Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I: Inside Holden, an historic Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Minnesota March 31, 2016

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, the heavy oak doors to the sanctuary were closed and Sunday morning worship underway. Not wanting to intrude in the middle of the service, my husband and I instead wandered the cemetery, vowing to return.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

Several weeks ago we did, on a Saturday afternoon, en route home from Wanamingo to Faribault along the back roads rather than the more direct Minnesota State Highway 60. Goodhue County Road 30 led us right by this landmark Norwegian brick church standing high and solid among farm fields and farm sites.

A photo of the "old church" is posted in the present church.

A photo of the “old church,” built in 1871, is posted in the present church.

With my rural roots and deep appreciation for country churches, I was excited to tour this church built in 1924. The congregation was established in 1856. Previously, members worshiped (for 53 years) in a standard wood-frame country church.

Holden's Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

Holden’s Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

This congregation is especially notable for its strong Norwegian heritage tracing back to Telemarken, Norway, specifically the village of Holden. From thence comes the name.

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was built in

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was unveiled in May 1937. It is dedicated “In gratitude to God who enabled the pioneers to establish His church in this community…and to the pioneers for building upon Jesus Christ and His Word.”

Holden Lutheran is also notable for its connections to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. A memorial on the church grounds honors Holden’s first pastor, Bernt Julius Muus, who founded St. Olaf and helped to found Luther. He shepherded Holden for 40 years.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

This is a place of deep history and heritage reflected in craftsmanship and artifacts within the church building.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery surrounding the church.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery.

And in names—like Gustaf, Tollef, Ole—chiseled in to stone in the graveyard.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

Here in this rural place, the wind blows steady on a sunny spring-like March afternoon. I meander with my husband among the gravestones, noting a weathered holiday wreath on one. And then, as I step back and back and back to photograph this massive church in its entirety, I skirt a mound of fresh earth. Not that long ago, mourners gathered here, like the Norwegian speaking settlers 160 years prior, to grieve and to bury a loved one.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

Time imprints upon generations in the cycle of life.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

Through these church doors, below the far-reaching steeple tipped with a cross, the faithful have gathered here to worship God, to exchange vows, to baptize children, to mourn the dead. And in late autumn to dine on roast beef, pulsa, lefse, rommegrot and fruit soup at the annual All Saints Dinner celebrating Holden’s Norwegian heritage.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from Holden Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Thoughts following a country drive west of Wanamingo March 30, 2016

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Rural Minnesota, 102 barn & cattle

 

WE ALL HAVE OUR PLACE of comfort, the place that brings us peace and allows us to escape, if but for a minute or an hour or a day.

For me, that’s a drive in the country, along the less-traveled back roads of Minnesota.

 

Rural Minnesota, 106 barn and corn stubble

 

I am of the land, of sky and fields and barns and silos and farmhouses. Rural Minnesota shaped me into the person I’ve become. A writer. A photographer. A poet. A keeper of rural life and of small towns.

 

Rural Minnesota, 110 barn & Harverstore silos

 

 

Memories of farm life tuck away in my heart. Doing chores—feeding calves and cows and scooping silage and manure. Walking beans. Picking rock. Gathering around the supper table with my parents and siblings to eat that which we’d grown and raised. Playing in the grove. Racing across rock solid snowdrifts sculpted by the prairie wind.

Life on the farm wasn’t easy. But it was good. Good in the sort of way that comes from working hard and understanding that family and faith come first.

 

Rural Minnesota, 111 house in Aspelund

 

I grew up poor. There were no birthday gifts, except from an aunt, my godmother. A meal was sometimes comprised of a kettle of plain white rice. Clothes were sometimes stitched from feed sacks and most certainly handed down. There was no telephone or television or indoor bathroom in the early years of my life. I went to church and Sunday School every week.

I am grateful my parents were never wealthy in the monetary sense. I would not be the person I am today. It is not important to me to have the newest or latest or best. I am content with what I have. I consider myself grounded and honest and loyal. Down-to-earth. Rooted. I love the land and I love family.

 

Rural Minnesota, 103 barn & silo

 

These are the thoughts that surface when I journey through the Minnesota countryside, when I photograph barns and farmhouses and other rural scenes. I am capturing the essence of the place that shaped me. Land. Sky. Fields. Barns. Silos. Farmhouses. And, yes, my family and my faith.

 

Rural Minnesota, 108 sprawling farmhouse

 

FYI: These images were taken while traveling along Goodhue County Road 30 west of Wanamingo, Minnesota, and in Aspelund, a slight veer to the north. I did not grow up in this area. Rather, I was raised on a dairy and crop farm in Redwood County, on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. My childhood home was nothing like the houses pictured here. Ours was a tiny woodframe farmhouse heated by an oil burning stove in the living room. The kitchen had an interior trap door that led to a dirt cellar. It was cramped. But it was home.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI from Wanamingo: A symphony at Shingle Creek March 29, 2016

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Going fishing in the North Fork of the Zumbro River, Wanamingo.

This mom tipped us off to Shingle Creek. She and her son are heading to the river to fish.

IF NOT FOR THE LOCAL MOM we met at Riverside Park in Wanamingo, my husband and I would have missed out on exploring Shingle Creek. We would have driven right over the bridge spanning the creek along Goodhue County Road 30.

On the south side of this road, we followed a path along Shingle Creek.

On the south side of this road, we followed a path along Shingle Creek.

But the mom, who was fishing with her son in the North Fork of the Zumbro River into which the creek feeds, told us about the loveliness of the waterway. She even offered to walk us there. But we declined and listened to her directions—cross the road, climb over the railing and follow the trail.

Lovely Shingle Creek.

Lovely Shingle Creek.

The short route was not limestone covered as she described, but simply a trampled, uneven path through the woods. Decaying leaves, dead limbs sprouting mushrooms, hard earth beneath winter feet aching for this spring-like day in March.

Water rushes over limestone ledges.

Water rushes over limestone ledges.

Only a short distance from the paved county road, we stood on the bank of the creek and watched water spill over limestone shelves, rush along the creekbed, and then tumble and foam over rocks.

Further down, water churn below rocks.

Further down, water churns below rocks.

Churning water mesmerizes me. It is poetry and song and art, a symphony of sights and sounds that carries me away from everyday life to a place of peace. I feel the same watching campfire flames dance in flickers of orange and yellow.

Fire and water. Water and fire.

On this Saturday afternoon in Wanamingo, I experienced the serenity of Shingle Creek. All because a local mom shared this community’s natural beauty with us, just a couple on a day trip 25 miles from home.

FYI: This concludes my six-part series of “from Wanamingo” posts. Thank you for joining me on this tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part V from Wanamingo: Landmarks & oddities March 28, 2016

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Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

Some of the airport luggage carts still remaining in Wanamingo.

MOST SMALL TOWNS possess oddities and landmarks unique to the community. Wanamingo in Goodhue County is no exception.

A few years back, I spotted row upon row of airport luggage carts parked outdoors in a lot on the north edge of town. It was the oddest sight. Only a small cluster of carts remains now. They’re still a mystery to me.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 47 elementary school

 

I am also intrigued by the massive pipes winding along the roofline of Kenyon-Wanamingo Elementary School. Typically, these heating (I presume) pipes run underground. Why are these atop the roof?

 

Small town Wanamingo, 44 butcher shop sign

 

At Wanamingo Meats and Catering, a hot pink sign and hot pink shutters draw attention to this downtown business owned by two sisters. That explains the pink. Butcher shops aren’t typically owned by women. Customers sing the praises of this business on its Facebook page.

 

Small town Wanamingo, 38 Ringo's sign above bar

 

Downtown, I noticed a bar and grill with a seeming identity crisis. A sign high on the building identifies the business as Ringo’s Bar & Grill. But an over-the-door sign banners J B’s Tavern.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

I would love to get inside this aged house, to know its story.

On the north end of Main Street, I photographed a hulking old house with a widow’s walk. Surely there’s a story here. I expect the original owner may have been someone of great importance in Wanamingo.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner impresses me.

That this portion of the old creamery was saved and posted on a highly-visible corner along Minnesota State Highway 57 impresses me.

Finally, on the corner of Riverside Park, angles signage for Minneola Creamery. A quick google search tells me the creamery, organized in December 1893, was one of the most successful in Minnesota. In 1908, according to information in History of Goodhue County, Minnesota by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge, the creamery manufactured 550,00 pounds of butter selling for $125,000. Oh, the things I learn because I notice and photograph. And because I delight in touring small town Minnesota.

WHAT ODDITIES OR LANDMARKS would I find in your town/city? Let’s hear.

FYI: Check back tomorrow as I conclude my “from Wanamingo” series. To read the first four posts in this series, check last week’s archives.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

With joy & thankfulness on Easter March 27, 2016

This stained glass window of the women at Jesus' empty tomb rises above the altar at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

This stained glass window of the women at Jesus’ empty tomb rises above the altar at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Why do you look for the living among the dead?

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

This depiction of the risen Lord centers three stained glass windows above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

He is not here; he has risen!

© Photos copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Scripture text from the New International Version of the Holy Bible, Luke 24:5 & 6

 

In loving remembrance & with gratitude on Good Friday March 25, 2016

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A stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

A stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part IV from Wanamingo: Touring Trinity Church March 24, 2016

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Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

THE LUTHERAN CHURCH STANDS solid on a corner lot a few blocks off Wanamingo’s Main Street. Brick strong. Enduring strong. In the faith strong.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

A cornerstone on Trinity Lutheran Church simply notes LUTHERAN CHURCH 1922. I know nothing more about the history of this congregation, of this building.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

That matters not. For I appreciate churches like this which are lovely houses of worship. For these truly are houses to the families of faithful. Therein, worshipers, if not related by blood, are related by the commonality of faith and lives shared. They truly become family in joy and in grief.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony. To me, this window symbolizes deep love and devotion to family.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

One of the windows flanking the side of the sanctuary.

One of the windows flanking the sanctuary.

Within the walls of an aged sanctuary like Trinity, visual symbols of faith embrace those who enter therein. Intricate stained glass windows shine the light of grace and of Scripture.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

The sturdy pulpit with its handcarved trim looms as a time-honored place for preaching of the Word, the wood dulled by the hands of many preachers.

Balcony pews.

Balcony pews.

Worn pews reflect the history of generations.

Another view from the church aisle.

Another view, this from the center church aisle.

Art, history and a heavenly presence prevail. It is here, within the walls of Trinity. Visually. And in spirit.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

Church mail slots.

Church mail slots.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

FYI: Please check back next week for more posts in my “from Wanamingo” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling