Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Building memories & reconnecting at a Minnesota family reunion August 24, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Seven of the eight living Helbling siblings, including my husband, Randy, in the front row, gathered last Saturday for the annual family reunion.


FROM PONIES TO GOATS, German potato salad to kuchen, a scavenger hunt to a trivia game and more, all were part of the annual Helbling Family Reunion held Saturday on a rural Faribault acreage.


A neighbor brought over two ponies, a hit with all ages.


Randy and I co-hosted the event with a nephew and his wife, creating shared experiences to connect generations spanning from age one into their sixties.


The Helbling cousins posed for a portrait that includes my three children, front center and back right.


Nearly 50 of us gathered, first for a meal of mostly German and some American foods, and then for an afternoon of fun under a canopy of sprawling oaks.


Even though she was too little to really bounce, my granddaughter, Izzy, still loved the bouncy house as did all the other kids.


Emmett, who just turned one and was the youngest at the reunion, is already practicing his bean bag tossing.


Likewise 16-month-old Izzy, second youngest in the Helbling family, dropped bean bags in holes.


Kids jumped in the bouncy house while adults tossed bean bags into holes in angled boards.


Among the gnomes I hid.

Among the gnomes I hid.


I sent some kids on a scavenger hunt for gnomes and ceramic animals tucked into hiding places below sunflowers and lilac bushes and in and around trees and more. They raced with enthusiasm, clues in hand, to search for the treasures on a day as perfect as they get here in southern Minnesota in August.


I pulled stories from a family history book published in 1993, printed them on paper with graphics and then displayed all on a table. Some of the stories were part of the family history trivia contest.


Later, after the bean bag tournament ended, the adults answered questions about family history in a trivia contest. Three scored a perfect ten, proving they know that roaming coyotes once kept the three oldest Helbling children indoors during recess at a one-room country school in North Dakota in the 1960s.


Getting all the kids to sit still for a portrait proved impossible.


One dashed away…


The final portrait, minus one.


This is the stuff of family history, of stories that can be told and retold through generations. Stories unique to this family once rooted in Germany, then moved to Russia before emigrating to America.


Katherine, 5,  took time to create art.


I am not, by blood, a Helbling. But for 35 years I have been part of this family which still cares enough each August to gather for a reunion. While the majority travel from various parts of Minnesota, others arrived here this year from Boston, Michigan, Wisconsin and Missouri.


My three kids, Amber, left, Miranda and Caleb, having fun with the German photo props.


My great nieces and sweet sisters, Meghan, left, and Katherine. Their mom said they look forward to the reunion.


The Helbling cousins having fun with photo props.


There were the traditional posed family portraits juxtaposed with informal and fun photo ops using German themed props ordered online. A set salvaged from Vacation Bible School served as an Alps mountain backdrop.


My niece Amber and I picked wildflowers, garden flowers, grasses and weeds and then arranged bouquets in bier steins.


Adding to the ethnic bend were bier steins filled with mostly wildflowers and weeds culled from fields and yards, the impromptu vases set on banquet tables draped in yellow, black and red, the colors of the German flag. The themed reunion honored the Helbling family’s German heritage. As a detail-oriented creative type, I delight in adding such memorable details. Family members noticed and appreciated.


Family members hammered nails into a stump in games of hammerschlagen.


As the day wended from bright afternoon sunshine to dusk and a spectacular sunset, the sound of nails hammered into a stump in games of hammerschlagen ceased. Voices rose and fell in conversation while lines formed for the evening meal of build your own burgers. At the grill, Randy took orders for burgers topped with American, pepperjack or blue cheeses. Much to our surprise, many chose blue cheese made and aged in sandstone caves some six miles away in the heart of Faribault.


We are creating memories for the next generation. Here my husband and our granddaughter play bean bag toss. Sort of.


And then, while Randy and I grabbed our burgers from the grill and finally sat down to eat, others piled onto a wagon for a hayride around the rural acreage. I wished I could have joined them, even taken photos. But I needed to refuel after a fun, but exhausting, day. It takes effort and energy and hard work to carry out a family reunion. But it’s so worth it for the memories created, the love and experiences shared as a family.

TELL ME: Does your family hold reunions? I’d love to hear details.

CLICK HERE to read posts about past family reunions.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Building memories & reconnecting at a Minnesota family reunion”

  1. Mike Says:

    We never had them a lot when I was growing up since we saw each other all the time. As time went on and the family spread further out, we decided it was time. My cousins and I pretty much pushed the idea that it WAS going to happen every year and that is how Grandma would have wanted it. So every year we pick someone’s house to host it. We grill, have target shooting, fish, and talk a lot. Lots of talking I mean, and by a lot I mean a LOT haha. It’s great and I’m sure my Grandparents are super happy we do this too. Sadly this year I have a chaotic year and won’t be able to make it. I’ve offered to be able to Skype in at least. Now we are making plans of renewing the Christmas get together we had EVERY year with Grandma as well. I’m really hoping this happens as it is one of the best memories I had as a child. I’d love for my cousins children to be able to experience this too.

    • It sounds like you have a wonderful and loving family to want to get together at least once a year and possibly twice. I love to read about reunions like this because I have been a part of them too for decades and fully understand their importance.

  2. I love family reunions! It looked like everyone had a great time, especially Emmett and Izzy playing cornhole. Great photos!

  3. Almost Iowa Says:

    One of the great things about family reunions is the kids getting together with their cousins and forming connections that last for a lifetime.

  4. What FUN!!! The memories to talk and laugh about for years and years. Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂

  5. Great job. I think that you and Randy could start a business as party planners!

  6. Vivian Says:

    It was a GREAT family reunion!!! Audrey, Randy, Amber and Matt put a lot of thought and effort into it. Thank you so very much!!!

  7. Jackie Says:

    I always love reading your yearly posts on the Helbling reunion. I’m quite amazed at the detail that you all go through to make this such a fun event. From What I can see it was another year of fun and great memories for you and your extended family. I bet you were thrilled to have your 3 together, and little Izzy is adorable as ever. I love the picture of her and Randy playing bean bag toss…so sweet. I remember family reunions when we were little but, they have faded out. I know some still get together but it’s not really advertised. It’s very admirable that Randy’s family still makes the effort to make this happen…..Loved this post!

  8. Thank you for sharing your amazing day. Even great weather! And your shoulder survived? A few years ago my husband and I were at happy hour while on vacation in a Florida and we chatted with the couple next to us. They were waiting for their 3 young adult sons to fly in and join them. Somehow they got to sharing how close they all were- the boys loved to hang out with dad and other friends in dad’s garage man cave. The big thrill was a recent addition of a large tree stump so they could all play hammerschlagen. We had never heard of this- but were given an animated description.

  9. Gunny Says:

    Almost Iowa stated it well. Happy for you all – enjoy!

  10. Yay! So glad you had a fun time!

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