the Roosevelt Teddies, the Jordan Hubmen and the Sauk Centre Mainstreeters to represent Minnesota in Region 4.

Results show the Minnesota voting was close—between two of the schools—with the Winona Winhawks grabbing 52 percent of the online votes and the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms nearly 46 percent.

That’s an impressive showing for the Awesome Blossoms given the considerable population difference between the two southern Minnesota communities. Blooming Prairie is home to about 2,000 people while Winona has some 27,500 residents.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie's logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie’s logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

Blooming Prairie High School substitute teacher Tammy Wolf noted that difference in a comment posted on the USA TODAY Minnesota voting page:

Great Job Blossom Fans! For a community of 2,000—we did ourselves real proud with 143,376 votes! Proud to be an “Awesome Blossom!” Thanks to all of you who voted for BP!

Voting began today for six regional winners who will then advance to the finals. The Winhawks are now competing against eight other mascots:

  • Hodags (a fictional monster) from Rhinelander, Wisconsin
  • Kernels (yes, after the Corn Palace) from Mitchell, South Dakota
  • Honkers from Kenmare, North Dakota
  • Norsemen from Roland-Story High School in Story City, Iowa
  • Orphans from Centralia, Illinois
  • Nimrods from Watersmeet, Michigan
  • Fighting Jeeps from Northeast Dubois in Dubois, Indiana
  • Zeps from Shenandoah, Ohio

So, Minnesotans, here’s your opportunity to put Minnesota, specifically Winona, into the national spotlight by voting for the Winhawks between now and March 14. Just click here to vote.

And what exactly is a Winhawk, you ask?

According to the online ballot, Winhawks is a nice play on words that transforms the stereotypical “Hawks” mascot into a winning proposition. Blackhawks. Seahawks. Plain-old Hawks. They have nothing on the Winhawks. Winona’s mascot, Herky, is a cartoon bird with bulky arms.

Prizes ranging from $100 – $2,000 will be awarded to the winning high school athletic departments. And in these days of cash-strapped schools (speaking generally here and not necessarily referencing Winona), that money, I’m certain, would be welcome by any district.

TO READ A PREVIOUS post I wrote about this mascot contest, click here. I really wanted the Awesome Blossoms to win. Sorry, Winhawks. But good luck now. Go Winhawks!

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Montgomery, Part III: Franke’s Bakery, a sweet spot in the “Kolacky Capital of the World”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spring of 2010, I visited Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery, a now 99-year-old business which truly embraces the community’s Czech heritage. This feature published in Minnesota Moments magazine and I’m reprinting it here as written three years ago, with the addition of many more photos. This is the third in a five-part series of stories from Montgomery. Enjoy.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

JULE FRANKE AND MARY ANN KAISERSATT work side-by-side in the bakery kitchen, their fingers swiftly and expertly stretching, folding and tucking corners of dough squares across dollops of prune filling.

In an hour, they will have made 50 dozen kolacky, the trademark Czech pastry of 96-year-old Franke’s Bakery in downtown Montgomery, self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.”

Unbaked prune kolacky.

Unbaked prune-filled kolacky.

As Franke shapes the neat little dough packages upon the lightly-floured wooden countertop in this room that smells of yeast and baking bread, she describes the Czech treat. It’s “like a sweet dough with a filling,” she says. And at Franke’s, those fillings are the popular prune and poppy seed, plus apricot, apple and raspberry.

For 50 years now, this woman, who confesses that she is not Czech but German, has been making kolacky. “I’m not from here and I’m not Czech, until I married the baker,” she says, smiling.

“The baker” would be Alvin “Butch” Franke, her husband of 52 years who died last December. His father, Emil, a German with a little Czech heritage, grew up in Czechoslovakia, immigrated to America in the early 1900s and opened the bakery in 1914. Butch followed in his baker father’s footsteps. And then Butch and Jule’s son, Bob, became involved in the family business 25 years ago.

Franke's Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Today this bakery, located in the heart of Minnesota Czech country, is nationally-known for its ethnic pastry. Franke’s ships packages of kolacky via priority mail all over the U.S., especially before holidays like Easter. Those customers often grew up in the area, Franke says, and will simply mail a check and a request for kolacky.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

The bakery also has a loyal customer base locally and in the Twin Cities area.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

But at no time is the demand for Franke’s kolacky higher than during Montgomery’s annual celebration of its Czech heritage, Kolacky Days, set this summer for July 23 – 25. Franke enlists her children and their families to make 2,000 dozen kolacky for the weekend event that includes a home-baked kolacky contest and a kolacky eating competition. During the celebration, Franke’s kolacky are sold at the bakery and in Memorial Park.

A selection of Franke's Bakery bread.

A selection of Franke’s Bakery bread, made without preservatives.

Yet, day-to-day, this Czech treat remains a mainstay at this bakery, also known for its rye bread.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

“Vitáme Vás!” (“We welcome you”) imprinted on a window placard, miniature Czech and Slovakian flags set upon the countertop and humorous signs like “PARKING FOR CZECHS ONLY—ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED” embrace the area’s rich Czech heritage.

Among the sweet treats.

Among the sweet treats.

Here locals gather for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat, sliding into wooden booths in this 1931 building—the original bakery burned—that retains the charm of yesteryear.

Behind the scenes in the bakery's kitchen.

Behind the scenes in the bakery’s kitchen.

Five days a week Franke arrives here at 5:30 a.m. to help prepare baked goods, following family recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Soon fresh-baked doughnuts, Bismarcks, cookies, breads, turnovers, bars, buns, kolacky and more fill display shelves.

She has no plans to retire.

“This is in her blood,” says employee Kaisersatt.

Flour scoop...

Flour scoop…

The women laugh as they continue to fold dough, lifting and gently placing the square treats onto parchment paper-lined trays that hold five dozen kolacky. Kaisersatt scoots around to the other side of the work station across the slippery, flour-dusted floor to grab a kettle of milk wash. She dips her wide brush into the liquid and sweeps the bristles across the unbaked mounds of dough.

This, Franke says, helps to brown and keep the kolacky moist. The dough will rest overnight, then go into a steambox for an hour to rise before baking in the morning.

As appealing as the ethnic treat is to customers, the slender Franke admits, “I don’t eat too many (kolacky). I don’t care too much for sweets.”

But, obviously, customers do, as they’ve supported this family-owned business through three generations, for nearly 100 years.

You can't miss the sign marking Franke's Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

You can’t miss the sign marking Franke’s Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

FYI: Franke’s Bakery is open from 6:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and from 6:15 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday. The bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday. Call Franke’s at (507) 364-5025 for more information. Visit the bakery website by clicking here.