Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Making American Stories during Faribault Car Cruise Night, Part III June 25, 2020

Closing in on downtown, only blocks from Central Avenue, at the end of the car cruise route.

 

AS I WATCHED AND PHOTOGRAPHED the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, I considered not only the stories I would tell with my photos, but the stories of those participating in this monthly summer event.

 

What’s the story behind the TOOTIE license plate on this Ford Fairlane?

 

And where was this young boy riding prior to the cruise?

 

What stories have been written, and shared, in this 1956 Chevy station wagon?

 

What prompted them to join the cruise? What would they see? How would they feel? What memories would they take away from this leisurely Friday evening drive around Faribault area lakes and back into town? Will they, years from now, talk about the summer of 2020 and how, even in the midst of a global pandemic, they went on a car cruise?

 

What’s the story behind this vintage Pontiac owned by Sharon and Tom?

 

The back of that beautiful Pontiac.

 

Life is one long story. With many chapters. And editing along the way. Sometimes by us, sometimes by those who think they can edit our lives or rewrite our stories. They can’t. They are not us. Our stories are ours.

 

Part of Faribault’s “American Stories” campaign.

 

“Making American Stories” is among a handful of marketing slogans selected by local tourism folks to promote Faribault. That theme, along with crafting, experiencing, shaping and preserving American stories, is bannered on signs posted throughout my community. I like this campaign. It’s clear, meaningful, uncomplicated and fitting. It defines community strengths—from history to home-grown businesses to things to do.

 

What’s the story behind “The Rock” shirt?

 

What leads someone to own a vintage car like this Buick Electra?

 

What prompts someone to get all creative and build a rat rod?

 

What’s the full story behind this tattoo?

 

Where did the owners find this vintage Chrysler convertible and what’s its history?

 

And on summer evenings in to early autumn, one of those local once-a-month activities is Faribault Car Cruise Night. It brings together the past and the present. Links vintage vehicles and new. Seniors and kids. Car collectors and, new this year, Harley riders.

 

What’s the story behind the ATV?

 

Wonder what stories this Pontiac GTO convertible could tell?

 

So many American stories in the making during the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

 

Switched from a Central Avenue-based park-and-look event, this actual driving cruise has added a new dimension in the making of this American story. I wonder about the stories. Those already written. And those being written.

This concludes my three-part photo series on the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ in red, Part II from Faribault Car Cruise Night June 24, 2020

A 1957 Chevrolet.

 

WHEN I PHOTOGRAPH car shows, I find myself drawn to red vehicles.

 

A hot rod.

 

For one, the color red pops in photos.

 

 

But, I’m also wondering if red cars are more common? Is that why, when I scroll through frames from the June 19 Faribault Car Cruise Night, that I notice lots of red vehicles in my photos.

 

Ford Fairlane.

 

Red cars.

Mid-60s Chevy pick-up truck.

 

Red trucks.

 

 

Even red Harley Davidson motorcycles. Bikes ended the parade.

 

Ford Mustang.

 

When I think of a red vehicle, I think of speed. And being a bit show-offy.

 

 

Mid 1960s Ford Mustang.

 

 

I think of youth. Although that’s not necessarily accurate. How many guys have purchased red cars during the stereotypical mid-life crisis? Maybe you don’t want to answer that question. Red, I suppose, looks good on anyone, no matter their age.

 

Camaro Super Sport.

 

Red seems an attention-grabbing hue. A good color choice for on-the-road visibility.

 

 

Whether a vehicle is fire-engine red or a shade muting more to maroon, the undertones will always catch my eye. There’s just something about red…

 

1962 Chevrolet.

 

TELL ME: Have you ever owned, or do you own, a red vehicle or shade thereof? What’s your color preference in a vehicle? And why?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ into summer during COVID-19, Part I June 23, 2020

Heading east on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street past the courthouse and Fareway Foods, Car Cruise Night participants arrive in the downtown Faribault business district Friday evening, June 19.

 

IN A SUMMER THAT FEELS anything but normal due to COVID-19, I welcome distractions. And a sense of semi-normalcy.

 

A 1957 Chevrolet.

 

For awhile Friday evening, during Faribault Car Cruise Night, I could pretend that we are not in the midst of a global pandemic. The event has been revamped this summer from vehicles parked along Central Avenue to an actual cruise. The June 19 evening cruise started at the Faribault Middle School, leading drivers out of town and around area lakes before heading back to Faribault and finishing on the south end of Central Avenue.

 

I swung my camera lens east and west to take in the cruise coming and going, including this 1969 Chevrolet Camaro.

 

Watching the parade from the back of a pick-up truck parked in a business parking lot.

 

My friends Curt and Leann in their 1959 Ford Galaxie.

 

In deciding where to sit, Randy and I intentionally looked for a spot that would keep us clear of crowds. And we found that in front of the Rice County Government Center. The uncrowded setting also allowed me to roam onto the courthouse lawn to take photos.

 

Pre-cruise, I photographed this traffic westbound along busy Fourth Street.

 

We waited for nearly an hour from the 6 pm start time to see the first car rolling toward us on Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street. But it was a lovely summer evening to sit outdoors, so we didn’t mind the wait. I did worry, though, about shooting into the sun while photographing the parade of vehicles. And that did prove to be somewhat problematic.

 

Waving from a Chervrolet Corvette.

 

 

A group of bikers closed out the cruise line.

 

No matter, I got plenty of photos—images which show a sense of community, of fun, of joy. This cruise felt different. Lots of smiles. Hand waving. Showing off by a few drivers.

 

A 1955 Chevrolet.

 

 

A Ford Falcon.

 

Many seemed grateful simply to be out on a beautiful Minnesota summer evening.

 

So enjoyed this bagpipe player and his addition to Faribault Car Cruise Night.

 

He started playing next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial.

 

Then moved nearer the courthouse.

 

Adding to the festivities was the music of a lone bagpiper stationed on the courthouse lawn. He stood for awhile next to the Rice County Veterans’ Memorial in a show of respect. I noticed many an appreciative driver and passenger looking his way. The live music definitely added a new dimension to the cruise and I hope will continue.

 

 

 

 

Mostly, I felt an overwhelming sense of being part of something that was more than a parade of collector, vintage and other vehicles. I felt a sense of togetherness while not together. I felt a spirit of community.

 

 

In a summer when nearly every event that brings people together has been canceled, we had this, this escape. For a short time on a Friday evening in June in Faribault.

 

Please check back for two more posts from the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Portrait in a pandemic June 20, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo, May 15, 2020.

 

EVERY TIME I AM IN PUBLIC, I am reminded that we are living during a global pandemic. But even before I leave the house, I do a mental check list. Got my mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Hands washed? Check.

I admit, even after several months of this new way of living, pulling two elastic bands over my ears to hold a cloth face mask in place feels unnatural. Uncomfortable. Odd. But it’s necessary to protect others and to reduce my risk.

And then I need to remember to use hand sanitizer. Upon leaving a store. Before I re-enter my vehicle. Back home, no grocery bags set on counters. Hands washed. I’m learning.

A month ago, while attending the May Faribault Car Cruise Night, I took the above portrait of a man walking along Central Avenue in the heart of our downtown. I appreciate the story this image tells. It represents, to me, the portrait of a pandemic.

In my city of some 24,000, there have been 653 cases of COVID-19 as of Friday, June 19. That’s a fairly high number for our population, in my opinion. County-wide, we’ve had 743 positives, according to information on the Rice County Public Health Services web page. Our state prison accounts for 26 percent of those cases. We have the sixth highest incidence rate of the virus in Minnesota. Four county residents have died.

This virus knows no boundaries. Rural-ness offers no protection. We are all, by the fact that we are human, part of this pandemic. Part of the story. Part of history. Portraits in a pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisin’ around Faribault area lakes, this evening June 19, 2020

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From a past car cruise on Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

BACK IN THE 50s AND 60s, teens idled away time cruisin’ Main Streets. It was a thing then, when life was simpler, much less complicated. No COVID-19 to consider.

Fast forward decades later and cruisin’ is still a thing. Except it’s organized. And the drivers are mostly older and hold a deep appreciation for vehicles of the past, perhaps reliving the days of their youth.

 

Lovely old buildings in the 300 block of Central Avenue provided the backdrop for a past Faribault Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Tonight my southeastern Minnesota community hosts its monthly summertime Faribault Car Cruise Night. Participants will meet at the Faribault Middle School at 6 pm for a cruise which will take them around area lakes and then back to Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60 and south down Central Avenue.

 

Cruise participants await the start of the cruise in the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot in May. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

 

This car cruise, typically a stationery event on Central Avenue where vehicles park and folks mingle, transitioned to an actual on-the-road event in May. That was due to COVID-19. The change proved a hit and drew a high number of participants, including motorcyclists. Even more, maybe double, are expected at this evening’s cruise. I hope organizers have social-distancing plans in place. I didn’t observe those at the May cruise.

Randy and I plan to watch the cruise, although we haven’t yet selected a place that will be aesthetically pleasing and uncrowded. Yes, even outdoors we are cautious about reducing our COVID-19 exposure risk.

To view the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night route, click here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Giving blood during COVID-19 June 18, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’VE NEVER GIVEN MUCH THOUGHT to donating blood through the American Red Cross. It’s just something I’ve done, off and on, for years, after finally following Randy’s lead. I discovered that donating was easy. Drink plenty of fluids on donation day. Show up, healthy, at the appointed time with my RapidPass health screening paperwork in hand, go through a brief pre-donation physical screening and then move on to the table to start the donation process.

But the familiar routine of giving blood all changed with COVID-19. Suddenly, I thought twice about donating. Did I really want to do this in the middle of a global pandemic? Donating blood requires being up close with those screening and drawing your blood. But then I decided I needed to trust that all necessary precautions would be taken to keep me safe. They were.

I arrived masked, as required. Just like everyone at the community center donation site. My temperature was checked twice, once before I even entered. Tables were widely spaced in the former gymnasium. The foam form I squeezed during donation was covered. And only one worker tended to me, unlike in the past. Or, I should qualify, a sole Red Cross employee took me to the point of inserting the needle into my vein. It was then that everything changed. And it had nothing to do with COVID-19. Pain shot through my arm. Pain so intense that I had to muffle my outburst. I don’t recall my exact words. But they were something like, “Either you need to fix this or take this needle out.”

Let me assure you that I have a high threshold for pain having broken two bones, suffered from severe osteoarthritis in my hip and undergone eight surgeries in my lifetime. Blood and needles don’t scare me. But sharp pain like this, that bothered me. The supervisor took charge, professionally assessing that the needle likely needed to be pushed deeper into my vein. She made the adjustment and the pain eased to soreness. The likely cause of the problem, she explained, was scar tissue build-up on the vein.

My blood flowed freely into the bag. Soon I was done and sent to the refreshment table for juice and/or water and individually-packaged snacks. Then I was on my way, my first blood donation during a global pandemic successfully completed. Nothing to it. I considered that the new precautions put in place likely should always have been part of Red Cross protocol.

 

From The Gaylord Hub article.

 

For blood donors in one Minnesota small town, though, the changes due to COVID-19 reached beyond masking, social-distancing, more screening, etc. According to an article in the June 11 issue of the weekly, The Gaylord Hub, a recent blood drive in Gaylord “proved challenging.” And that wasn’t only because of deferrals and no-shows. The newspaper story states that “Gaylord coordinators were unable to serve the usual sandwiches, chips, pickles and beer.” Yes, you read that right. Beer. I’ll allow you to decide whether drinking beer right after giving blood is a good idea.

 

My blood donation card, now filled. I recently received a new one in the mail. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

One new idea announced this week seems like a really good one. Starting June 15 and at least through the summer, all blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies. Positive results indicate the donor may have had previous exposure to the virus and could thereby be eligible for the Convalescent Plasma Donation Program designed to help those battling COVID-19. That screening makes sense and is just one more way donors can help others. So, next time I give blood, I’ll learn whether the crud I experienced at Christmas with a temp, fatigue, feeling down and out, and a severe cough that lingered for weeks was just a routine seasonal virus. Or more.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Outdoor summer Concerts in the Park a “go” in Faribault June 17, 2020

A July 2015 concert in Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DURING A TYPICAL SUMMER, the City of Faribault features free Concerts in the Park on Thursday evenings. I’ve attended for decades, taking our kids when they were growing up. It was a family night out. Years later, Randy and I still pack our lawn chairs and head to Central Park for music and visiting.

I expected this summer, there would be no concerts due to COVID-19. But as state restrictions loosen, the Faribault Parks & Rec Department has opted to start those concerts this Thursday, June 18, at 7 pm with the six-member Gold Star Band performing. The band, with members from around the area, plays classic country, 50s/60s and classic rock.

 

Another past concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Nine additional musical groups—from Little Chicago to the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus to Bend in the River Big Band—are on the Thursday schedule from now until August 20. It will be interesting to see how these musicians social-distance in the confined space of a bandshell. For the smaller groups, it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

I photographed this scene in Central Park on Sunday morning, just days before this week’s concert. Park benches had been pulled out of storage, but are obviously not spaced to allow for social distancing. Hopefully they will be moved apart prior to tomorrow evening’s concert.

 

Because these concerts are outdoors in a park that covers a city block, Randy and I feel safe attending. We can easily social-distance. That, and adherence to all Minnesota Department of Health guidelines related to COVID-19, are expected.

But after the concert, we won’t linger to visit with friends, as we usually do. We’ll fold our lawn chairs, carry them to the van and head home, thankful for the evening of music in a safe environment. Yet missing the sense of community that comes from interaction and conversation.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on the pandemic, from sleep to reality June 16, 2020

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Dreams roil storms into my sleep. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2011.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this post several weeks ago and kept it in-draft. So, when you read this, remember that as I have not updated this from the original writing. My feelings about the need to take this pandemic seriously and to think beyond ourselves remain unchanged.

 

FOR THE FIRST TIME since the COVID-19 crisis broke, I dreamed about the pandemic.

I expect my turbulent emotions of that day and the day prior prompted the dream. Anger and disappointment framed my thoughts as did a converged weariness over a pervasive attitude of self-centeredness in this pandemic.

 

Our face masks. Please, people, wear masks. And if you already do, thank you.

 

And so I dreamed of a long-dead neighbor and of extended family converging on our property, no one wearing face masks, none social-distancing. They got too close, in my face. And when I told them they would need to leave, some turned on me. And then I awoke from my nightmare. Or did I really?

 

On one occasion, I left the house without my hand sanitizer. The planned trip inside a local convenience store did not happen as a result.

 

Life, some days, can play like an ongoing bad dream. If I let it thread that direction. It depends on the day. Trips to the grocery store frustrate me. Employees are now wearing masks—finally—in the local places I shop for food. But too many customers still are not and I don’t get it. I skirt those people (if possible) in the too-narrow aisles.

While shopping at a big box store, I thanked the masked cashier for the store’s requirement that all customers and employees wear masks. I could see her eyes smiling. “All we hear are complaints,” she said. I’m not surprised.

Recently I stopped for ice cream at a favorite independent shop in a neighboring town. The teen behind the walk-up window was not masked. The same for curbside food pick-up at a favorite local restaurant. The woman who handed me my bagged and boxed food was unmasked. I was masked. Both situations surprised me and made me feel uncomfortable. Health and government officials recommend we wear masks. And in some cities, like Minneapolis, masks in public places are now mandatory. And when restaurants re-open, servers will need to don masks. Why not now, during walk-up or curbside pick-up?

 

A message posted on the marquee of the Paradise Center for the Arts at the start of the pandemic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo edited.

 

I’m not sharing these stories to call people or businesses out. Rather, I’m frustrated by the “me” mentality. This pandemic is not about us individually. This is about us collectively. Decisions we make affect others. We can unknowingly carry this virus, perhaps give it to someone who is in the vulnerable demographic. There’s no guarantee either that, if we become infected, we won’t get really sick. We just do not know.

Our thoughts need to stretch beyond ourselves, to thinking of others. And then acting and choosing behaviors that show we truly and deeply care about our families, our friends, our neighbors, even the people we encounter at the grocery store.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turtle time June 15, 2020

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A turtle spotted recently on a street in northwest Faribault.

 

YOU KNOW HOW, SOMETIMES, something sparks a memory. Or memories. Turtles do that for me.

 

I spotted another turtle in the grass at North Alexander Park in Faribault. The Cannon River flows through this park.

 

Recent sightings of turtles at three locations in Faribault took me back in time. To my youth and the “dime store.” Remember those? The long ago chain variety stores like Ben Franklin and Woolworth’s, precursors of today’s dollar stores.

Anyway, Woolworth’s in Redwood Falls, 20 miles from my childhood home in southwestern Minnesota, featured a small pet section tucked in a far back corner of the store. And the sole “pet” I remember, because I really really really wanted one, were the mini turtles. Probably imported. My sensible manager of a brood of six farm-raised kids mother never caved to my pleas. She was smart.

My other childhood memory is of tortoises. Not quite turtles, tortoises are big, with rounded shells, and spend most of their time on land. Turtles are much smaller, flatter and prefer water to land. I never saw a single turtle (outside of Woolworth’s) or tortoise in southwestern Minnesota. Rather, I encountered my first tortoise at the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul. I went on an elementary school class trip there once—a rather big deal to go to “the Cities” when you’re a farm kid. I remember the free-range, lumbering tortoises there and the Sparky the Seal Show.

 

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, photographed in the “Toys & Play, 1970 to Today” Exhibit at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.

 

Fast forward decades later to motherhood and the birth of my two daughters in the late 1980s. They soon became fans of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Saturday morning cartoons and action figurines of the masked turtles and phrases like “Cowabunga!” and “Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!” were parts of their routine and vocabulary. One of the daughters even had a turtle birthday cake one year although I don’t recall which turtle—Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo or Raphael.

 

Turtles basked in the sun in the Turtle Pond at River Bend Nature Center on a recent Friday afternoon.

 

I expect if Woolworth’s sold tiny turtles at the time, my daughters would have begged for one. Instead, I bought them each a goldfish from the “dime store,” still open in downtown Faribault when the girls were young.

 

This turtle at North Alexander Park was digging in the grass, apparently trying to create a nest.

 

That takes me to my final story. On a summer afternoon when my second daughter was still in high school, or maybe college (details of time elude me), I glanced out the window to see a tortoise on our driveway. Now we don’t live anywhere near Como Zoo. But we had a neighbor who owned a tortoise and lived across our very busy street. To this day, I have no idea how that tortoise survived crossing through all that traffic. But I wanted the beast off my property. Before I could determine how we would manage that, Miranda picked up the tortoise and carried it back home. With me protesting. I had no idea whether the tortoise would turn on her, or how sharp its teeth or…

 

This turtle looks so small on a Faribault roadway as it moves toward a nearby pond.

 

This time of year, turtles are crossing roads in Minnesota, mostly to access familiar nesting locations apparently. While some people will stop to pick up and move a turtle out of traffic, I won’t. I’ll only stop to photograph, if it’s safe to do so and traffic is minimal. I’m smart like my mom and not nearly as brave as my second daughter.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A 1979 interview with Mike Max & reflections on community journalism June 12, 2020

A CARDBOARD BOX, stacked in an under-the-roof storage space on the second floor of my house, holds layers of yellowed newspaper clippings. Not stories of personal value because they are about me or my family. But rather stories I wrote, as a community journalist.

In March 1978, newly-graduated with a mass communications degree from Mankato State (now Minnesota State University, Mankato), I started my multi-faceted job at The Gaylord Hub. I was the first-ever journalist hired at the small rural weekly in Gaylord, the county seat of Sibley County. Prior to that, family at the then second-generation family-owned paper covered all the editorial work.

I did everything from writing news stories and features to taking and printing photos to writing headlines to going to the printing plant and then swinging canvas bags full of newspapers into the back of a van for delivery to the post office. I learned nearly every aspect of community newspapers except selling and designing ads and covering sports. Under the guidance of a supportive, encouraging and kind editor and publisher, Jim Deis, I grew my skills and my passion for small town community journalism.

 

A feature I wrote in 1979 republished in the June 4, 2020, issue of The Gaylord Hub.

 

Forty years after I left The Hub, the newspaper still arrives weekly in my mailbox. Jim passed many years ago. His son, Joe, just a kid when I worked at the paper, now serves as the third-generation editor and publisher. And last week he republished a feature, No need for the bubble gum, I wrote in July 1979. Perhaps my one and only sports story. I interviewed the Max brothers—Mike and Marc—for a feature about their sports card collection.

I recall going to the brothers’ home in Lakeside Acres and the piles and piles of bagged, boxed and loose cards numbering some 7,000. But I didn’t remember details of that interview with the 9 and 14-year-olds. So rereading that story I wrote 41 years ago proved entertaining, especially considering where one of those boys landed. Mike Max went on to become the sports director for WCCO-TV in the Twin Cities. And more recently, he expanded to hard news by covering the protests surrounding the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

 

WCCO personality Mike Max, up close in a photo I took in 1979. Photo by Audrey Kletscher from The Gaylord Hub.

 

But back to that 1979 feature I wrote. Here’s my favorite quote from Mike:

“I was always interested in sports. I saw packs (of collector cards and bubble gum), so I would sneak some money and buy a whole bunch,” he said.

That was despite his mother’s orders to buy “only one pack.” He would buy about eight packs, hide seven in his pocket and show his mom the “one pack” he had bought.

Barb Max said she found out about her son’s tricks, but years later.

I love that part of the story.

But I find equally humorous this paragraph from my feature:

The two plan on keeping their cards, but speculate on selling some of them if the price is right. “I’ll save them until I get real old,” Marc said. “I’ll save them until they’re worth more and more, but maybe someday sell them if I need money real bad.”

 

A section of the republished story from 1979.

 

Reflecting on that feature of four decades ago, I am reminded of the importance of community newspapers. These are the stories we are losing as more and more small town weekly newspapers, and even some dailies, are folding. Declines in advertising revenue and subscribers, rising expenses and the growth of online media alternatives have all factored into the demise of print journalism. I can’t even begin to tell you how much that saddens me. We are losing such a valuable part of our communities. The watchdogs. The storytellers. The historians. The source of information about public meetings, community events, deaths—news in general. The media is too often under attack, blamed for reporting too much bad news. Don’t kill the messenger, I say.

I will always remain grateful for the two years I worked as The Cub from the Hub, a name tagged to me while in Gaylord. There I learned and grew as a writer, always striving for integrity, honesty and balanced reporting. By far, feature writing proved the most enjoyable aspect of my work. From Gaylord, I would go on to report for The Sleepy Eye Herald-Dispatch, The Mankato Free Press (St. James bureau), The Owatonna People’s Press and The Northfield News. Some were temporary fill-in jobs, others full-time. But no matter where I worked, I worked long, hard hours at low pay to cover the community. I reported the hard news and attended endless city council/school board/county board meetings into the late hours of the night. And sometimes I wrote, too, about kids who collect sports cards. Kids like Mike Max and his younger brother, Marc.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling