Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A river of grief October 29, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo.

GRIEF RUNS LIKE A RIVER through the communities of Faribault and Northfield. Rushing. Rising. Roaring. Flooding over banks.

This week, three tragic events have claimed the lives of three. A beloved priest. A woman who lived a life of service. And an, as yet, unidentified individual.

We are two Rice County communities collectively mourning.

The latest loss occurred at 9:25 pm Thursday when a car slammed into the Warsaw Town Hall in a fiery crash that set both vehicle and hall afire, according to the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. The driver, the sole occupant of the car westbound on County Road 39/230th St. West, remains unidentified. This location, a T intersection (CR 39 and Dalton Avenue meet), has been the site of numerous crashes.

UPDATE, November 2, 2021: The driver of the vehicle involved in the fiery crash has been identified as Robin (Robinson) Roberts of Waseca. My heart breaks for Robin’s family, whom I know. Robin was the granddaughter of my former, and now-deceased, next door neighbors. She was a beautiful soul in every way from her mega smile to her loving and caring spirit. She cared for her Uncle Terry after his dad passed and his mom was no longer able to care for him. Terry had downs syndrome and was like a brother to Robin. We felt blessed to have Terry (who passed several years ago) and his parents living next door to us for many many years. And I feel blessed, too, to have met Robin, a joyful and kind woman who brought much compassion and love into this world.

Only a day prior at 9:36 am Wednesday, another tragedy occurred, this one nearly 300 miles to the north on Lake Vermilion in Greenwood Township near Tower. Eva Gramse, 72, of Faribault died in a fiery house explosion, according to the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Department. Her husband, Michael, was found outside their cabin and was airlifted to a Duluth hospital with severe injuries.

The Gramses are well-known in Faribault. Michael Gramse founded MRG Tool & Die, now led by their son Rod as president of the company. But the couple’s imprint extends beyond their business with both actively involved in the community. Michael Gramse has advocated for youth pursuing careers in trades. And Eva, according to media reports, advocated for underprivileged children and led a bible study at her church, Peace Lutheran. I knew of her from previous involvement with Faribault Lutheran School, a Christian school my children attended. I expect the depth of Eva’s impact on my community will emerge in the coming days as friends and family share stories of this woman who meant so much to them.

In neighboring Northfield, that community is grieving the tragic death of the Rev. Dennis Dempsey, 73, who served the Church of St. Dominic for 15 years up until recently. He died on Monday when a vehicle struck the bike he was riding in Rosemount. The driver of the vehicle has a history of speeding and other violations and faces possible charges in this deadly incident.

By all accounts, Father Denny as he preferred to be called, was beloved by many. With 41 years in the priesthood, including time at a Venezuelan mission, he touched many lives. Those who knew him speak to his kindness, his love of the outdoors, his support of the local Latino community, his overall caring spirit and love of people. My connection to him comes through dear friends served by this man of God. Their hearts are broken.

St. Dominic’s celebrates their much-loved former priest today (Friday) with visitation from 4-8 pm and a 7 pm Vigil Liturgy service. Father Denny’s funeral mass is set for 10:30 am Saturday at his current parish, Church of the Risen Savior in Burnsville.

Grief runs like a river. Through Northfield. Through Faribault. To grieve is to have loved…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At the library, online & in bookstores: “This Was 2020”

Duluth artist Carolyn Olson’s art graces the cover of This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

This Was 2020 Now Available” reads the header on a recent news release posted on the Ramsey County Library Reads website.

That’s exciting news for those of us published in this award-winning collection of prose and poetry. This Was 2020: Minnesotans Write About Pandemics and Social Justice in a Historic Year recently won the Minnesota Author Project Award in the Communities Create category. That honor recognizes the work of indie publications in the state. Ramsey County Library (led by librarian Paul Lai) coordinated the book project, calling for submissions and then, eventually, publishing the collection.

The beginning of my poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

My poem, “Funeral During a Pandemic,” was selected for inclusion in the anthology. I write about attending my father-in-law’s funeral at a Catholic church in a small central Minnesota town during the pandemic.

Now my local public library, Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault, has copies of This Was 2020 available for check-out. While I always encourage purchase of books to support writers and booksellers (especially independent bookstores), I recognize the importance of accessibility to all through libraries. The Red Wing Public Library, in our Southeastern Libraries Cooperating regional library system, also has this anthology on the shelf.

The back cover lists the names of the Minnesotans included in This Was 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

I encourage you to borrow or buy a print copy or read the e-version of this important book. It represents the hearts and souls of 51 Minnesotans, most of them published writers. They share their thoughts and experiences on two topics—social justice (connected to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020) and the COVID-19 pandemic.

I encourage you to read my previous review of This Was 2020 (by clicking here) to get a sense of the stories shared in prose and poetry.

My encouragement to read this collection is not motivated by self-promotion. Rather, I want you to read this anthology for the content, the insights, the documentation of history. The writing therein is personal. Deeply personal. These Minnesotans write with honesty, emotion and a rawness that almost hurts. The pain is real, the writing revealing. These poems and prose take readers well beyond the sound bites and headlines and video clips with powerful written words that are sometimes difficult to read.

In an historic time such as this, it’s especially important to gather and share stories in prose and poetry. Through stories we learn, connect, begin to understand, perhaps grow and change…for the better. I hope This Was 2020 prompts respectful discussions and introspection that creates healing. For now, more than ever, we need understanding, compassion and healing.

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NOTE: To all of you who have supported my writing and This Was 2020, thank you. I am grateful.

If you opt to buy This Was 2020, here’s the ISBN#: 978-1-0879-6762-2

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling