Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Faribault mural honors Heisman Trophy winner & native son Bruce Smith November 3, 2015

ATTEND A FOOTBALL GAME in Faribault, and you’ll cheer from Bruce Smith Field.

Peruse the Rice County Historical Society, a short distance from the football field, and you’ll discover an exhibit about Bruce Smith.

In mid-June, pop over to the Faribault Golf Club for the annual Bruce Smith Golf Classic.

Head downtown to Buckham Memorial Library and you’ll find a locally-produced DVD titled Bruce “Boo” Smith #54: 1941 Heisman trophy winner.

Faribault's newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Faribault’s newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Now Faribault has added one more item to its Bruce Smith list—a mural. Last Friday the Mural Society of Faribault installed a downtown mural honoring Smith, who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. He was the first Minnesotan to garner that prize from the Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters of America. Smith, a team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers, received the award on December 9, 1941, in New York City. That’s two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

After college, Smith would go on to serve his country as a Navy fighter pilot during WW II. He also played football with the Navy.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith, a nice addition to the mural.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith. Click on the image to enlarge.

While researching Smith, born in Faribault in 1920, I learned that he:

  •  played professional football for four years—for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
  •  starred in a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie about himself, Smith of Minnesota.
  •  nearly died of a ruptured kidney during a 1947 football game.
  •  retired from football at age 29.
  •  co-owned a sporting goods store in Northfield and worked in sales for a clothing store and a beer distributor. (Perhaps F-Town Brewing,  Faribault’s new craft brewery, could name a beer after him; makes marketing sense to me.)
  •  died of cancer in August 1967 at the age of 47.
  •  was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
  •  had his number, 54, retired by the Gophers, a first for the U.
The mural honors Faribault's most-renowned athlete.

The mural honors Faribault’s most-renowned athlete.

Probably the most interesting fact I uncovered is Smith’s 1978 nomination for sainthood in the Catholic church. A man of strong faith, he prayed before and after games and also ministered to young cancer patients. I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players. But from all accounts I’ve read, Smith was a wholesome hometown boy, much beloved by his community. And that, in my opinion, holds an honor as great as winning the Heisman Trophy.

The mural is tucked away on the back of an historic downtown building.

The mural, comprised of panels rather than painted directly onto brick, is displayed on the back of a flooring business.

FYI: The Bruce Smith mural is located on the back of Floors by Farmer at the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest in historic downtown Faribault. The latest mural joins murals of town founder Alexander Faribault (directly across from the Smith mural), Fleck’s Beer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ice Skating on the Straight River, historic downtown Faribault overview and the annual Pet Parade. Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed, created and installed the murals.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling








Don’t ask Santa, ask Grandma in the home of champions December 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:09 PM
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BILLBOARDS, ESPECIALLY THOSE in rural Minnesota, fascinate me.

The signs impress me as more interesting, more focused, quirkier, it seems, and zeroed in on a specific geographical region. The messages, the art, can reveal much about an area and often make me smile, sometimes even laugh.

This creative real estate billboard in Sleepy Eye, at the intersections of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 4, makes me smile. A nearby sign boasts the local high school's athletic accomplishments.

This creative real estate billboard, right, in Sleepy Eye, at the intersections of U.S. Highway 14 and Minnesota Highway 4, makes me smile. A nearby sign boasts athletic accomplishments at Sleepy Eye and St. Mary’s high schools.

Additionally, many small towns take great pride in the local high school’s athletic accomplishments, even from decades ago.

Although many small towns brag about local sporting accomplishments, I would like to occasionally drive into a community and also read a sign boasting of academic, musical, theatrical or other accomplishments.

Wouldn’t that be nice to see in our sports-obsessed world?

Imagine reading a sign like “Home of the 2012 Minnesota State Spelling Bee Champion” or something like that.

HAS ANYONE OUT THERE ever spotted a sign in a community highlighting non-athletic accomplishments at the high school level?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Strike two January 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:41 AM
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Give me a softball glove and I'll miss the ball more than I'll catch it.

HAND ME A BAT to swing at a ball, and I’ll miss.

Place a bowling ball in my hand and I’ll throw it into the gutter.

Toss me a basketball and I’ll completely miss the basket.

Yes, I’m athletically inept. I possess not one ounce of athletic ability.

So when my husband’s boss and his wife hosted the annual company Christmas party recently complete with sports games, I didn’t rush to sign up for an event. I allowed my spouse to do that on my behalf as it really didn’t matter which sport he chose for me. I knew I would fail at all of them.

I suppose that’s not the attitude to have—a loser’s attitude before you lose.

But I know my abilities.

I did not disappoint myself in the dart throwing competition.

When I stepped up to the dart board and aimed, I succeeded in hitting the sheetrock more than the target. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the dart board is situated in a back, unfinished storage and exercise room, meaning that pocking the sheetrock with darts did not automatically disqualify me from competition.

To make my situation even worse, I had an audience, which throws my game even more. I do not like people watching me. But they didn’t stick around for long. Slowly, one-by-one, they slipped from the room as my competitor continued to whoop my butt. No one enjoys a boring game.

By the end of the night, when I once again failed to win a Cabela’s gift card, I decided this really wasn’t fair. There ought to be a game for those of us who are not gifted in sports.

I’d tried pool the previous year. Now I’d attempted darts. That left only Wii bowling, which I feared because I might toss the remote control through the expensive flat screen TV. (I was told a strap would restrain the remote, but I bet I could manage to dislodge and hurdle it like a real bowling ball.)

I excel at word games, so I suggested Scrabble.

That went over well, real well.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sports at what cost December 15, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:43 AM
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I’VE NEVER BEEN ATHLETIC. When elementary school classmates picked teams for Red Rover or softball, I was among the last chosen. Who would want a skinny girl with toothpick arms trying to hold the line against brawny boys becoming men or strong farm boys who could slug the ball into the outfield?

I wouldn’t have chosen me either. Even though I could scoop silage and ground feed, carry milk pails and toss hay bales nearly as well as my brothers, I possessed no athletic prowess. And, frankly, I didn’t care, although it did hurt sometimes to always be the last team member chosen.

I needed to care about sports only enough to pass physical education classes. I remember one junior high school p.e. teacher who expected everyone in the class to excel in gymnastics, just like the pencil-thin, all-legs-and-arms girl who could bend like Gumby. Needless to say, I got a “C” in that class. Thankfully today’s gym teachers seem to have changed their expectations and grading tactics, realizing that not every student is a naturally-gifted athlete.

But too many parents think their kids are the next Brett Favre, Joe Mauer or whoever else is considered a sports star. (Those are the only two names I could come up with off the top of my head since I don’t follow professional sports.)

Anyway, in my opinion, too many parents have become obsessed with athletics, pushing their little Jimmy or Janie into multiple sports that continue non-stop year-round. When, exactly, do kids have time to relax and just be kids? How can they learn to use free time, to entertain themselves, if their lives are always scheduled with this practice and that practice and this game and that game?

Now, before I raise the ire of coaches, parents and student athletes, let me clarify that student athletics have value. Kids learn to work hard. They learn team work and self-discipline. They learn to set and achieve goals. And they get a good work out. Sports can also be entertaining.

The problem arises, in my opinion, when sports overtake family life and everything evolves around practices and games. This time of year I am especially troubled by the scheduling of practices and tournaments during holiday breaks. When student athletes should be celebrating with their families or simply enjoying some down time, they are running to practices and games and tournaments.

I remember a friend once telling me about her son’s soccer game scheduled on a week night in Marshall, a three-hour, one-way, drive from Faribault. Now tell me that makes sense. None of the moms wanted to go and I can’t blame them given their sons were only middle-schoolers. That’s just one example of how ridiculous this traveling sports competition has gotten.

I wonder, too, how families can afford, weekend after weekend, to travel out of town for tournaments, shelling out money for gas, fast food, admission tickets and hotel rooms. How do they work those multi-hundred dollar weekends into their family budgets and is it worth the money spent? Maybe. Maybe not.

Sunday practices and games for student athletes also bother me. A lot. I’ve often wondered why parents don’t simply revolt against coaches and organizers (or whomever) that schedule these Sunday activities.

Are sports so important at the elementary and high school level that families have to give up their Sundays?

NOW IN CASE YOU’RE WONDERING what prompted this spiel, I will tell you: Brett Favre and the collapse of the Mall of America Field roof.

I really do not care about Favre or whether he played in Monday’s  Minnesota Vikings’ game. But the amount of news coverage earlier this week made me think I should care. Honestly, why?

As for the dome collapse, I dislike how some are now using this incident to say, “We need a new stadium.” Well, this taxpayer does not want to pay for a new Vikings stadium. Let the Vikings, with their highly-paid football players, pay for their own stadium.

But, hey, you know, this society seems obsessed with sports…

I’m sure many will disagree with the opinions I’ve expressed here. But I’m certain many of you out there will agree. What’s your take on sports at the elementary and high school level and how athletics impact families? And, what’s your opinion on a new stadium? Sorry, I’m not asking your opinion on Favre, but if you want to offer one, go ahead.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling