Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering & honoring my hardworking dad this Labor Day September 7, 2020

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)

A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980. He died in 2003.


MY DAD WORKED HARD. Really hard. He was a farmer, beginning back in the day when farming was incredibly labor intensive. Pitching manure. Throwing hay bales. Milking cows by hand. Cultivating corn. He worked from the rising of the sun to beyond sunset. Hours and hours in the barn. Long days in the field. Few, if any, days off.


The milkhouse, attached to the barn on the farm where I grew up just outside of Vesta, MN. I spent a lot of time in these two buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


It was a life he knew from childhood, as the son of a southwestern Minnesota farmer. Dad quit school after eighth grade to work on his family’s farm in the 1940s. And when he grew into adulthood, he served on the frontlines during the Korean War, then returned to farm just down the road from the home place. There he worked his own land, milked cows and raised (along with my mom) his family of six children.


Some of the acreage my dad farmed in Redwood County, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Like my father, I grew up with a strong work ethic rooted in the land. Walking bean fields to pull unwanted weeds. Picking rock. Throwing hay bales into feed bunks for the Holsteins. Carrying buckets of milk replacer to thirsty calves. Climbing up the silo and forking smelly silage down the chute. The work never ended. And the next day we repeated the process.


Corn and soybean fields define southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But it was, in many ways, a good life. Time together. Time outdoors. Time to reflect. Time to learn and grow and stretch, just like the corn stretching toward the sky.


Growing up on our crop and dairy farm, my eldest brother, Doug, photographed the cows and recorded details about them. My middle brother treasures this compilation of information from our farm. And so do I. Memories… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Working on the farm made me strong and resilient and fostered a sense of independence. I have always been a self-starter, preferring to work on my own. I trace that to the spirit of independence I observed in my farmer dad, who stood up for what he believed. I remember him dumping milk down the drain as the National Farmers Organization aimed to get better prices. I possess a streak of that feistiness, especially when it comes to those who are bullied/oppressed/looked down upon. I do what I can, with the talents I have, to make a positive difference. To uplift and encourage. And to really listen rather than talk.

I always told my dad I wanted to be a farmer when I grew up. He didn’t encourage that thought. None of my five siblings farm, although two work in ag-related businesses. It’s a credit to my parents that each of us pursued diverse careers as a partsman (and part owner) at an implement dealership, as a writer and photographer, a florist, CEO of an ethanol plant, teacher and lawyer. That’s a wide range of occupations among siblings. Our parents did not tell us what to do, and for that I shall always be grateful.


Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.


We were not a perfect family. Still aren’t. There were, and are, struggles. Financial and other. We were poor as in outhouse poor and no gifts for birthdays poor and wearing hand-me-downs poor and only rice for dinner poor. And only two vacations my entire childhood—one at age four to Duluth and one to the Black Hills at around age 12. Yet, I never felt like we were missing anything. We had enough. Food. Shelter. Clothes. And hardworking parents—for my mom worked equally as hard as my dad—who loved and provided for us.

My parents may not have hugged us or told us they loved us. But they showed their love by their care, their provision, their raising us in the faith. Their efforts, from parenting to farming, were a labor of love. And I shall always feel gratitude for that.


CLICK HERE TO READ my post, “Many Reasons to Feel Blessed this Labor Day,” published last week on the Warner Press blog.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “Remembering & honoring my hardworking dad this Labor Day”

  1. Littlesundog Says:

    I grew up in tough times too. It caused me to be resilient, appreciative, and thankful. I see a huge sector of our population who are unhappy and whine around about what they don’t have and how miserable they are. I have always been happy to be free to live life my way, work hard and see what I accomplish with my own two hands and common sense knowledge, and feel good about a productive day. I wonder how many people in this country will think about the meaning of Labor Day today or remember the many people who labored ahead of us and instilled a hard work ethic and positive perspective in us?

  2. Kiandra Judge Says:

    I’m always impressed by the farmers and their families. Hard, honorable work and to be admired.
    Your description of your family sounds like my mother-in-law who also grew up on a dairy farm near Cannon Falls. No vacations, hard work, but always had a safe and loving home. The farm is still in the family and it’s a source of pride for all.
    Thank you for sharing and for the hard work your family did. It’s definitely something to be proud of!

  3. Bernadette Thomasy Says:

    I enjoyed this tribute to your father. It was like reading a recap of my own father’s hard-working life and my growing up years on a Minnesota farm. I especially loved the photo of your father by the tractor. Enjoy your Labor Day!

  4. valeriebollinger Says:

    Gary shares many of your memories, growing up on a dairy farm in PA. Hard work!
    So grateful for your dad and his legacy!

  5. Beth Ann Chiles Says:

    I love this post (If this comment comes through twice feel free to delete!) because it shows such a great side of your life and your family. Even though I did not grow up on a farm I have fond memories of spending time at my grandparents’ farm and all that went with that. It is a hard and difficult life but it definitely was rewarding when it was a good year for crops and livestock. I love your cow records–how neat to have those.

  6. Love hearing your stories about the “farm”, they remind me of my own parent’s stories which seem very similar. Also love the old photo’s! Your milk house photo reminds me of Grandma’s farm. So many good memories on the farm.

  7. Lovely memories. We were dirt poor too when I was a kid. But I didn’t know it until many years later when I was an adult. I was always warm, fed and loved. Always loved. Sweet post, Audrey.

    • I really appreciate that I was raised without “things.” That’s carried throughout my life. I am not a person who needs much materialistically. Heck, I’m happy to live in a house with a bathroom. I know you get it. Thank you for sharing your background of always feeling loved, though dirt poor.

  8. Missy’s Crafty Mess Says:

    Looks like you may have had a little snow that winter. I think sometimes growing up without all of the extras gives one a better character!

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