Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Spring flooding in my home county of Redwood April 30, 2018

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Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan.

 

SEVERAL DAYS AGO, traveling back to my hometown of Vesta, I noted snow sculpted in some road ditches. This late in April, the scene was unexpected. But then a blizzard raged across southern Minnesota only weeks earlier. And that road ditch snow, hard-packed by prairie winds, had yet to melt in the then 60-degree temps.

 

Nearing Vesta (left in photo) along Minnesota State Highway 19, I saw more and more flooding of farm fields.

 

A view of the flooding from Highway 19 just northwest of Vesta.

 

And just across the highway, more flooding.

 

Beyond the snow, though, I noticed water setting in farm fields. The late significant snowfalls and plugged culverts and tiles likely contributed to the collection of snow melt water in many low-lying areas. It would be awhile, I surmised, before farmers would be working this land.

 

 

The deep blue of those temporary ponds appeals to the poet in me. I see lines of poetry in splashes of blue across an otherwise drab landscape stubbled by remnants of last year’s harvest.

 

The Redwood River, flooded over its banks, along Redwood County Road 10 heading south out of Vesta. That’s my home farm in the distance. There have been times when the river flooded across the roadway.

 

A temporary lake of floodwaters borders my hometown of Vesta.

 

Flooded farmland along the Redwood River on the edge of Vesta.

 

On the south edge of Vesta, within view of the Redwood River, a lake formed as the river overflowed its banks and flooded surrounding farm land. The town itself was in no danger with a hill—rare as they are on the prairie—bordering that end of town.

 

Water spreads easily across the almost tabletop flat landscape, here just north of Vesta.

 

There’s something about floodwaters that draws my appreciation, causes me to stand and just look at the river and recognize its power.

 

These grain bins sit a gravel road and short stretch of land away from the floodwaters of the Redwood River in Vesta.

 

I realize that soon (maybe even as I write) this flooding will be another memory as farmers ready for planting and, in several months, the harvest.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From small town Minnesota: Comfort on a day of mourning April 28, 2018

This banner hung in the sanctuary at my Uncle Harold’s funeral.

 

COMFORT IN SONG. Comfort in words. Comfort in family. Comfort in food. Comfort in a sense of community.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta, Minnesota.

 

I felt comforted as I gathered with extended family and my hometown community on Thursday to mourn, and remember, my beloved Uncle Harold.

 

Floral arrangements, plants and other memorials filled the front of the church. These flowers, with an oil can incorporated, were given by my siblings and our families. The oil can recognizes Harold’s previous occupation as the owner of Harold’s Service (a gas station and garage).

 

I felt blessed, too, to congregate here in a small town church overflowing with people. It is the songs, always the songs, that touch my emotions, that bring me to tears. I struggled to sing the words to “How Great Thou Art” as row upon row upon row of extended family, including me, joined the immediate family in walking in together, behind the casket, to fill St. John’s Lutheran Church.

 

Many family photos, including one of Harold and his wife, Marilyn, graced the table as did Harold’s (presumably favorite) cap.

 

I observed that the undertakers seemed surprised at the sheer volume of Kletscher relatives. We are a large lot and we come together in times of need. Only a few of my 30-plus cousins were missing. Family is important to us. Always has been. Always will be.

 

Vesta is a close-knit farming community of about 330 in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

As I sat in a folding chair at the end of a pew, pressed to the wall, I felt the closeness of this family and community that I love. Our voices swelled, loud, to sing “Amazing Grace” and, later, “Go My Children, With My Blessing.” In those moments of song, I felt especially moved by the legacy of my forefathers who helped found this congregation. There’s something about singing traditional hymns of old that comforts me and connects me to those who went before me—on this day my uncle.

 

A snippet of the life summary Harold wrote for his family.

 

Harold left a gift for his family in the form of his life’s story scrawled onto four pages of notepad paper. The notes were found in the barn/shed behind his home after his death. I didn’t have time to completely read the life summary given the crowd and busyness of funeral day. But Harold’s youngest son has promised to send me the stories, which also mention my dad.

 

The display table showcased some of the honors Harold has garnered through the years for his service to church and to community.

 

The two brothers now lie buried near each other on a cemetery just north of Vesta. The city fire truck led the long processional from the church to the burial grounds as an honor to Harold, a volunteer fireman of 45 years. On the hilltop cemetery, we said our final goodbyes, our final prayers, as the wind whipped and the sun shone. Standing there, I felt a sense of comfort not only in the closeness of family but in a sense of place. This is my land. These are my people. Even though I left Vesta decades ago, this still feels most like home.

When the graveside ceremony ended, I lingered with family, my heart heavy, yet my heart free. I paused at my father’s gravestone, too, and remembered him—dead 15 years now.

Back at the church, the celebration—and I intentionally choose to call this a celebration—continued with a lunch of scalloped potatoes and ham, coleslaw, slices of bread, homemade dill pickles and cupcakes served with lemonade and coffee. No Funeral Hotdish #1 or Funeral Hotdish #2, as I refer to the Reception Committee hotdishes published in the St. John’s Anniversary Cookbook of 1985. I scooped only small servings of food onto my paper plate, cognizant of the crowd to feed, and not necessarily expecting Jesus to multiply the scalloped potatoes like the fishes and loaves.

 

Harold worked as the city of Vesta maintenance engineer for many years before retiring at age 70.

 

Food and conversation comforted me on this Thursday, Harold’s burial day. He would have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love—by the vehicles overflowing onto the county road beside the church, by the lines waiting to comfort his wife and children, by the raised voices singing, Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee. How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018

 

The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.

 

ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.

 

The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.

 

Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.

 

 

But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.

 

One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.

 

I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.

 

This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.

 

But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.

 

 

The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.

 

 

Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The faith of our fathers still flourishes in a long-time Faribault radio ministry April 26, 2018

A temporary display in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church celebrates the radio and video ministry.

 

FROM MINNESOTA to Sweden to Saudi Arabia, people are listening to worship services from Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

 

 

That may not seem remarkable in this technological age. But the longevity of this Minnesota-based ministry—seventy years—and its basic beginnings are remarkable. In April 1948, a group of men founded the Trinity Radio Council with the goal of broadcasting services on KDHL radio in Faribault. Just three months after that station formed and weeks after the Council initially met, the first Trinity worship service aired at 8 a.m. on April 25, 1948.

 

The original coverage area for KDHL radio.

 

With promised payments of 35 cents per broadcast per Council member, this ministry into the southern regions of Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa launched. Today those live radio broadcasts cost $175, but reach a much wider audience. And well beyond radio.

 

 

Worship services (at 8 a.m. Sundays and on other special church days) are also live-streamed, available for online viewing, aired on the local community cable channel and shared with care center residents.

 

The original microphone used in 1948.

 

 

 

The transmitter.

 

From a simple RCA microphone, a basic switchboard and a transmitter, broadcasting has advanced to high tech with multiple cameras, computers and more.

 

Art suspended in the sanctuary denotes radio waves and the focus of the radio ministry.

 

 

Yet, the purpose of sharing these worship services remains unchanged. And that is to bring Christ to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation. In a recent sermon, Trinity Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva, referenced Romans 10:17 as he noted the Trinity Faribault Radio Club’s 70th anniversary: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

A view inside the studio and overlooking the sanctuary through the studio window.

 

Vintage radio room art, currently in the historical display case.

 

 

 

That word of God centers worship at Trinity. And that’s visible in the radio room angled into a corner of the sanctuary. Todd Voge, who today leads the radio and video ministry, gave me a quick tour. While Todd showed me the brains of the operation condensed on a computer screen, pointed out the transmitter and more, I noticed two bibles sandwiched between a telephone directory, song books and devotionals. In a cramped room filled with all sorts of high tech stuff, the printed bible still holds a place of importance.

 

 

This ministry remains important to Trinity with generations of families involved and committed to its continuance. Within my family, my husband once a month takes a DVD of the morning’s worship service to a local care center and shows it to residents. And when my son was in high school, he volunteered in the radio room. While I’m not a volunteer—the computer aspect is enough to scare me—I’ve occasionally listened to worship services on KDHL when I couldn’t make it to church.

 

Original meeting minutes are currently displayed in the narthex history case.

 

I am grateful to the original Trinity Radio Council members for having the foresight and the faith to start this ministry. They saw the potential in radio, in a ministry which has endured for 70 years. And expanded well beyond what they ever imagined.

 

An overview of the historical display.

 

FYI: To learn more about the Trinity Faribault Radio Club and/or to listen to/watch worship services, click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Varied art by a trio of artists showcased in Owatonna April 25, 2018

A sculpture inside the Owatonna Arts Center Library. The library is a must-see. It also features a vibrant ceiling mural.

 

SEVERAL DAYS REMAIN—until April 29—to view the work of three artists at the Owatonna Arts Center. Their art is notably distinct.

 

A section of “Winter Dreams of Spring.”

 

A solo piece of textile art showcases the work of Jan Myers-Newbury in the open space leading into the art center complex. “Winter Dreams of Spring” is a stunning quilted piece by this Pennsylvania artist with a Minnesota connection. She graduated from St. Olaf College in Northfield.

 

A close-up of Dana Hanson’s oil painting, “The Native Man, His Eagle & His Chanupa.”

 

Featured gallery artist Dana Hanson of Faribault focuses on “Healing the Land” in her powerful exhibit on the Dakota people. Through visions and dreams this Christian artist was inspired to create oil paintings that honor the memory and heritage of this Native people.

 

“Protector of the 38 + 2,” an oil on canvas by Dana Hanson.

 

She narrows her subject to the Dakota who were hung in the largest mass execution in US history following the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862. She also highlights an annual memorial ride honoring those 38 men.

 

 

I suggest you visit this exhibit, study the paintings and read Dana’s words about this important, and too often forgotten, difficult chapter in Minnesota history.

 

A portion of the painting “Taking His Licks,” done by Raymond Stuart in 1958.

 

Once you’ve finished that, skirt into the art center hallways to view the whimsical and delightful work of Raymond Stuart, who years ago created calendar art. A native of Illinois, he eventually settled near his wife’s native Meriden (near Owatonna) to set up his home and art studio in a barn. His work seems Midwest Normal Rockwell-type to me. It’s rural, humorous and everyday. Delightful.

 

“Bug Attack” by Raymond Stuart, date of painting unknown.

 

I’m always amazed at the variety of art I can see right here in southeastern Minnesota. How fortunate we are to have places like the Owatonna Arts Center to share and celebrate the arts.

 

I love the expressions in Raymond Stuart’s’ art, like this of the boy in his 1954 painting “Surprised.”

 

FYI: The Owatonna Arts Center is open from 1 – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday and is located at 435 Garden View Lane.

 

UPDATED: 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 27, to correct the last name of the Meriden artist.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

All artwork was photographed with permission. Copyrights for art belong to the artist or rightful owner of those copyrights.

 

Uncle Harold April 24, 2018

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Harold Kletscher

MY UNCLE HAROLD died on Saturday. Unexpectedly. He was eighty-four. Even though he lived a long life, the length of years never seems enough for loved ones. The loss is no less difficult.

Harold, like two other uncles, lived within a mile of the farm place where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. He was just always around. At church on Sunday mornings. Visiting the farm. But most often, working at the gas station he owned and operated along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Vesta. The business long ago closed.

In January 2014, I interviewed my uncle and wrote about his memories and my memories of Harold’s Service. I am thankful I took the time to listen to my uncle’s stories of doing business in a community of some 350. These businesses, once the backbone of small town economies, are dwindling. It’s important that we document the stories of these entrepreneurs as much for historical reference as for examples of determination, hard work and service. Today I direct you to that post (click here), as I think of my beloved uncle—husband, father, grandfather, businessman, city employee, church janitor, small town city councilman, volunteer and man of faith.

I am fortunate to come from a large extended family of many aunts, uncles and cousins. Nearly all lived within close geographical proximity back in my growing up years in Redwood County, Minnesota. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together. These days, with my generation of cousins and our families now spread well beyond the prairie, we see each other only once a year at the annual Kletscher Family Reunion. Or at funerals.

There is comfort in memories and in the closeness of extended family. We have a legacy of faith passed from our great grandparents. They were among founding members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. Funerals for my grandparents, father, and other uncles were held there. This week we gather again at St. John’s, to remember Uncle Harold. Loved by many. And now in his eternal home.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The weekend we’ve awaited in winter weary Minnesota April 23, 2018

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GOODBYE, WINTER, and welcome spring.

 

Buds are bursting in these trees along the Cannon River in Dundas.

 

This weekend brought spring to Minnesota, just a week after an historic blizzard. And the mood shifted dramatically to exuberance as Minnesotans soaked up the sunshine and warmth, me among them. I even sport a sunburned forehead.

 

“Thin ice” signs remained in place at Lake Kohlmier in Owatonna on Saturday. Edges of the lake were open, the middle still iced.

 

We haven’t had temps this warm—in the 60s—since October. That’s too many months.

 

In Nerstrand, a contrast of seasons in a melting snowman and yard art.

 

On Sunday afternoon Randy found enough snow for a snowball.

 

Randy and I took a drive in the Rice County countryside this weekend. Snow still remains in shadowed spots.

 

While winter still lingers in melting snowmen, patches of snow and ice on lakes, I see spring everywhere.

 

 

 

 

In budding trees and pussy willows and blooming crocuses. Even in mud baking dry in the afternoon sun.

 

Biking Sunday afternoon along a back gravel road in Rice County south of Northfield.

 

It was shirt sleeve warm weather in Minnesota on Sunday, this scene photographed in Faribault at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 21 and Seventh Street.

 

People were out and about everywhere—biking, riding motorcycles, pushing strollers, pulling wagons, walking, running, drinking craft beers on brewery decks and patios…

 

A fitting sign outside Chapel Brewing in Dundas on Sunday.

 

There was this feeling of we’ve finally made it. If you’ve ever lived in a cold weather state, you understand that delight, that giddiness, that joy which marks the first really warm and sunny day of spring.

 

Randy pulled on his shades as we each enjoyed a glass of beer on the riverside deck of Chapel Brewing Sunday afternoon.

 

Smiles abound, jackets are shed, sunglasses pulled on, winter released. Even if snow still remains in shadowed patches, we understand that spring has arrived in Minnesota. Finally.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling