Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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


24 Responses to “From small town Minnesota: Comfort on a day of mourning”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:

    Thank you for this powerful walk down the path of life.

  2. Littlesundog Says:

    I’m glad you had so much support from family, and it sounds like lots of local folks were there to gather around too. To me, it always means so much to see and visit with the people who knew our loved one. Last year when I went up to Nebraska for my nephews funeral, I noticed most all of the other kids from the home he lived in were present, as were several of the caretakers. How much effort was it to load up so many handicapped kids in wheelchairs on a very cold day? That meant so much to our family, especially my sister. It means so much to be surrounded by love and kindness on days like this. It sounds like Harold was a much loved man in the community. What a bright star he was!

    That four page, handwritten life summary is priceless! I hope you’ll post it in full at some point. I have a similar small journal written by my great-grandfather. It’s very detailed, and quite interesting. What a treasure it is to read. It makes me realize how difficult life was back then.

  3. bev walker Says:

    Audrey, Thank you so much for the beautiful tribute to Uncle Harold. As I sit here shedding tears that I would have shed at his funeral, I am so blessed to have such wonderful memories of family from years ago. We really do have wonderful lives!

  4. Jackie Says:

    What a lovely tribute/ story of your Uncle and a family who clearly loves each other. I’m so sorry for your loss!

  5. Ruth Says:

    Your post is a lovely tribute to your Uncle Harold whom you will miss dearly. I’m sorry for your loss. How nice to have your family gather in to share and comfort one another. ❤️

  6. Laurine Jannusch Says:

    Your commentary certainly captures the spirit of Vesta and St. John’s church–the closeness among families and the sense of place. The pictures of Vesta brought back a sense of nostalgia for a simpler, less hectic way of life, and a personal past that seems a lifetime ago. I can’t believe your dad is gone 15 years already. Even though he (and now Harold) are gone in a physical sense, their impact will continue to bear fruit.. God bless you and your family. Laurine Jannusch

  7. chlost Says:

    I am not sure when or why, but at some point, I have been through Vesta. It’s a name that sticks with you. It sounds as though the town has done that for you as well.
    Losing family is so painful. I am glad that you found comfort in the traditions of your family and community.

    • Vesta is a community of about 330 situated along Minnesota State Highway 19 half-way between Redwood Falls and Marshall. My Uncle Harold’s gas station was right along the highway.

      Vesta means “goddess of the hearth,” a name I find fitting given the importance of home and family in this small town. However, if I am remembering my history correctly the town was named after the daughter of the local postmaster.

  8. Beth Ann Says:

    I am so sorry for your loss and know that your family finds strength in each other as well as celebrating the knowledge of your Uncle Harold’s faith . The oil can bouquet was appropriate and a lovely nod to a man who probably was very hard working over the years . What a lovely way to remember him with a packed church, a traditional church dinner surrounded by family and friends. Lovely post.

  9. valeriebollinger Says:

    There was a banner like in the top picture with the same verse and my mother’s name at her funeral. Brought back memories. This is a lovely tribute.

    • The funeral banner is something I’ve never seen before and I think it’s a great idea to personalize and reaffirm that the end of this life is the beginning of eternal life. I expect that banner comforted you, too, at your mother’s death.

  10. Almost Iowa Says:

    Funeral Hotdish #1 or Funeral Hotdish #2

    Nothing mends the heart better.

  11. Beautiful memorial and a tribute to a wonderful man. Take Care

  12. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    A life much celebrated. What a beautiful tribute

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