Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An American treasure: North Morristown on the Fourth of July July 5, 2021

The Pie Stand at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

WHEN RANDY AND I ARRIVED at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration late Sunday afternoon, we headed directly to the Pie Stand. I hoped the homemade pies wouldn’t be sold out. They weren’t.

Tasty homemade strawberry pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although the selection was limited by this time in the day-long event, we still found tasty pies. I chose fresh strawberry while Randy opted for rhubarb, both parceled in generous portions.

The crowd had thinned by Monroe Crossing’s 4 pm concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

While we forked our pies, the ever-popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed to an appreciative audience on the nearby Main Stage. The crowd settled onto bleachers, folding chairs inside the gazebo and onto plank benches, and also spilled onto the grassy area in lawn chairs and on blankets.

Inside the shed housing games and vintage kiddie rides. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several musical groups performed throughout a day packed with family-friendly events: A parade, patriotic program, BINGO, kiddie rides and games, and so much more.

Proceeds go to this small Christian school in the country. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Once we finished our pie, we roamed the festival grounds, a grassy space shaded by towering trees (including aged oaks) and next to farm sites and fields. Across the street sits Trinity Lutheran Church and School, the school benefiting from funds raised at this long-running July Fourth celebration.

This shed houses the games and rides, which are unchanged. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

I love everything about this event. The timeless quality. The step back in time. The connecting with friends (and for many, with family). The music. The food.

Old Glory flies in the middle of the festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

To be in North Morristown on the Fourth of July is to experience a sense of community, to feel comforted by the sameness of this celebration, to understand that this is about more than Independence Day. This is about rural America and how family and community and tradition are valued and cherished here.

The homemade kiddie train crafted from barrels. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
I loved watching the kids ride the barrel train. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

As I watched the engineer of the barrel train steer his lawn tractor, I thought, what wonderful memories these kids will have of riding that homemade train. The same goes for the other kiddie rides and carnival games which remain unchanged. I need to bring my grandchildren here to experience this.

The next generation vends tees. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
Try to hit a vintage “doll” in this game. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.
The fish pond. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Generations of families run the rides and booths, stitching stories into their family histories. The kids will always remember going to North Morristown on the Fourth—to pluck a yellow rubber duck from a pond, to throw a ball toward a hoop or toward spinning “dolls,” to drop a line into the fish pond…all for some prize that is more treasure than trinket on July 4.

Food is served from vintage stands. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

North Morristown on the Fourth truly rates as an American treasure.

Will Bauermeister performs as a hot and humid day eases toward evening. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Although Randy and I did not grow up here, we have lived in neighboring Faribault for 40 years and know a lot of people. So we saw many there—Mel, Carl, Leroy, Shirley, Virgil, Jane, Jen, Mike…and a college friend, Annette, whom I haven’t seen in decades. We made new friends, too, Kevin and Brenda from Elysian and another couple from Monticello. That’s the thing about this celebration. Sit at a picnic table and you’ll find yourself engaging in conversation with strangers.

The burger stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

After we completed our tour of the festival grounds and enjoyed the music by Monroe Crossing, Randy and I ordered sandwiches. I got barbecued pork. He chose a burger. The food, served from vintage stands, is always, always delicious. And, yes, we ate our dessert before our main meal because we weren’t willing to risk the pie running out.

We passed by this picturesque farm building on the drive home. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

Several hours after arriving in the less-busy, less-crowded late afternoon, we left, taking the scenic route home along gravel roads winding past farm sites. I felt so appreciative of this rural setting, of North Morristown on the Fourth of July and of the people who make this event happen. What an exceptional example of a holiday celebration which, at its core, remains unchanged and rooted in community and family.

FYI: Please check back for a second post with more photos from North Morristown on July Fourth.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Grassroots Americana on July Fourth in North Morristown, Minnesota July 2, 2021

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead at the North Morristown July 4 festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN OFFERS a July Fourth celebration unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s grassroots Americana, billed as the longest-running Independence Day celebration in the state. Since 1892 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19), folks have gathered on a plot of land across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in western Rice County for this rural-rooted community event.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended many times (click here to view past blog posts), even though I hold no familial connection to this place. Yet, I always feel welcome. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 39 years and know a lot of people in the area. The Fourth of July in North Morristown is, at its core, about reconnecting with family and friends. Or, if you’re new to the event, meeting new people and experiencing an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Independence Day celebration.

One of several vintage carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

While some activities, such as a Remote Control Demolition Derby and Bean Bag Competition, have been added to the event, most activities are long-standing. A Patriotic Program, 10 AM parade complete with Candy House, silent auction, BINGO, Medallion Hunt, games, vintage kiddie rides and more endure. There’s something incredibly comforting and charming about keeping things the same.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

From the Pie Stand to the Hamburger Stand, the food offerings are basic and delicious. I’d advise purchasing a slice of pie early on given the popularity of the pies. Vintage buildings house the food stands where volunteers prepare and serve food and beverages. Onion rings, pork sandwiches, ice cream, cold beer…

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs on the Fourth of July in North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The music also draws many, especially the popular Monroe Crossing, set to play at 1:30 PM and 4 PM on July 4 at the Main Stage. Believe me, it’s worth coming just to hear this bluegrass band. Other musical performers include Potluck String Band, Red Dirt Road and more.

Fireworks cap the day of celebration.

Among the homemade pie offerings at the Pie Stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Words really cannot fully describe North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s something you have to experience. I’d encourage you to attend. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets (seating is limited for the concerts), your money, and a joyful attitude. Then celebrate America’s birthday in the middle of the countryside—among soybean and corn fields—with people who love this land and each other.

FYI: Click here for more detailed information about the July Fourth celebration in North Morristown.

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TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS: Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day celebration whether you are at home or traveling, among lots of people or simply with family. Or even just relaxing alone. Please take time on July Fourth to reflect on the blessings of living in a free country. I, for one, feel grateful.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy moments at Happy Chef July 1, 2021

Happy Chef reinvented at A-Z Restaurant Equipment. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

OH, THE YEASTY SCENT of bread, of a warm mini loaf dripping with powdered sugar icing. Such are my memories of college day visits to the Happy Chef restaurant in Mankato.

Back in 1974 through 1976, I would walk with friends from the Bethany Lutheran College campus to the hometown restaurant along US Highway 14. There we would talk and laugh and savor a treat that was more sweet rolls than bread loaf.

I don’t recall the cost of our indulgence. But, as a poor college student, the price had to be affordable.

Details elude me decades later. Yet I recall the deliciousness of that bread and the iconic Happy Chef statue that stood outside the restaurant. He sported a white chef’s hat and attire and waved a wooden spoon.

Today, only one Happy Chef restaurant remains, this one along US Highway 169 near the interchange with US Highway 14 in Mankato. It was the first Happy Chef to open in a family restaurant business founded in 1963 by the Frederick brothers—Sal, Bob, Bill and Tom. The Happy Chef statue still stands there. And now the owners of that restaurant are soliciting some G-rated one-liners to add to their Chef’s voice. Yes, he “talks.” Click here to submit suggestions via Facebook.

A Happy Chef statue also poses along US Highway 169 north of Princeton at A-Z Restaurant Equipment Company. That repurposed roadside art, spotted on a mid-May drive north to a central Minnesota lake cabin, prompted my college day memories of sharing warm mini bread loaves with friends at Happy Chef. Oh, such happy moments…

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods & among the flowers at Grams Regional Park June 30, 2021

Into the woods via a boardwalk at Grams Regional Park, Zimmerman, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

AFTER MULTIPLE VISITS to Grams Regional Park, Randy and I feel comfortably familiar with this 100-plus acre natural area. The Sherburne County park in Zimmerman has become a lunch-time stopping point on our way to a family lake cabin south of Crosslake.

Flowers bloom in a Native Pocket Prairie Garden at Grams. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We exit US Highway 169 onto county road 4, drive a short way, then turn left and snake back to the park across the road from Lake Fremont. Here, among the oaks, we eat our picnic lunch before stretching our legs.

Into the woods at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

The park features two miles of trails and boardwalks in a diverse landscape of open natural space, oak forest, tamarack bog and wetlands.

Wildflowers bloom in the woods in mid-May. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
An overview of those same purple flowers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Flowering in the Native Pocket Prairie Garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

We’ve enjoyed the wildflowers of spring, the wild raspberries of summer and the flaming hues of autumn here in this quiet natural setting.

I appreciate this aspect of the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Beautiful prairie flowers in the garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
A flowering prairie grass in the prairie garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

On our most recent stop in late May, we met a couple, Connie and Dale, lunching at the same picnic table we’d used prior to a hike through the park. It was a chance meeting which turned out to be a history lesson. Connie’s grandparents moved onto this land in 1919. She grew up here and eventually convinced her mother to sell the property to Sherburne County. The county, according to information on its website, acquired the park land from Howard and Marvel Grams in 2002.

A work in progress at Grams Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Spotted while walking in the park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Photographed in an educational/play space for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Had the property not been sold to the county, it would have become a housing development, Connie said. I could hear her gratitude that the Grams family legacy is one of a park and not of houses. I shared how much we enjoy this natural space.

Another found, painted stone in the park. Love this. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Connie also pointed to a nearby 200-years-plus-old oak tree, now under study. I couldn’t help but think how an oak often symbolizes a family tree. The Grams family may have owned this land at one time and grew their family here. But now the branches have spread to include the broader family of those of us who appreciate this place among the oaks.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thankful for rain… June 29, 2021

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Playing in the rain in July 2014 in southwestern Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

RAIN, RAIN, oh, glorious rain.

Much-needed rain fell here in southeastern Minnesota over the weekend and into Monday, easing the drought that has left lawns parched brown and soybean and corn fields stressed.

Rain fell from late morning to late afternoon Saturday, with 3.5 inches collected in the rain gauge at our house. More fell on Sunday, although those were showers rather than anything substantial. Monday afternoon, just as I was about to hang laundry on the line, raindrops began falling. That ended plans to hang clothes outdoors. But I was OK with that given the steady rain.

I still think like the farmer’s daughter that I am with my dad’s words echoing in my brain. I can almost hear him saying, “They got more rain north of Echo.” No matter how much rain fell on his fields near Vesta, he always thought Echo, seven miles to the north, got more. Or that their crops always looked better.

I never understood Dad’s dissatisfaction. And I can’t ask; he’s been gone 18 years now. But if Echo got rain, good for the farmers near that small southwestern Minnesota town.

Right now all of Minnesota needs rain. And if you got some, no matter how much or where, then I’m thankful.

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TELL ME: Are you dealing with a drought or rain shortage where you live? Or if you live in Minnesota and got recent rain, how much?

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Perspective & hope June 26, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

PERSPECTIVE DOESN’T DIMINISH challenges in life. Rather, perspective helps one to assess, to consider, to reshape thoughts.

On Thursday, the word “perspective” edged to the top of my mind upon learning about the collapse of a 12-story residential building in Surfside, Florida. Suddenly what Randy and I experienced this week doesn’t seem all that bad. Minor, really, in comparison to the loss of life and home in Florida.

As I write this, four people are confirmed dead with 159 missing. And then there are the injured and those who are now without a home. It’s a lot of loss. A lot of grief and pain and heartache and stress beyond comprehension.

When I view the rubble of the high-rise, I think of the fallen World Trade Center towers and of the I-35 bridge collapse. The visuals from Florida imprint the immensity of the catastrophe. Media reports, especially interviews with loved ones of the missing, cause an emotional reaction which leaves me in tears, feeling deeply saddened. My heart breaks at the humanity of it all—the deaths of loved ones in such a sudden and awful way.

As six industrial-sized fans and a dehumidifier roar in our basement, I focus on perspective. I see those media reports featuring search and rescue teams, eye witnesses, family members, government officials and others at the site of the Florida tragedy. I also hear the repeated word, “hope.” Hope rises, even when it seems futile.

But, like perspective and resilience, we need hope. Especially now in Florida.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Family connections in the berry patch & beyond June 25, 2021

Picking berries at Straight River Farm on a Saturday morning in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

JUNE PROMPTS MEMORIES of Junes past, when our then family of five headed south of Faribault to Straight River Farm to pick strawberries.

We made a game of it, seeing who could harvest the most berries. It added an element of fun as we collectively picked 20-plus pounds of sun-ripened strawberries.

Years have passed since the kids left home and Randy and I picked berries. But now our eldest daughter continues the family tradition by taking her two children to a berry patch. Together the three of them (the kids are two and five) recently picked close to four pounds. While that’s not a lot of strawberries, it’s not all about the quantity. It’s also about time outdoors. About being, and working, together. About learning that strawberries come from fields, not just the produce section at the grocery store.

My grandchildren are a second-generation removed from the land. I want them to understand the origin of their food and to appreciate that their maternal grandparents grew up on family dairy and crop farms. Agriculture is part of their heritage.

Our granddaughter zooms along on her scooter last year at North Alexander Park in Faribault. This past Saturday we shared a picnic lunch near the shelter in this image. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

As their grandmother, I hold a responsibility to continue that connection to the land. This past weekend, when Isabelle and Isaac stayed overnight, we enjoyed the stunning summer weather with lots of time outdoors. That’s one simple way to link to the land. We packed a picnic lunch, with the kids “helping” to make their own sandwiches. Then it was off to North Alexander Park, where they learned to side step goose poop on the paved trail before we finally found a picnic table in a goose-poop-free zone. (Note to City of Faribault: Please place more picnic tables in the park among all those shade trees.)

While eating our picnic lunch, being in nature spurred conversations, which prompted questions, observations and more. Grandma, how many oak trees are there in the world? Leave that grape on the ground; the ants will eat it. The airplane is in the blue sky. Oh, how I love viewing the world from the perspective of my grandchildren. Life is so uncomplicated and simple and joy-filled.

Randy and the grandkids follow the pine-edged driveway at a family member’s central Minnesota lake cabin last summer. This is one of my favorite photos from that time in the beautiful outdoors. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2020.

Later that day, Randy and I took the kids to Wapacuta Park near our home. Rather than follow the most direct path up a steep grassy hill, we diverted onto a narrow dirt path that winds through the woods and leads to a launching point for disc golf. The kids loved that brief adventure into the woods, where we found a broken park bench (Note to City of Faribault: Please repair or replace.) and art flush to the earth. Exposed tree roots and limestone provided insights into the natural world and local terrain.

Randy also posed the kids next to a gigantic boulder near the playground while I snapped photos with my cellphone. Our three adult children responded with enthusiasm to the texted images. Wow! It looks the same as 30 some years ago! It has barely eroded. Amber and I will have to climb it the next time we are in Faribault.

A second trip to Wapacuta the following afternoon led to a lesson about storms as thunder banged, rain fell and we hurried home. Not through the woods this time.

I love every moment with my grandchildren. The time making cut-out star cookies for an upcoming July Fourth celebration. The time in our backyard blowing up a bubble storm. The time at the playground. The time reading and laughing and building block towers and putting dresses on the same Little Mermaid dolls Izzy’s mom and aunt played with some 25-plus (or less) years ago. These are the moments which link generations, which grow family love, which I cherish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Looking beyond ourselves to the broader community June 24, 2021

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Early in the pandemic, the Rare Pair in Northfield posted this sign on the front door. While social distancing and masking are no longer required in Minnesota, the overall message of LOVE OTHERS can apply to vaccination. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

AS THE BAND PLAYED, as the scent of gyros wafted in the breeze, as the summer day drew to a close in Central Park during Faribault’s Heritage Days celebration, I engaged in a conversation that left me frustrated. The subject: COVID-19 vaccination.

For some 10 minutes, an acquaintance and I discussed the vaccine, specifically his refusal to get vaccinated. I tried to be respectful as I listened to his belief that COVID is no worse than the flu and his assessment that, if he gets the virus, he expects a mild case. He’s around my age, in his 60s. I politely disagreed with his assessment of COVID and stated no one really knows how their body will react to the virus. In our county of Rice 110 people, ranging in age from 24 to 104, have died from COVID.

I shared stories about those, with a connection to Randy and me, who have died of COVID. Those deaths didn’t seem to matter. He acknowledged hearing my concerns, but remained unswayed.

“PARANOID” VS. CAUTIOUS & CARING

When he called his co-workers at a local factory “paranoid” about COVID, I felt myself losing patience. There’s nothing paranoid about concern, about taking precautions, about preventing the spread of a potentially deadly virus. There’s nothing paranoid about caring for your own health and the health of humanity by choosing vaccination.

In hindsight, had I known I would have this conversation, I would have taken a different approach—emphasizing that the decision whether to get vaccinated or not stretches beyond our individual selves to our families, friends, neighbors, and yes, even our co-workers. Even to strangers.

My acquaintance, while seemingly unconcerned about his own health, should feel a sense of responsibility to his community. I wonder how he would feel if he exposed someone to COVID and that person died or suffered long-term health issues. I would struggle with guilt.

I DON’T UNDERSTAND

Not only do I struggle with my acquaintance’s refusal to get vaccinated, but I really struggle with those employed in healthcare settings who are refusing vaccination. At my local hospital, about 37% percent of staff remains unvaccinated, according to a recent story in the Faribault Daily News. They are putting patients at risk by that choice. The same goes for those who work with our elderly and most vulnerable in long-term care centers. Where is the sense of care for others, of respecting science, of maintaining health in a place devoted to health?

GRATITUDE MIXED WITH ONGOING CONCERN

To those of you who have chosen vaccination, thank you. Thank you for protecting yourselves, those you love and the broader community. Because of your choice, we are seeing a significant drop in COVID cases. Vaccines are working. That decline doesn’t apply everywhere, though. In states like Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, where vaccination rates are especially low, COVID cases are still prevalent, according to media reports. And the highly-contagious Delta variant is quickly spreading, accounting for 20% of new COVID cases in the U.S. This pandemic isn’t over yet and I’m concerned for those who aren’t getting, or can’t yet be, vaccinated. Like my acquaintance. And my young grandchildren. And others I know who refuse to trust and accept that vaccines work.

DESPERATE TO BE VACCINATED

In closing, I want to share one final story. A friend’s son and his family are flying from their home in Brazil to Minnesota to get vaccinated. Vaccination is many months away for them in a country hit especially hard by COVID. Their oldest daughter, who has Downs Syndrome and thus is especially vulnerable to the virus, is their primary concern. Think about that for a moment. We can’t give away vaccines in this country. People are refusing them. And here we have a family of four flying some 5,000 miles to get vaccinated. They trust the science. They want to protect themselves. They understand that COVID-19 can be worse than the flu. They are part of our global family and I feel thankful that they are choosing vaccination.

If you are not yet vaccinated, please get vaccinated. Your decision is about more than you. It’s about all of us. Your family. Your friends. Your neighbors. Your co-workers. Your community. Your world.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When life comes unglued, a Minnesota family’s experience June 23, 2021

HE AROSE FROM HIS CHAIR, lost. I watched him stagger and collapse on Sarah’s chair, plunging his head into his big sister’s chest.

As that scene unfolds on page 297 of Unglued—A Bipolar Love Story by Minnesotan Jeffrey Zuckerman, I cried. I cried at the deep heartache adult siblings Joey and Sarah experience when learning of their mother Leah’s attempted suicide. I cried at the pain. I cried at the challenges Leah faces in living with bipolar disorder. I cried for those inside and outside my circle who have lost loved ones to suicide, who live with serious mental illnesses, who are brave beyond words.

Tears cleanse, releasing pain and emotions.

I feel grateful to freelance editor and writer Zuckerman for sharing his family’s story, which increases awareness, understanding, and, most importantly, offers hope.

HEART-WRENCHING HONESTY

Zuckerman writes about his wife’s “broken mind” with an honesty that is simultaneously heart-wrenching and beautiful. Although at times he literally runs away, his love for her endures and he never gives up. He never gives up through the manic episodes, the rage, the hurt, the personality changes, the exhaustion, the anhedonia (lack of feelings), the sleepless nights, the hospitalizations, the efforts to find the right medications that will help…

Through all of it, he learns. He begins to understand, to see bipolar disorder for what it is, a medical illness. He sees, too, the stigma, and he begins to open up. To neighbors. To friends. And also to those in a National Alliance on Mental Illness support group. He writes: It’s hard to explain just how listening to my story with grace and without judgment was exactly the help I needed.

THE 3 Cs

I listened to his story, taking notes as I read Unglued. Although I feel fairly informed about brain disorders like bipolar disorder, I find myself acquiring new knowledge every time I read personal stories like that of the Zuckerman family. This marks the first time I’ve read a book written from a spouse’s perspective. Even through the most difficult days, Jeff loves Leah and comes to realize that he didn’t cause her illness, nor can he control or cure it. He recognizes, too, that he must care for himself if he is to be of any help to his wife of 30-plus years.

SEPARATING THE INDIVIDUAL & THE ILLNESS

Theirs is a love story marked not only by loss and grief, but also by forgiveness, by strength and resilience. Zuckeman is able to see Leah, the individual, and not Leah the illness, first. From her, he learns to be more tolerant and less selfish.

Through his storytelling, this gifted Minneapolis writer personalizes bipolar in relatable and ordinary ways. Half-way through Unglued, he writes about stopping with Leah at Ben and Jerry’s for Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream before returning her to a psych ward. After 25 days of hospitalization, Leah is discharged and, writes Jeff, they begin gluing back together her life…and their long, fractured marriage. And that glue is love.

RESOURCES & HELP

FYI: If you or someone you love is considering suicide, get immediate professional help. Resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers a helpline at 1-800-950-6264. Many resources are available through NAMI, including support groups for those dealing with mental health issues and their families.

Above all, care. Listen. Support. And continue to love.

AWARD-WINNING BOOK

Unglued was named a finalist for the 2020-2021 Minnesota Book Award, among other honors.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Old school journalism & lessons learned June 22, 2021

In journalism school and early in my journalism career, I typed stories on a manual typewriter similar to this. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

IN A WINDOWLESS ROOM of Armstrong Hall on the campus of Mankato State University, I pounded out a fictional obituary on a manual typewriter.

The year was 1976. And I was learning the basics of newspaper reporting. Lesson number one: Always spell a person’s name correctly. Never assume. Ask for the spelling. There is no reporting sin worse than misspelling a name. I remembered that during my first reporting job out of college when I interviewed Dayle. Not Dale.

I learned from two of the best—Robert O. Shipman and Gladys B. Olson. They were old school journalists, determined to teach Woodward and Bernstein-hyped students how to gather facts and report with truth, accuracy and integrity. They taught the basics—how to write a strong lede, how to infuse interest into feature stories, how to get the story right…

But beyond that, they cared. Deeply. They cared about the roles newspapers play in communities. To report hard news. To share human interest stories. To inform. To keep tabs on government and schools and other groups entrusted with public monies and policies. To share and express opinions on the editorial page, considered the heart of a community newspaper. To publish obituaries. And much more.

A section of a feature I wrote about Mike Max, now a sports anchor at WCCO TV. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

All these decades later, I remember those lessons learned from Shipman, Olson and others who taught mass communication classes at what is today known as Minnesota State University, Mankato. I graduated in March 1978 and shortly thereafter started working as a newspaper reporter at a small town weekly, The Gaylord Hub. My career would also take me to full-time reporting jobs in Sleepy Eye, Mankato and Owatonna, and to a short-term assignment in Northfield with freelance work also tossed in the mix.

Through the years, I’ve maintained my passion for writing and grown my passion for photography. Even while raising three children, with minimal time to write. Yet, I’ve had no desire to return to the long and odd hours of working for a newspaper at low pay with the stress and pressure of deadlines and a public that criticizes more than values the free press.

Much has changed since I typed a fictional obit in Armstrong Hall on a manual typewriter. For one, technology. Two: Newspapers charge to publish obits. I still struggle with that change. But I understand given the declines in ad revenue. Three: Attitudes. The easily flung accusation of “fake news” simply angers me as does constant criticism of responsible media. “Don’t kill the messenger,” I advise those who target the media for reporting “only bad news.”

A feature I wrote in 1979 republished in the June 4, 2020, issue of The Gaylord Hub. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

I wonder what Professors Shipman and Olson would teach students today. I expect they’d still focus on the basics. On accuracy and integrity and spelling names correctly.

While writing this post, I wanted to assure I spelled their names right, which led me to search online. It was then that I discovered some interesting facts about Olson, a petite spitfire of a woman. Shortly before she turned four, Gladys and her infant brother were orphaned as a result of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic. Their parents died within 24 hours of each other, among more than 8,000 North Dakotans who died of influenza in 1919. The siblings were raised by their paternal grandparents. I wish I’d known this when Olson taught me how to become a good, decent and fair newspaper reporter.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. MN Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Today, as I read Olson’s 2016 obit, I understand her backstory, what shaped her strength and resilience and kindness. The list of her accomplishments beyond journalism professor emphasizes service to others. She lived to age 101. That she died only four years before the COVID-19 pandemic is not lost on me. I’m thankful she didn’t have to endure another pandemic. I’m also thankful that she, and Robert Shipman, taught me old school journalism style. To write with fairness, integrity and accuracy. And to value the role of newspapers in a democracy.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling