Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Minnesota Faces: Country Crooner April 24, 2015

Portrait #18: Dunnell Lenort


Portrait 16, Dunnell Lenort, Village of Yesteryear 2012


If you were to read the biography of country and oldies rock n’ roll singer Dunnell Lenort, it would read like a country song.

Heartache and hardship. Good times and bad. But through it all, he perseveres.

I knew none of this when, in July 2012, I listened to Dunnell perform “I Fought the Law” at the 26th annual Steele County Historical Society Extravaganza at the Village of Yesteryear in Owatonna. It was an afternoon of living history, activities and entertainment.

I often wonder what brings a singer onstage to perform with a passion. So when I chose Dunnell’s image for today’s portrait feature, I googled his name to learn more. After hearing Johnny Cash on a home stereo at age five, Dunnell knew he wanted to sing.

But his journey into music starts even earlier. A stroke at only eight months old paralyzed Dunnell’s right leg and arm, beginning 20 plus years of trips to Gillette Children’s Hospital for treatment and multiple surgeries. Through it all, one thing kept this young man’s spirits high—music.

His music career has ebbed and flowed. He once performed on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry and as an opening act for Roy Clark at the Surf Ballroom. (Buddy Holly performed his last show there before the February 3, 1959, fatal plane crash near this Clear Lake, Iowa, venue.)  Mostly Dunnell has entertained audiences in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. County fairs, casinos, community events. He lives in Twin Lakes, a small town in Freeborn County.

In early 2008, Dunnell’s beloved wife, Angie, underwent surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor. Things were going good until the couple was seriously injured in an automobile accident several months later.

Angie lost her battle with cancer on September 24, 2014.

On the home page of Dunnell’s website, you won’t find a photo of him. Rather, you will find an image of Angela and these loving words:

I love you Angie and will miss you so very much.—Dunnell

I would like to thank everyone who have expressed their condolences to myself and the family at the loss of my companion, friend and wife Angie. I will miss her tremendously. God’s blessings to you all.—Dunnell

Now that’s a country love song if ever I read one.

Dunnell has many performances booked already for this year, including an appearance again at the July 12 Steele County Historical Society Extravaganza. He’ll take the stage at the Village of Yesterday at 1 p.m.

If you happen to hear Dunnell perform anywhere, remember his inspirational story. His is a story of strength and love, holding strong to hope and a dream.


This is part of a series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


22 Responses to “Minnesota Faces: Country Crooner”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    True “country music” seems to be difficult to find these days. The current definition sounds more like the “rock” music I used to listen to. I guess it’s that “cross-over” appeal that is sought after. Stories of broken romances, heartaches and life’s melancholy moments seem to comprise that genre’s main theme……a theme that strikes the heart of every person (and the words may even be understood!!!!).

    • I like that, “the words may even be understood.” My radio is always tuned to KTIS, the Christian music station out of the Twin Cities. I love the uplifting and prayerful songs which sometimes make me cry. As much as any country tune would.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        I listen to Pandora via my Iphone/internet connection which gives me instrumentals (of my choosing) that have a classical bent w/o words (that would bring the music out of the background and into my thought processes) giving me a quiet more serene “mood” setting for when I’m quilting.

      • Oh, I love classical music, too. When I write, I need absolute quiet. No music. No nothing except the music inside my brain.

    • Almost Iowa Says:

      We may have talented local country singers but we do not have local media support for them and it is a shame. I spent much of February in Texas, near Corpus Christi and thoroughly enjoyed the local radio stations who aired local county music… It was exceptionally good.

      The irony of it is, country music is about place. It is about belonging, about being from somewhere rather than being alienated from everywhere and everything. It is the polar opposite of angst.

      • Now this is interesting, your observation that local media support is lacking for our local country singers. Why do you think that is?

        That reminds me of trying to find Minnesota wine in local liquor stores. The wines are relegated to one small section (and then only a few choices) and not promoted. Why? I asked that question at a recent wine tasting at a major liquor store in Faribault. The answer: They purchase only a limited amount of Minnesota wines. If they offered these wines at a tasting, they likely would not have enough in stock for customers to buy. OK, that logic makes zero sense to me. Let’s introduce Minnesota wines to customers at these tastings. That likely will increase sales. I don’t know all that much about wine. But I’ve found some pretty great Minnesota wines.

      • Almost Iowa Says:

        It is about a sense of place and valuing place. The great firehose of culture convinces us that local tastes are something to shed…

        It is why culture comes from the coasts.

        There is a strong grow-local, buy-local, be-local movement….and to put in a shameless plug for my son, it is what he and his partner from Northfield are doing with their distillery. But so are so many other young people.

        These “kids” have a passion for everything local. They use local ingredients, they keep their focus local, they leverage themselves using local connections.

        The result of this is the enriching of local character.

        I like your example of local wines….the stores need to perceive the demand for local products. Once that happens, you will see a lot more of them.

      • We can certainly learn something from our “kids,” can’t we?

        My husband and I were just talking about the East and West Coasts last evening and I was wondering why everything is so centered on those locales, why so many people choose to live there rather than in the Midwest and why so much influence comes from the Coasts.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        You are so correct! It is about (broken?) relationships that define living and give it quality and depth. Today’s lyrics(?) are more from inside a person’s head who has spent way too much time inside their head!!!!!!!!

      • You are probably right on that.

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    Wow. That is quite a journey.

  3. Sue Ready Says:

    What a very touching story you have shared with your readers today. Yes his life does read like a country song but one can’t help admire his determination to keep moving forward despite obstacles and passion for his work.

  4. Great story. Never give up!

  5. Littlesundog Says:

    People like Dunnell have the most fascinating life stories… but we rarely hear about these folks… they fall through the cracks somehow. I have always loved Country Music – especially the era of the 60’s and 70’s. Thank you for telling Dunnell’s story. He’s a “keeper”. 🙂

  6. It’s very sweet that you’ve showcased Dunnell today. Happy Friday.

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