Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Appleton: A ring dance on a wedding day August 25, 2016

The Ring Dance fountain in City Park, Appleton, Wisconsin

The Ring Dance fountain in City Park, Appleton, Wisconsin

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT KIDS and water on a hot summer day that brings joy and, for me, a longing for the carefree days of youth.

 

Ring Dance fountain, #51 from a distance

 

Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to a piece of art centering City Park in Appleton, Wisconsin. “Ring Dance,” created by internationally-acclaimed sculptor Dallas Anderson, a native of nearby Neenah, is a must-see for me nearly every time I visit Appleton.

 

Ring Dance fountain, #56 cavorting

 

On my most recent stop at the park on a hot and humid late July afternoon, I envied the cavorting carved kids cooling off in the fountain. And I envied the young women also cooling their heels in the water as they posed for bridal party photos.

 

Ring Dance fountain, #54 hands up

 

Not wanting to interfere with the professional wedding photo shoot, I snapped a few quick shots and called it good. Typically I would take more care in composing images, but I wanted to be respectful.

 

Ring Dance fountain, #58 bride watching

 

I’m always curious about public art that draws me back repeatedly. This $483,000 sculpture, according to info I found online, was funded with private donations and was installed 20 years ago.

 

"Ring Dance" seems fitting for a wedding photo shoot. Here the couple poses near a massive round flowerbed in City Park.

“Ring Dance” seems fitting for a wedding photo shoot. Here the couple poses near a massive round flowerbed in City Park.

I also learned of a Minnesota connection. Sculptor Dallas Anderson, who died in 2009, received his Bachelor of Arts degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, 20 minutes from my home and 300 miles from Appleton. Interesting how life circles and connects…

TELL ME, do you have a favorite water fountain sculpture? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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In Appleton, Wisconsin: Focusing on homelessness via the Little Red Wagon January 21, 2015

Little Red Wagon movieWHEN CHURCHES PRACTICE what they preach, they make a noticeable impact in the world.

When individuals do good, they also make a difference.

This Saturday The Mission Church will impact Appleton, Wisconsin, with a free screening of the movie, Little Red Wagon, based on the true story of Zach Bonner. In 2005, the then 7-year-old founded the Little Red Wagon Foundation, a nonprofit that helps underprivileged kids, focusing on those who are homeless. Just a year earlier, he’d canvassed his Arkansas neighborhood with his little red wagon gathering items for survivors of Hurricane Charley.

Zach, who now lives in Florida, will be in Appleton for the 10 a.m. Saturday, January 24, screening at Valley Value Cinemas, 2165 South Memorial Drive, and for a reception following at The Mission, 314 North Appleton Street. Movie attendees are invited to afterward walk the two miles from the movie theatre to the church, thus visually and publicly raising awareness of homelessness.

Now, you’re likely wondering how I know about this movie event 300 miles from my Minnesota home. Well, my second daughter, Miranda, lives in Appleton and attends The Mission Church. She phoned recently all excited about the Little Red Wagon. I’m not surprised. Twice after Hurricane Katrina, she traveled to New Orleans to assist with clean-up. She’s a young woman with a big heart and a passion for helping others.

So even though this project is not happening in my main readership area, I couldn’t turn down my daughter’s request to publicize this cause.

In addition to the movie showing and the Q & A with Zach, The Mission Church has been collecting small toys, activity books, socks, mittens, sample-size toiletries, food and more to fill 300 “Zach Packs,” bags measuring 14 by 17 inches. These will be gifted to area homeless children through Harbor House (which serves victims and survivors of domestic abuse) and Homeless Connections (an organization helping the homeless in the Fox Valley region), Miranda says.

If you live in eastern Wisconsin, I’d encourage you to attend this Little Red Wagon event in Appleton on Saturday. If you can’t be there, like me, I suggest you check out the Little Red Wagon website by clicking here. The nonprofit accepts monetary donations for its projects. Or take action in your own community.

Watch the movie trailer by clicking here. As the narrator says, “In every one of us there is the power to do great things.”

All we need to do is act.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ring, not rain, dance in a Wisconsin park June 20, 2014

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CITY PARK IN APPLETON, WISCONSIN, is one of those parks that causes you to linger and appreciate.

"Ring Dance" by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park's focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

“Ring Dance” by sculptor Dallas Anderson serves as City Park’s focal point. Private donations paid for the $483,000 fountain sculpture which was dedicated in August 1996.

It’s the setting as much as the fountain sculpture focal point that pull me into this neighborhood park next to Lawrence University on the eastern edge of downtown.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Spectacular one-of-a-kind historic homes define the neighborhood.

Historic, sprawling homes draw my eyes to inviting front porches and turrets and other architectural details. Homes so lovely I would move into any of them if I had the money.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

A beautiful bush flowers during my May visit to City Park.

Rather, I covet that which I cannot own, imagine gleaming wood floors creaking with age, thick plaster walls, shining banisters, banks of windows streaming sunlight into rooms pasted with cabbage rose wallpaper.

Hubert House Film House

The Hubert House Film House, right across from City Park, is part of Lawrence University.

The writer in me is writing the stories of these homes as my eyes scan exteriors while strolling the park perimeter.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

Impressive First English Lutheran Church.

And then, I pause to study First English Lutheran Church, a strong stone structure that dominates a street corner. Stunning.

close-up

Moving in as close as I can without water spraying onto my camera.

Back in City Park, the lure of water leads me to the fountain, where sculpted children dance, ankles intertwined.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

Fountain information imprinted upon a plaque.

If I could, I would join the circle, the “Ring Dance,” washing away worries.

A rainbow...

A rainbow…

But on this evening, sunlight on water beaming a rainbow, I simply appreciate the moment.

Rush of bubbling water. Sunlight fading in the golden hour. Time here, with the man and daughter I love.

BONUS PHOTOS from an earlier visit in August 2011:

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Impatiens fill planters in the park.

Time with grandma in the park.

Circling “Ring Dance.”

A food truck stops at City Park.

A food truck stops at City Park.

FYI: For more information about “Ring Dance” sculptor Dallas Anderson, click here.

This coming Sunday, June 22, City Park, 500 E. Franklin Street, hosts the annual Juneteenth Festival sponsored by African Heritage, Inc., and the City of Appleton. The noon to 5 p.m. free admission event celebrates freedom, unity and community. The fest  includes performances by Chicago-based Ayodele Drum & Dance, a Michael Jackson impersonator and other musicians; showing of “Stone of Hope: Black Experiences in Appleton,” a pop-up museum exhibit; games; and children’s activities. Food vendors will also be on site. For more information about Juneteenth Festival, click here.  

Click here to read a previous post from City Park. And watch for a future post on an unusual tree discovered here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Black squirrels, oh, my May 23, 2014

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Squirrel number one scampers from the park across the street as soon as I approach with my camera. I don't have a telephoto lens, thus the distant view.

Squirrel number one scampers from the park across the street as soon as I approach. (I don’t have a telephoto lens.)

NO, THIS IS NOT one of those “Why did the chicken squirrel cross the road?” joke stories.

Rather, I am wondering, have you ever seen a black squirrel?

I manage to get a bit closer to squirrel number two.

I manage to get a bit closer to squirrel number two.

I hadn’t until last weekend while at City Park in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin.

My second daughter, who attended college in western Wisconsin and now lives on the eastern side of the state, couldn’t believe I’d never, in nearly 60 years of life, seen anything but grey or red squirrels.

My husband also had never spotted a black squirrel although he once saw an albino in the woods on his central Minnesota childhood farm home.

There are plenty of trees in Appleton's City Park, where I snapped one quick shot before the squirrel scooted out of camera range.

There are plenty of trees in Appleton’s City Park, where I snapped one quick shot before the squirrel scooted out of camera range.

I don’t recall any squirrels on my native southwestern Minnesota prairie farm while growing up. Maybe the shortage of trees had something to do with their absence.

In any case, I was intrigued by the two black squirrels in City Park. My daughter found my interest rather amusing. Sometimes it just doesn’t take much to entertain me.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Edna who? April 25, 2014

Edna Ferber portrait displayed at the History Museum at the Castle.

Edna Ferber portrait, photographed from a display at the History Museum at the Castle.

WHO IS EDNA FERBER?

Do you know?

I should. I’m a writer.

But I didn’t. Although now I do.

Thanks to an exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, followed by additional online research, I now know some basic facts about this Pulitzer Prize winning author. In 1925, Ferber won a Pulitzer for her novel, So Big. Set in turn-of-the-century Chicago, the book tells the story of widowed Selina DeJong and her struggles to support herself and her son. That novel is now on my must-read list.

I think I would appreciate the writing of a woman “hailed for sensitively portraying working Americans, for calling attention to women’s roles in American history, and for writing with a journalist’s knack for precise vocabulary and vivid description,” according to info posted in the museum exhibit.

She sounds like one strong woman.

At age 17, Ferber became the first woman reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent. Seventeen. Her work as editor of her Appleton high school newspaper apparently impressed the Crescent editor.

Over a 50-year span, this prolific writer would pen a dozen novels, 11 short story collections, six major plays and two autobiographies.

Wow.

Her best known works include Show Boat, made into the celebrated musical in 1927; Cimarron, adapted into the 1931 film which won an Academy Award for Best Picture; Giant, a 1956 Hollywood movie; and that Pulitzer novel, So Big.

According to info on the History Museum at the Castle website, Ferber is known for her “wit and perspectives on growing up in a small Midwestern town.”

Now that I can really appreciate.

READERS, have any of you read Ferber’s work or seen the films inspired by her writing?

Click here to read Ferber’s biography published on the Appleton Public Library website.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer, too.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. Like Ferber, I don't write my stories on paper.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. In this quote from Ferber, today I’d replace “computer” with “typewriter” when referencing my writing.

CLICK HERE to read a previous post about a Wisconsin food exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle. And check back for more posts from Wisconsin, coming soon.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think Wisconsinites love beer, brats & cheese, you’d be right April 24, 2014

IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:

Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Wisconsinites love their brats.

Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.

And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter "speared" a catfish instead.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.

The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.

foods

Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.

“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”

Via museum magic, you can actually press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

 

Smell the cheese.

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive computer screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed "The Dairyland State."

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”

 

Test your knowledge of cows.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin's "soul food." lots of cheese, brats and beer answers.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.

Define Wisconsin “soul food.”

Another overview

A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.

Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Identify old kitchen tools…

Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

 

Red Dot potato chips

Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, area is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.

Another

The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.

Supper club signage close-ups.

Supper club/bar signage close-ups.

The Pig Fair...

The Pig Fair…

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that's Reddi Kilowatt there on the wall.

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.

And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.

Don't miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fish Fry Fridays March 28, 2014

GROWING UP LUTHERAN, I knew Catholics couldn’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent. They ate fish. I never understood that because I consider fish to be meat.

But, still Lutheran today, I respect the Catholic Friday Fish Fry tradition.

Photographed in Omro, Wisconsin, eight miles west of Oshkosh along the Fox River.

Photographed in Omro, Wisconsin, eight miles west of Oshkosh along the Fox River.

This time of year, you’ll see advertisements and signs galore calling the faithful to feast on fish on Fridays.

These weekly Lenten fish fries should also remind believers of their calling to be, like Jesus’ disciples, fishers of men (and women and children). If I remember my bible facts correctly, Andrew, Peter, James and John were fishermen by profession and fishermen by discipleship.

Throughout scripture, you will find numerous references to fish, beginning with the beginning. In Genesis 1:26, God says:

“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

What a great responsibility.

Then there’s the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish. I remember as a child reading Sunday School bible lessons and how impressed I was by this. To think that the prophet Jonah would be swallowed by a whale, remain in the whale’s belly for three days and then be spit out alive seemed pretty miraculous to me.

And that’s exactly as it should have seemed. The apostle Matthew writes in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 12:40:

For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jonah’s experience connects to Christ’s resurrection from the dead after the third day, as explained by Matthew.

At VFW Post 2778 in Appleton, Wisconsin, they apparently attempt to feed the masses as the Friday Fish Fry runs from 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

At VFW Post 2778 in Appleton, WI., they apparently attempt to feed the masses as the Friday Fish Fry runs from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Finally, the other significant mention of fish imprinted upon my memory comes in the feeding of the 4,000 and the 5,000 plus. On both occasions, Jesus multiplied miniscule portions of bread and fish to feed the masses:

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. (Matthew 14: 19-21)

I think Jesus would have appreciated a Friday Fish Fry.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling