Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan’s take on Wisconsin August 26, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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WHEN I TOOK A ROAD TRIP to Boston earlier this year, I learned something about my home state. Or rather, what others think of Minnesota. Whether in Indiana or New York or Massachusetts, folks reacted the same upon learning I was a Minnesotan. “It’s cold there,” they said.

Yes, it’s cold here. But not year-round. In the end, I decided, let them believe what they wish. Such opinions keep Minnesota from becoming densely populated like the Coasts.

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

But that got me thinking about how I view people and places, specifically Wisconsin and its residents. I’ve traveled there many times in the past five years to visit my daughter Miranda who lives on the northeastern side of the state.

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s my outsider’s impression of Wisconsinites: fanatical about the Green Bay Packers, crazy about brat and fish fries, and lovers of cheese and beer. Wisconsin residents also seem particularly opinionated. And many love to hunt. Of course, I’m sweeping my neighboring state with a broad brush of generalities. Just like others do about Minnesota.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers on a barn along Highway 10 west of Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Let’s examine my impressions more closely. I’ve seen Wisconsin fire hydrants painted Packers green and gold and brat buns and kettle corn in the same colors. And I’ve photographed a barn with this message: #12 is #1 G. If you’re not dressed in a Packers jersey on game day, well, you feel totally unfashionable. On game day weekends, Green Bay area hotels jack up the room prices as much as $100. My daughter clued me in on that.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

The brat barn, stationed outside the Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m not a brat lover, so I could never pass as a Wisconsinite. From my observations, brat fries are the most popular fundraiser in this state with brat fry shacks stationed outside many grocery stores. Friday night fish fries are equally as popular.

Van Handel's Cheese Hut, also a gas station, is located in Appleton.

Van Handel’s Cheese Hut, also a gas station and convenience store, is located in Appleton.

Wisconsin definitely lives up to its name as the Dairyland State. Cheese stores abound. The funny thing, every time I travel to Wisconsin, Miranda asks me to bring cave-aged blue cheese from Faribault. So I stash wedges in a cooler and sneak Minnesota-made cheese across the border.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

Like cheese, booze is readily available in Wisconsin. For example, you’ll find walk-in beer coolers at Kwik Trip convenience stores, co-joined grocery and liquor stores, and lots of breweries. Twelve Wisconsin communities rank in the top 20 drunkest cities in America. According to a May 2016 report on 24/7 Wall St, “Appleton is home to the largest share of binge and heavy drinkers in both Wisconsin and the country.”

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

On a recent visit, and in past visits, I’ve also noticed plenty of opinions posted roadside, sometimes on billboards and other times on homemade signs. In Redgranite, a homeowner recently scrawled “Send Hillary to prison” and placed the message board along busy State Highway 21. I’ve also noticed strongly worded messages in billboards posted along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

Finally, hunting seems a popular sport in Wisconsin based on the number of deer stands and deer processing places. While I’m not a big fan of hunting for sport, I do appreciate that hunting makes for fewer deer on roadways.

So…is my general assessment of Wisconsin fair and/or accurate? I do, by the way, really like Wisconsin, including the cheese and the beer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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22 Responses to “A Minnesotan’s take on Wisconsin”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    As a former Wisconsinite, I think you’ve nailed it.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    Green & gold……..after a drive through WI, one would begin to question if there are any other colors! The whole “Packer thing” certainly is a head-scratcher but, I do have to say, I admire the all-weather loyalty and, generally, winning record of the fans and team!!! Some states certainly do have a tendency to stand-out in their preferences………further evidence is a comparison of the many fantastic WI PBS programs featuring farms, restaurants, entrepreneurs, artists and activities found in the nooks and crannies of the WI countryside. I have often asked DH why is it that MN can’t seem to find such subjects for their programming?? (note: there are a few MN programs but not the numbers that WI manage to produce!!!)

    • I remember you mentioning the WI PBS programming previously. I used to watch a program you are likely referencing (Out & About???). But we no longer get public TV stations on our TV after upgrading to a flat screen. Sigh. Our reception comes from a rooftop antenna.

      One does have to admire the loyalty of Packers fans.

      • treadlemusic Says:

        We get WI PBS on both antenna and satellite dish. “Out & About” is one of our faves. I wish we got MN Pbs (out of St. Paul)…..that was pretty good, but went away (for us) when we switched from DSL feed to the satellite. Packer fans are definitely “Cheese Heads”!!!!!!! (and proud of it!!!)

      • Gotta lover those Packers fans. A niece and her family headed to Wisconsin recently to vacation in her home state. She was all excited about touring Lambeau Field. Did I spell that right?

  3. Beth Ann Says:

    I think we all have “ideas” of what other states and people are like . Stereotypes abound but what I have found in all of my travels is that people are just people and it is always interesting to find out what makes them tick . I think we all try to pigeon hole people and geographic areas too much. Everyone has worth and people are shaped so much by their environment and surroundings that the individuality of each is refreshing. And cheese is a very good thing to be known for, btw. 🙂

  4. My parents rave about the cheese place in Faribault. From your assessment on WI I can tell and see that you like it. My curious side usually comes out when I am exploring new places and the people that live there. Going cross country last year from NV to FL was an enlightening and at times educational experience. The 1st day going through Texas was way different than the 2nd day in landscapes and the people. FL is interesting in being touristy as well as transitional throughout a year – I have met a few natives though. I still love a good cheese curd – ha! I live in craft beer mecca here and love it. Happy Weekend – Enjoy!

  5. YEssssssssssS,
    Sounds quite Wisconsin-y!
    Cheese, beer, guns, OH< MY!
    I know.
    I live right across the bridge, man. xx

  6. Littlesundog Says:

    Cheese and beer alone would do it for me. More cheese than beer though… I’m a lightweight! Oddly, we have a big cheese place in Watonga, Oklahoma. Pretty good stuff!

  7. Don Says:

    What I find interesting and at times gives me a good chuckle is the way folks talk! I have been away from the Midwest long enough now to hear the different accents people have depending on the state and what part they may live in. Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, each have their own subtle differences and as a matter of fact I can tell when my wife has talked to relatives in Wisconsin due to her habit of reverting back to the Wisconsin accent with a slight twang. Words come onto play too, Wisconsin uses “Ya Know” quite a bit while Minnesotans use “Uff Da”

    Cheese, Brats and Friday night fish fries I love them, beer hummm not so much but hey to each his own.

    Uff Da, Ya Know something, I cannot wait to get back to the Midwest!

  8. Don Says:

    Ya Know your picture of the gold and green houses next to each other are surely indicative of neighbors that are truly Packer fans! I wonder if they do a tailgate party in their yards before a game……………………

  9. pentraveler Says:

    I grew up in MN and went to college in WI. I think you are spot on!

  10. tcbcannon Says:

    The barn with #12 on it used to say Farve 4 Ever. Then it had a broken heart and said 4 Ever.


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