Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Kenyon: More than just a bus service October 23, 2020

Held Bus Service in downtown Kenyon, Minnesota.

MANY TIMES I’VE PASSED through Kenyon, usually en route to visit family in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours distant. But many times also, this town of some 1,800 about a half hour east of Faribault has been my specific destination. Last Sunday afternoon on a drive to view the harvest and fall colors (before an unexpected snowstorm changed the landscape to winter), Randy aimed our van north out of Monkey Valley toward Kenyon just a few miles away.

This window features a classroom of yesteryear.
A close-up of a focal globe in the classroom display.
More details from the past…

We had no intention of stopping in Kenyon. But the passenger side window needed cleaning so Randy pulled into a corner service station and washed the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.) Then we continued down Minnesota State Highway 60, which runs through the heart of the business district. As luck would have it, I happened to look, just at the right time, at the Held Bus Service building. And there, in the front windows, I spotted a school-themed display. Photo-worthy, I thought, as I asked Randy to swing around the block and return to the bus building. He even pulled ahead so the van wouldn’t reflect in the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.)

Look at this bus-themed window display with the apparently handcrafted bus.

Photographing the window art proved challenging given the reflections. But I was determined to do my best. Someone worked hard to craft and create these educational-themed displays that show the importance of the Kenyon-Wanamingo School in this community—right down to the Knights mascot, the happy bus driver in the red cap and the smiling students. Yes, by that time I’d noticed two separate window displays, one an historic classroom and the other themed to school buses.

Love these portraits of students on the bus.
The school mascot even gets a place of honor.
More KW students riding the bus.

As someone who grew up riding the bus for 12 years to schools in southwestern Minnesota, I understand the importance of bus drivers. Mine were Jeff and Harley. Great guys. Friendly. Kind. Competent. It’s not easy driving on rural roads during a Minnesota winter. Nor is it necessarily easy dealing with a bus full of kids.

Presumably Jon Held behind the wheel of the bus.

But Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, loves kids. According to a 2016 KARE 11 TV feature on him, he is well-loved, too. He knows kids by name, greeting them daily before and after school (pre-COVID), often with hugs. He keeps a candy stash and one year even handed out his company’s signature red caps to some happy students.

The business is housed in an historic building which was damaged in an August 2016 fire. You can’t tell by looking at it now.

That’s a snapshot of the backstory framing these window displays. These are the stories that define small towns like Kenyon as caring communities, more than simply some place to pass through en route to somewhere else.

Please check back for more photos from Kenyon.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


8 Responses to “In Kenyon: More than just a bus service”

  1. Ruth Says:

    It’s tricky shooting through glass but seems fitting for these times. Kudos to school bus drivers. So many must be laid off now with virtual school in session. Always enjoy traveling with you Audrey.

    • As a photographer, you understand the challenge of photographing through glass.

      Here in Minnesota, schools, at least pre-COVID, struggled to find bus drivers. I expect that is still the case, although I don’t know for certain. Many school bus drivers are retired people and they may not want to drive during a pandemic. Also, many schools here operate on a hybrid learning system, meaning bus drivers are still needed. And fewer kids can ride on a single bus due to the need for spacing. All of that supports my thought that drivers are still very much needed.

  2. BERNADETTE Thomasy Says:

    Your post brought back memories of riding the school bus; we lived nine miles from Owatonna and had many years of that lively experience. Our bus driver was Gordy, an elderly gentleman who got mocked by the older boys but calmly let it all pass over his attention. Glad you reminded me of Gordy.

  3. valeriebollinger Says:

    Fun story.
    I never had to take the school bus…only occasionally. I walked to elementary school (and I walked home for lunch and back again) and to junior high. Our neighbor dropped me, and his own kids, off at the high school on his way to work in the morning. I either walked, got a ride, or took the bus home at the end of the day.

  4. Beth Ann Says:

    What a fun display that is. Randy is a good guy for sure— so thoughtful to do those things so we could enjoy your photos. Thanks !

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