Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ducks, a frog, bunnies and, oh, yes, crows June 16, 2015

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IT’S BEEN A BIT of an animal menagerie on my property lately. First, three baby ducks bee-lined across the driveway, around the corner of the garage, up the hill and into the lilies that grow wild at woods’ edge. I have not seen them since their surprise showing on my residential lot blocks from the river.

I was pulling weeds in a flowerbed when I discovered this frog.

I was pulling weeds in a flowerbed when I discovered this frog.

The frog stayed put for a long time so I could photograph it.

The frog stayed put for a long time so I could photograph it.

That leaves me wondering also why a frog would appear, perched on a chunk of limestone rimming a garage side flowerbed. But there this bug-eyed amphibian sat in the sun, unmoving except for the pulse of his heartbeat. Unlike the baby fowl, the frog froze, allowing me to take a multitude of images before he slipped into the flowers.

The bunnies always show up each spring when I plant my flowers.

The bunnies always show up each spring when I plant my flowers.

Petunias are a favorite tried and true annual.

Petunias are a favorite tried and true annual.

No rabbit photos, just more flowers.

No rabbit photos, just more flowers.

And then the rabbits, oh, the rabbits, they have arrived in force since I potted and planted flowers like kale, petunias and impatiens. I’ve noticed a nibble here, a nibble there, but not complete consumption of what, to a rabbit, must seem a salad smorgasbord.

It is the crows, though, which I find bothersome. Ducks are cute. So is a frog in the odd sort of way such a creature can be cute. And bunnies, even if they prefer my flowers to grass, are, undeniably cute.

But crows? There is nothing cute about their annoying and raucous caws that grate at the nerves, that threaten in an unsettling Alfred Hitchock sort of way.

I won't give crows the satisfaction of photographing them. But I did photograph this bird on a tabletop fountain.

I won’t give crows the satisfaction of photographing them. But I did photograph this bird on a tabletop fountain.

And, no, I have never rushed to grab my camera and photograph a crow.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why the bleep doesn’t anything last anymore? June 15, 2015

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THE NEWSPAPER IN MY COMMUNITY runs a mystery photo every Saturday. Readers are invited to identity and name the location of the place in the image. If correct, their names will be entered in a drawing for $100 in Faribault Chamber bucks at the end of the year. I’ve participated only once. I’m just not that interested in challenging my brain to identify some place in town.

But maybe you like brain teasers. So I’m challenging you to name the items in the two photos that follow. These are both at my home and are two of four items/appliances which broke within 10 days. Whoever said things happen in threes was wrong.

 

Top of hot water heater

 

PHOTO A: Why don’t they build these like they once did? This is the third one we have installed since moving into our home in 1984. The one in my mom’s house was original to the 1950s rambler and was still working in 2014.

 

Redneck door handle

 

PHOTO B: This object may or may not be familiar to you, depending on your sense of humor.

Identify these objects and you will know what we had to replace in addition to a microwave and a dehumidifier.

Try not to cheat and peek at the answers. If I knew how to turn this print upside down, I would.

ANSWERS:

Photo A shows the top of our leaky gas water heater. I entered the laundry room on a recent morning to find water spreading across the floor. I phoned the husband at work. It was only 7:15. What a lovely way to start his day. Upon his arrival home much later and after supper, we headed to the local hardware store which had exactly two gas water heaters and no one on staff who knew anything about them. Randy surmised we needed the taller one. I disagreed and suggested we return home to measure. Nope. So the taller version was loaded into our van and unloaded onto the driveway. Guess what? I was right. Eventually, with the correct size purchased, it was then time to wrestle the old water heater out of the basement and the new one into the basement. No one was injured in the process. At 8:40 p.m., the husband announced that the old pipes were not long enough as the new model differed slightly from the old. The hardware store was closed by then. Because my husband desired a hot shower after a hard day of work, we then drove to a Big Box retailer in a neighboring town for those pipes. By 11:30 p.m., he had hot water and a shower.

Photo B is an improvised door handle to replace the one that fell off in my hand one morning, leaving me locked outside. Fortunately, my son was home to let me back inside. Then, what to do. I called the husband. Again. Are you seeing a pattern here? Hey, I am not mechanically inclined or good at solving problems like this. He advised that I find a screw driver and remove the broken handle and slip wire through the holes where the handle was once secured. I did. But apparently I do not know how to twist wire as the wire broke loose, leaving me once again stranded on the back steps. The son let me back inside and retwisted the wire. It held. For the past week we have been using this wire handle, appropriately dubbed (by the husband) as a Redneck Door Handle.

There, how did you do? Did you guess hot water heater and Redneck Door Handle? If so, award yourself an “A” and then explain to me why nothing lasts anymore.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: A Dairy Princess June 12, 2015

Portrait #27: Kaylee Wegner

 

Portrait 27, Kaylee Wegner

 

That young people are still interested in agriculture pleases me, for I grew up on a southwestern Minnesota dairy and crop farm.

While I left the farm for an education and career in journalism, youth like Kaylee Wegner have remained true to their rural roots. I’ve known Kaylee, a classmate of my son, for a long time. She’s smart, poised, confident, driven and passionate about agriculture. This fall she begins her senior year at South Dakota State University, pursuing a bachelor of science degree in dairy production.

I last spoke with Kaylee in June of 2013 when her parents, Ron and Diane (about as salt-of-the-earth wonderful people as you’ll ever meet), hosted “A Day on the Farm” at their rural Faribault acreage. Kaylee and her older sister, Brianna, were there, too, actively involved in the event that drew some 600 visitors. Kaylee, then a Rice County Dairy Princess, posed for photos with a calf and kids. I could see how much she loved promoting the dairy industry.

Since 1937, June Dairy Month has been an annual tradition celebrating all things dairy. When you pour yourself a glass of milk, order a cheeseburger or enjoy an ice cream cone, think of Kaylee and all the other young people who still care about, and are the future of, agriculture.

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

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on graduation & time passages June 11, 2015

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ON THE AFTERNOON MY HUSBAND and I dined at Teluwut in Lake Mills, Iowa, family and friends were filtering into Jayde Thompson’s graduation reception across the street at the Senior Citizen Center.

 

Lake Mills Iowa grad reception signs

 

The juxtaposition of that reception venue was not lost on me. Young and old. Beginnings and endings.

Not that senior citizen is an end. But it’s nearer ending than beginning. And although those of us who qualify for senior citizen status may sometimes feel young at heart, we no longer fit the physical definition of young.

All too many days now I wonder how the years vanished. I was once a Jayde Thompson, albeit not a cheerleader, embarking on life, eyes focused on the future. Today it’s not as much about the future as about yesterday. Or perhaps it’s that I think more now about my children’s futures.

May and June mark periods of transition for many families. Passage of time. Ceremony and applause and tears. Moving forward and standing still. Time gone. Youth beginning that all too quick movement of days, weeks, months and years that propel into the future, to wondering where yesterday went.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VII: The character of Clear Lake, Iowa June 10, 2015

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CLEAR LAKE IS AN IOWA town with character.

Downtown Clear Lake offers an abundance of locally rooted eateries.

Downtown Clear Lake offers an abundance of locally rooted eateries.

It’s memorable in the sort of way that’s good. Main Street good. Welcome to our town good. Meander through the shops, dine in home-grown eateries good.

Relaxing outside a Clear Lake floral and gift shop, The Red Geranium.

Relaxing outside a Clear Lake floral and gift shop, The Red Geranium.

People watch. Kick back on a bench. Dip your toes in the lake or dig them into sand.

Even the backs of buildings possess visual charm.

Even the backs of buildings possess visual charm.

Fish or shop. While away a day or two. Take in the local history of the Surf Ballroom. Or simply amble downtown, right into a Norman Rockwell type scene.

Larson's Mercantile, like an old-fashioned five-and-dime, has a back corner devoted to fabric.

Larson’s Mercantile, like an old-fashioned five-and-dime, has a back corner devoted to fabric.

Walk the aisles of the mercantile.

Hanging baskets line the alley behind Larson's Mercantile.

Hanging baskets line the alley behind Larson’s Mercantile.

Take the back route through the alley.

Order a treat from South Shore Sweet Spot, shaped like an ice cream cone.

Order a treat from South Shore Sweet Spot, shaped like an ice cream cone.

Eat ice cream. Drink beer. Grab a burger.

From a window side counter (common in Clear Lake eateries) in a downtown restaurant, I photographed these guys crossing Main Avenue.

From a window side counter (common in Clear Lake eateries) in a downtown restaurant, I photographed these guys crossing Main Avenue.

Come in your cowboy hat or no hat.

Something I've never seen until visiting Clear Lake: a drive-through liquor store.

Something I’ve never seen until visiting Clear Lake: a drive-through convenience/ liquor store.

Clear Lake beckons with Americana charm rooted in character and small town Iowa friendliness.

FYI: This concludes my seven-part series on Clear Lake. Check back for more posts from my recent overnight visit to Iowa.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI: The Little Chapel off the Interstate in Clear Lake June 9, 2015

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My husband, Randy, leaves the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel as Scott Kennedy and his nephew finish cleaning.

My husband, Randy, leaves the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel as Scott Kennedy and his nephew finish cleaning.

WHEN WE FINALLY FOUND the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel tucked into the woods along South 24th Street in Clear Lake, Iowa, after we’d asked for directions and still drove by the unmarked landmark, we met Scott Kennedy.

Scott Kennedy outside the chapel built in honor of his aunt.

Scott Kennedy outside the chapel built in honor of his aunt.

He was there with his nephew, an Iowa State University student from the western U.S., cleaning the chapel and grounds for a funeral the next day.

I forgot to count the pews.

I forgot to count the pews. But I believe there are eight or ten, each seating only a few people.

It’s difficult to envision a funeral inside this miniscule place of only a few short pews. But one was planned and the mess from an invading squirrel needed to be swept and gathered into garbage bags. Although I did not see it, my husband spotted the succumbed squirrel.

The day was overcast, the chapel dark, making photographing it a challenge.

The chapel is beautiful in its craftsmanship. This place is truly a labor of divine love.

I was more focused on the chapel interior with its beautiful center stained glass cross crafted by a local artist and side stained glass windows salvaged from Zion Lutheran Church. The cross was designed to attract the attention of travelers along nearby Interstate 35.

This truly is a functional church with altar, organ and baptismal font.

Exiting the chapel grounds.

Exiting the chapel grounds.

I was especially delighted to find my favorite bible verse—the scripture that has guided me through some rough patches in life—inscribed on a dedication plaque inside the entry: We know that in all things God works for good with those who love him.—Romans 8:28. Serendipitous? Perhaps. But more likely divine.

It is the divine intervention of God which led Scott and others to construct the Guardian Angel Roadside Chapel in 1991 in honor of Scott’s aunt, Marguerite Williams. She was convinced that God protected her from kidnapping by a band of gypsies while growing up in Clear Lake. And later, while working at a Chicago medical clinic, Marguerite again experienced God’s protection when she encountered a gang of hoodlums.

It was hoodlums, or more accurately criminals, who set fire to the first Guardian Angel Chapel a year after it was built, Scott shared. The blaze was to distract responders from a break-in across town. Undeterred, Scott and others determined to rebuild this chapel which was rededicated on April 4, 1993.

An informational paper I found inside the chapel states its purpose:

This chapel was built as a witness to Christ. It is the hope and prayers of the builders that people worshipping here will be closer to Christ and will have their own guardian angel look after them.

This is looking toward the highway off which the chapel sits atop a hill in a wooded area.

This is looking toward the highway off which the chapel sits atop a hill in a wooded area.

FYI: The chapel is open daily from dawn until dusk, although I am uncertain whether it’s open during the winter months.

Check back tomorrow for my final installment in this seven-part series on Clear Lake, Iowa.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part V: The artsy side of Clear Lake, Iowa June 8, 2015

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ART IS, PERHAPS, in the eye of the beholder.

I loved the sweet surprise of these floral paintings brightening an alley in downtown Clear Lake.

I loved the sweet surprise of these floral paintings brightening an alley in downtown Clear Lake.

In Clear Lake, Iowa, I beheld an abundance of art. Everywhere. In the local arts center. Inside and outside shops. On historic buildings. In words, colors, designs, shapes. Sometimes obvious, sometimes not so much.

Historic buildings, like this one housing Thrifty White Drug, oftentimes are detailed in art.

Historic buildings, like this one housing Thrifty White Drug, oftentimes are detailed in art. You have to look up to see this intriguing sculpture.

Look up. Look down. Look around. Simply look and you will see it.

Creative window displays draw shoppers into businesses like Lake Lifestyle.

Creative window displays draw shoppers into businesses like Lake Lifestyle.

I appreciate a community with details that visually please me. And Clear Lake does. In so many artsy ways.

South Shore Sweet Spot was not yet open for the season when I visited Clear Lake. But I could admire the artsy architecture. No mistaking this for anything but a place to buy ice cream treats.

South Shore Sweet Spot was not yet open for the season when I visited Clear Lake. But I could admire the artsy architecture. No mistaking this for anything but a place to buy ice cream treats.

On a downtown shop window.

On a downtown shop window, inspiring words. Poetry really.

This stacked album sculpture in Three Stars Plaza next to the Surf Ballroom honors Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson. All three musicians died in a 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake after performing at the Surf.

This stacked album sculpture in Three Stars Plaza next to the Surf Ballroom honors Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. All three musicians died in a 1959 plane crash near Clear Lake after performing at the Surf.

All around town you'll see posters from the annual Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom. I found this one at the AmericInn Hotel.

All around town you’ll see posters from the annual Winter Dance Party at the Surf Ballroom. I found this one at the AmericInn Hotel.

Even collectible glassware is art, including this Carnival glass pitcher at Collectors Wonderland.

Even collectible glassware is art, including this Carnival glass pitcher at Collectors Wonderland.

Shelves and shelves of Clear Lake apparel fill shelves at Larson's Mercantile.

Shelves and shelves of artsy Clear Lake apparel fill shelves at Larson’s Mercantile.

The Clear Lake Arts Center centers the arts in this community. It's impressive.

The Clear Lake Arts Center centers the arts in this community. It’s impressive.

Iowa artists Pam Dennis and Ryk Weiss collaborated with local students and adults to create this tree sculpture from cattle panels, metal banding and clay. It is located at the Clear Lake Arts Center.

Iowa artists Pam Dennis and Ryk Weiss collaborated with local students and adults to create this tree sculpture from cattle panels, metal banding and clay. It is located at the Clear Lake Arts Center.

The tree sculpture (above) calls for an up close study of details.

The tree sculpture (above) calls for an up close study of details.

Inside the Clear Lake Arts Center, I delighted in these cornstalk panels suspended from the ceiling.

Inside the Clear Lake Arts Center, I delighted in cornstalk panels suspended from the ceiling.

The arts center galleries showcase an abundance and variety of outstanding art.

The arts center galleries showcase an abundance and variety of outstanding art.

There's art in signage and architecture.

There’s art in signage and architecture.

An artsy scene (in my opinion) at the Village General Store, a second-hand store along the highway.

An artsy scene (in my opinion) at the Village General Store, a second-hand store along the highway on the north side of town.

Signage always grabs my attention, including these graphically pleasing signs in a downtown window.

Signage always grabs my attention, including these graphically pleasing signs in a downtown window.

Window displays, like this one at Collectors Wonderland, are art in themselves.

Window displays, like this one at Collectors Wonderland, are art in themselves.

FYI: Check my posts from last week to read my first four photo stories from Clear Lake, located along Interstate 35 in northern Iowa. Two more installments remain in this series.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, flowers, the reasons I love thee June 6, 2015

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DO YOU HOLD A CERTAIN FLOWER in reverent respect?

 

My daffodils are in full bloom here in southeastern Minnesota.

 

Perhaps you appreciate the first daffodils of spring erupting in bursts of yellow through a too-long colorless winter landscape.

 

Red tulip

 

Or you delight in the petals of a red tulip unfolding. I remember how my eldest daughter, as a preschooler, surmised that the tulips were opening their mouths. I’ve never thought of tulips in quite the same way since her astute observation. Now I see blood red lips.

 

Today I choose to see the beauty of white in daisies, one of my favorite flowers.

 

I’ve always loved daisies. Perhaps it is the seventies flower child in me emerging or my focus on simplicity and non-extravagance. When I married 33 years ago, the humble daisy was an integral part of bouquets.

 

Virgil and Jane's peonies

 

Peonies remind me of yesteryear. These massive bushes weighed with lush blossoms of fragrant pinks are the flowers of our grandmas.

 

Iris, grouping of purple and white 7

 

And then there are irises, in full bloom now here in southern Minnesota. They remind me of my sweet mom, who loves irises.

Isn’t it this way with so many things in life? We treasure something because of the memories held therein.

IN FARIBAULT, RIGHT NOW, hundreds of irises are blooming along a corner lot at Minnesota Highway 60 and Shumway Avenue. What a wonderful gift to my community from this east-side resident:

Irises stretch the length of the property along a stretch of Minnesota Highway 60.

Irises stretch the length of the property along a section of Minnesota Highway 60.

The iris are in assorted colors and styles.

The irises are in assorted colors and styles.

On the Shumway Avenue side, more irises.

On the Shumway Avenue side, more irises.

Lots of irises like this.

Lots of irises like this mix with other purple flowers.

Beautiful masses of irises.

Beautiful masses of irises.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Life through his lens June 5, 2015

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Portrait #26: Dan Traun

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie's photo blog at cyndietraun.com

Photographer Dan Traun. Photo by Cynthia Traun. Visit Cyndie’s photo blog at cyndietraun.com

One of the best ways to improve one’s photography is to study the work of others.

And since discovering Minnesota photo blogger/photographer Dan Traun of Red Wing, I’ve learned a lot. Dan’s photographic talents are far-ranging. I don’t think there’s anything he can’t shoot and shoot well, from portrait to studio, event, nature, panoramic, and scenic and urban settings.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault's east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun. This is the type of scene Dan photographs.

A recent photo I shot outside of Kwik Trip on Faribault’s east side was inspired by the work of Dan Traun.

Dan excels in capturing urban street scenes, moments of everyday city life that, through his eagle eyes and the click of the shutter button, are personalized studies of humanity. His work is truly documentary, focused on ordinary activities and people. A road construction crew. People waiting at a bus stop. A man leaning against the side of a building eating lunch.

This remarkable photographer has taught me the value in the ordinary. He’s taught me to notice alleys, which can reveal as much, if not more, about a business than the public front side. He’s taught me to appreciate streetside interactions. He’s shown me urban Minnesota, an area I seldom frequent.

Every photographer develops his/her own signature style. I’d suggest you check out Dan’s work by clicking here. His photos show an unembellished Minnesota, the type of photos historians value. This is life. This is real.

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“Minnesota Faces” is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Dan Traun portrait copyright of Cynthia Traun

 

 

 

Part IV: Touring the legendary Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa June 4, 2015

My husband exits the historic Surf Ballroom.

My husband exits the historic Surf Ballroom.

WHEN I MENTIONED to a friend that my husband and I were going on an overnight get-away to Clear Lake, Iowa, he immediately asked if we were touring the Surf Ballroom. We were.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100.

A broad view of this massive ballroom which seats 2,100.

The Surf is the focus for many visitors to this north central Iowa community. It wasn’t our main reason for traveling here. But we knew we couldn’t visit Clear Lake without seeing the famous Surf, site of Buddy Holly’s final Winter Dance Party performance before he, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson died in a February 3, 1959, plane crash along with the pilot.

This display references "American Pie."

This display references “American Pie.”

It was, writes Don McLean in his song, American Pie, “the day the music died.”

Another tribute to the Surf's most memorable performed, rock n roll legend Buddy Holly.

Another tribute to the Surf’s most memorable performer, rock n roll legend Buddy Holly.

Now I’m not much of a music history person, nor a person with musical talent. I can’t read a note. I don’t have a particularly good singing voice. I typically cannot tell you who sings what and even had to ask my husband, before our arrival at the Surf, what songs Buddy Holly sang. He cited Peggy Sue and That’ll Be the Day.

The exterior ticket booth.

The exterior ticket booth.

Looking toward the interior lobby doors.

Looking toward the outside, this interior set of lobby doors are hefty and heavy. To the right is the original coat check area, not shown in this image.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf.

This sign summarizes the importance of the Surf.

Yet, even for someone like me who is rather musically illiterate, the Surf proved an interesting place. Built in 1948, the current ballroom (the first burned down) is on the National Register of Historic Places. And rightly so. From the exterior ticket booth to the heavy doors that lead into the dark lobby, where you can check your coat, the Surf holds that feel of yesteryear. It’s difficult to explain. But you feel that sense of entering a different world from a bygone era the minute you step inside. As if you’ve left Iowa. And today.

Just a sampling of those who have played the Surf.

Just a sampling of those who have played the Surf.

More historic memorabilia of Surf concerts.

More historic memorabilia of Surf concerts.

The lounge area features a stage, bar and lots more memorabilia.

The lounge area features a stage, bar and lots more memorabilia.

You'll spot numerous signed guitars on display.

You’ll spot numerous signed guitars on display.

Here you’ll discover a hallway museum of musicians’ photos, posters and history. And inside the lounge you’ll see stars’ guitars and more photos and other tributes to those who have performed here. If a musician’s picture is displayed, then he/she’s played/been here.

The ballroom stage.

The ballroom stage.

On the Friday afternoon we arrived at the Surf, we almost didn’t make it into the actual ballroom. Black curtains were pulled across two entrances and marked by “closed” signs. I peeked through the curtains to see musicians for Lee Ann Womack setting up inside. I failed to notice on the Surf website that the dance floor occasionally closes if a concert is scheduled. So be forewarned: Check the Surf calendar. Even better, call ahead.

But then, as luck would have it, Mark, who’s been working Surf security since 1978 and clearly loves this place and his job, parted the curtains and invited us inside with the admonition to keep our distance from the stage. He’d overheard our disappointment and said, “Since you drove a long ways…” We’d traveled only 85 miles. But another couple had driven nearly four hours from Omaha.

In the back are layers of booths, all original.

In the back are layers of booths, all original, and beach-themed murals.

Portraits

Portraits of Ritchie Valens, left, Buddy Holly and J.P. Richardson hang inside the ballroom.

Signatures...

Signatures…

He led us onto the original maple floor dance floor, pointed us to the original booths (where I slid into one; it’s a tight squeeze), noted the beach themed décor (it is, afterall, the Surf), took us into a small room where musicians and others have signed the walls…

Each February, the Surf still hosts a Winter Dance Party.

Each February, the Surf still hosts a Winter Dance Party.

I wished I could have lingered longer in the ballroom, asked Mark to switch on more lights for better photos. But I didn’t press my luck. If not for his graciousness, I would have remained on the other side of those black curtains.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Shortly before our visit,

The day before our visit, the king of blues died. B.B. King’s promotional poster hangs in the lounge.

Lee Ann Womack's band was setting up on the afternoon of our visit.

Lee Ann Womack’s band was setting up on the afternoon of our visit. This was snapped just outside the front entry doors.

About a block away, this outdoor sculpture at Three Stars Plaza honors Holly, Valens and Richardson.

About a block away, this outdoor turntable/album sculpture at Three Stars Plaza honors Holly, Valens and Richardson. You can also visit the plane crash site about five miles from town. Because of rainy weather, we did not go there.

FYI: Please check back next week for the three remaining installments in this series of seven posts from Clear Lake, Iowa.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling