Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The patriotic traditions of Memorial Day in Minnesota May 31, 2011

Boy Scouts march down Faribault's Central Avenue, giving away small American flags, on Memorial Day.

A member of the Color Guard salutes at the Memorial Day program in Central Park.

YES, DEAR READERS, I have yet another Memorial Day post to share with you. But I cannot help myself. My parents reared me to respect this day as a time to honor our war dead.

Every year of my childhood, we attended the Memorial Day program in my hometown of Vesta on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I continued that tradition with my children by taking them each year to the Memorial Day parade in Faribault.

It is a tradition my husband and I continue, minus the kids—two of whom are grown and gone and the third a teen that cannot be roused from bed for the 10 a.m. parade.

Now I smile at the young families who gather along the curb in downtown Faribault to watch the veterans and Boy Scouts, the old cars and horses, the Girl Scouts and the Shattuck-St. Mary’s crack squad, the police cars and fire truck and marching bands.

Little hands reach for American flags distributed by the walking, sometimes running, Boy Scouts.

Clutched fists wave American flags.

It’s all so patriotic.

After the parade, the crowd gathers at nearby Central Park for more patriotism and I am reminded of my dad, a Korean War vet, who marched so many times with his Color Guard in parades and programs.

In the park bandshell, the guests of honor sit, rise and tell us they have little to say before offering these words:

“Your wars aren’t all won on the battlefield. They’re also won at home.”

“If you know a veteran, just say, ‘thank you.’ It means so much to them—something Vietnam vets were short of.”

“I salute all veterans here.”

“God bless everybody.”

“God bless America.”

The Color Guard leads the way in the Faribault Memorial Day parade.

These Boy Scouts seem a bit indecisive, while other Boy Scouts race toward the crowd to hand out American flags.

Every year the Boy Scouts give away flags during the parade.

A veteran and others wait for the Memorial Day program to start at Central Park.

The Color Guard advances and the Memorial Day observance begins in Central Park.

The Color Guard soldiers salute. Emcee and radio announcer Gordy Kosfeld, on stage at the podium, will later tell us: "Memorial Day should be a time of reflection, not a holiday."

A strong wind blew the Color Guard flags set next to the bandshell stage at Central Park.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Some fine examples of giving in rural Minnesota April 5, 2011

WHEN I READ through the March 31 edition of The Gaylord Hub, a rural Minnesota weekly newspaper where I worked from 1978 – 1980, something caught my eye.

The 10-page paper was packed with stories about community members helping one another. The quantity of articles impressed me enough to write this post, to emphasize to you that even during these challenging times, Minnesotans are reaching out to one another.

These are stories we need to read among the hard news stories of floods and earthquakes, wars and suicide bombers, rising gas prices and falling property values, the news that causes us to ask, “What is this world coming to?”

The articles I read reaffirm that among all the bad in the world, plenty of good still exists. And often, young people are leading the way to assist those in need.

In Gaylord, the Sibley East Junior High Student Council recently raised $600 for the Sibley County Food Shelf. Likewise, the Gaylord Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, leaders and parents collected 1,032 pounds of food and $70.65 for the county food shelf in a one-day drive.

Students from Sibley East Elementary Schools in Gaylord and Arlington raised $10,431.32 in the Pennies for Patients fundraiser for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, placing in the top 25 among 473 participating schools. How’s that for a small school (between 200 – 499 students) in rural Minnesota?

The adults in the Gaylord area aren’t sitting idly by watching the younger generation pursue charitable giving.

The winner in a local drawing chose Sibley County Food Share, Inc., as the recipient of a $2,500 donation from the Monsanto Fund.

Sertomans, at their weekly meeting, discussed plans for a benefit to help the Lindemann family as their daughter, Paisley, battles cancer.

The newspaper also published a story about an education memorial fund established for Kaylee and Gavin, the young children of Michael Struck, a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who died after his backhoe was swept away recently in flood waters.

And then, in a front page article, readers learned that $63,000 in donations have been made to Gaylord’s new aquatic center. Donations will be used to buy amenities (play features) for the pool. All 69 donors are listed in an ad published on page 5.

This is just an observation I’ve made over the years—and I think it’s an accurate one—but residents of small towns are often willing to open their pocketbooks to projects that in larger cities would be funded with taxpayer dollars. Why? I think community pride and ownership and the deep personal connections small town residents have to one another prompt such generosity.

Finally, the last philanthropic piece of news was buried deep in a front page article titled “Fire Department receives FEMA grant.” After explaining that the local department has received a nearly $60,000 grant to purchase firefighting equipment, the reporter writes about the annual firemen’s banquet.

And that is where I found this little gem: “Also recognized for their years of service was the ‘kitchen crew’ which helps serve a highly-touted ham dinner. Jim Huffman and Don Pinske have each helped serve the banquet meal for more than 60 years.”

Sixty years. Now that’s dedication and an outstanding example of selfless giving back to the community.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Bratty Boy Scouts March 11, 2011

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APPARENTLY I’M NOT ALONE in noticing, appreciating and photographing interesting signs.

After reading my post this week about the Antique Maul in Sleepy Eye, photographer Harriet Traxler of rural Carver e-mailed a photo of a sign supporting the Boy Scouts. The only problem—read the words the “wrong way” and they take on an entirely different meaning.

Here’s the sign Harriet spotted several years ago in front of a garden store along U.S. Highway 212 between Chaska and Cologne, Minnesota.

“I did a double take and had to turn around and get a couple of photos before they changed it because I knew it wouldn’t be there the next day and it wasn’t,” Harriet says. “Sometimes it is all in how you read it!”

Brats (as in food) or brats (as in bratty Boy Scouts)?

But Harriet wasn’t finished sharing her silly word stories. “We were once on a road trip to Florida and we stopped at a small cafe in Georgia to have breakfast,” she says. “No one in our group knew what ‘grits’ were so several had to try that (cereal like cream of wheat). Someone at the next table saw a sign on the counter that said ‘Polish Sausage’ and asked the waitress how they ‘polished their sausage.’ We are still laughing at that one.”

SO HOW ABOUT YOU? What humorous or intriguing signs have you spotted while you’ve been out and about? Watch for them. You’d be surprised how many can have double meanings.

© Text Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

© Photo Copyright 2011 Harriet Traxler