Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In loving memory of Buck Burkhartzmeyer January 8, 2022

Donald “Buck” Burkhartzmeyer. (Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home)

HE WAS AMONG the most caring individuals I’ve ever met. He being Donald Burkhartzmeyer, “Buck” to those of us who considered him a friend.

Buck died unexpectedly on Thursday, January 6, at the Faribault hospital. He was 97.

A life-long Faribault resident, he made a major impact on this community. Not in a splashy, attention-calling way, but rather in the simplicity of a kind and generous soul who lived his Christian faith. He was soft-spoken, gentle, giving. Always smiling. I expect many stories will emerge in the coming days about Buck’s acts of love. I have my own to share. But first a little background.

Early in the pandemic, inspirational Scripture was posted in the windows of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2020)


Buck was first and foremost a man of great faith. He faithfully attended my church, Trinity Lutheran, where he welcomed me to Faribault nearly 40 years ago. Buck was an unofficial community ambassador, showing newcomers around town. He made me feel comfortable as a new bride living in a new place. His example of devotion to God and service to others proved inspirational. He was involved in church and in many community organizations.

He was, too, a family man—husband of Delilah (she preceded him in death), father of four, a grandfather. Friend to many.

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes anchors a corner in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)


After WW II, he joined his brothers, Alvin (Al) and Walter (Putts) in operating Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. He is the last surviving brother. Their parents, Ferdie and Martha, started the business with a shoe repair and harness shop opened in the late 1930s. The Burkhartzmeyers grew the family shoe business, now with third-generation owners, Brian (Buck’s son) and Bruce (Al’s son). And, yes, the store still includes a repair shop.

Buck specialized in fitting and modifying shoes as a certified pedorthist. Now Brian continues that tradition of offering corrective footwear to meet the needs of customers. Their services are well-known, and not just locally. Inside the shoe repair shop hangs a framed thank you letter from Twins baseball great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Buck, who enjoyed Minnesota sports and played basketball while in the Navy, assisted many an athlete with their shoe needs. Helping the everyday person, though, meant just as much to Buck.

Through the decades, our family purchased footwear from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Work boots. Snow boots. Tennis shoes. Dress and casual shoes. Kids shoes. This is the type of shoe store where owners and/or employees measure your feet, slip your feet into shoes/boots, watch you walk, push on toe ends to check fit, adjust sizes as needed. Every effort is made to get a good and comfortable fit. Buck remembered people’s shoe sizes. Burkhartzmeyer Shoes excels in customer service.

I purchased these snow boots at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2017)


Buck excelled in goodness and kindness, too. In 2004, the year my eldest daughter graduated from high school, he told her to come down to the store before she left for college. He wanted to give Amber a complimentary pair of tennis shoes. Why? Amber had applied for a scholarship from the Faribault High School Class of 1942, but was not awarded the monies. Buck, who served on the scholarship committee, felt so bad that he decided to give her a new pair of shoes. I’ll always remember the moment we walked into Burkhartzmeyer Shoes to find Buck waiting. He fit Amber with a new pair of shoes and wished her well at Winona State University. That was Buck. Generous. I expect many others in this community can share stories of shoes given to them.

He gave away more than shoes. Buck also handed out red licorice sticks to children after Sunday morning church services. He pulled the candy from his suit coat pocket and slipped it into little hands.


But perhaps the selfless and loving spirit of Buck is best shown in his many visits with those living in nursing homes. Daily he visited his mother, Martha, at St. Lucas Care Center. She died in 2005 at the age of 107. What a loving son. And husband. Later, when his wife, Delilah, moved into St. Lucas, he visited her daily also. And many others. Endless elders whom he remembered and uplifted with his visits. Employees at Faribault’s east side Kwik Trip, where Buck often stopped after those visits, knew him well.


A number of years back, Randy and I, as part of our bible study’s Christmas outreach ministry, stopped at Buck’s house to deliver a basket of fresh fruit. I remember sitting in his sprawling living room engaged in conversation. I don’t recall what we discussed. But to be in Buck’s presence was to feel uplifted. And joyful.

There’s one more thing Buck did—and I expect he did this for others, too. Whenever an article about me published in the Faribault Daily News, he laminated a copy and stuck it in my church mailbox. That tells you something. He recognized my accomplishments as a writer and wanted me to understand how much he valued me and my God-given gifts.

Today I mourn the loss of this incredibly kind and generous man who showed such love to me and my family. I expect many in this community can say the same. We are all the better for having known Buck. He touched many lives with his gentleness of spirit and will be forever cherished.

TELL ME: If you have a memory or story about Buck, please feel free to share. Click here to read comments about Buck posted on the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes Facebook page.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo source: Boldt Funeral Home website


Sunday inspiration from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes April 26, 2020


BY NOW I EXPECT YOU’VE all seen them—paper hearts decorating windows as a way to show love for one another during the COVID-19 pandemic. I smile every time I see those hearts. In a world that has been too often divided, I feel a sense of unity in efforts like #aworldofhearts.


One of many windows filled with hearts.


In downtown Faribault numerous businesses have joined the movement, including local icon and third-generation family-owned business Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. I love this shop, run by a family with an incredibly kind, giving and loving spirit. Second-generation owner Buck. Cousins Bruce and Brian. And their employees. I consider them more than people who peddle and repair shoes. I consider them part of my faith family, my community family. And they serve the wider community via their services as certified pedorthists, filling prescriptions and providing orthopedic shoes.


Burkhartzmeyer Shoes is open from 11-5 Monday-Saturday. Those are temporary hours during the COVID crisis.


And then there’s that extra care, a care of the spirit exemplified in the many paper hearts taped to windows in this Central Avenue store. I’ve passed by several times and noticed writing on some of those hearts. On a recent evening, I stopped for a closer look and found exactly what I expected. Inspirational bible verses hand-printed on select hearts.


One of the bible verses posted in the window.


I snapped a few photos to share that scripture with you.


From Isaiah…


I also want to share my latest Sunday series blog post at Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publisher. I lead the blogging ministry there and we started this series as a way to uplift and encourage people during the COVID-19 crisis. Please click here to read today’s post, “Scripture to Uplift You, From Your Warner Press Family.”


From John 16…


Have a beautiful Sunday, my friends, and be blessed.


Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Honoring the legacy of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes through film October 20, 2017

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes opened in 1949, starting first as a shoe and harness repair shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


ON A STREET CORNER in downtown Faribault, local icon Burkhartzmeyer Shoes still stands strong after nearly 70 years in business. That’s remarkable really considering the many chain and other shoe sources in today’s marketplace.

But the family members running this business through three generations also rate as remarkable, assuring its success. I know first-hand as I’ve shopped for foot wear at Burkhartzmeyer since moving to this community 35 years ago. I brought my kids here, too, leaving with shoes or boots tucked inside boxes tied with cotton string and an added bonus sucker.


Boots purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes last year and ready for another Minnesota winter.


Burkhartzmeyer owners and employees understand the importance of great customer service—measuring feet, fitting shoes properly and always always treating each consumer with welcoming respect and kindness. Like a friend.

I know these shoe people—second-generation owner Buck; third-generation owners Bruce and Brian; and current and former employees Lanny, Dee, Sharon, Larry and Kaylyn. They greet me by name, ask about my family, form relationships that connect me to them and this place.


High school students and filmmakers Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.


Buck and cousins Bruce and Brian emphasize their warm relationships with customers and more in a recently-released film about the Burkhartzmeyer family legacy produced by area teens Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman. This also remarkable pair craft “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV.” Via research and interviews, they present insights into local businesses, people and places that broaden my appreciation for Faribault.

Samuel and Logan nailed it in their Burkhartzmeyer film, taking the viewer through the progression of the family business starting with original owners Ferdie and Martha Burkhartzmeyer to second-generation owners, brothers Al, Putz and Buck, to current owners, Bruce and Brian. While the longevity impresses, the stories impress even more.


I pulled this shoe box from my closet with the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes label attached.


A common thread of hard work, adaptability and outstanding customer service—the business also offers shoe repair and pedorthics services—weaves through the storyline. But so does the kindness. Brian, son of the only remaining third-generation owner, honors his father, Buck, with these words: “He has the gift of caregiving…and kindness.” Specifically, Brian references his dad’s visits to care center residents, including family matriarch Martha, who died weeks short of 108 years. Buck still makes these daily visits, now to friends.

My family, too, experienced Burkhartzmeyer kindness, in 2004. At the time, Buck’s Faribault High School class awarded a scholarship to a graduating high school senior. When my eldest daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, Buck felt so bad he asked her to stop by the store for a new pair of athletic shoes. He wanted her to have good shoes when she left for college. Buck was there waiting, fitting my daughter’s feet. I’ll always remember that kind and caring gift to my family.


Al Burkhartzmeyer, known locally as “Mr. Downtown” for his welcoming spirit in the community (especially downtown), was instrumental in getting this historic 1915 clock restored on the Security State Bank Building. Following Al’s 2012 death, significant memorial monies were directed toward the restoration in a project undertaken by the local Rotary.  A devoted Rotarian, Al was once honored for 50 years of never missing a Rotary meeting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I expect many others can share similar stories about the Burkhartzmeyers. They are a generous family, rooted in faith and hard work and a strong sense of community. They have swept floors, stocked shelves, put shoes away, measured feet. Through their care and compassion, they have made Faribault a better place and us, their customers, better people.


TELL ME: Do you have a similar long-standing business in your community that offers quality products and outstanding customer service?

FYI: Click here to watch the 1855 film on Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


These businesses have been in Faribault for how long January 7, 2011

EVER SINCE The Faribault Daily News “2010 Year in Review” special supplement published last week, I’ve been meaning to write this post.

Now, you might think that I would summarize the top 10 stories in my southeastern Minnesota community. OK, I will tell you that a late September flood ranked as the top local news event of 2010, according to the newspaper.

A successful season by the Faribault High School Emeralds danceline rated as number 10, although I find that rank as a bit of a stretch for a top 10 news story (no disrespect to the Emeralds intended).

While I found the summary of my community’s top news events to be interesting, I was most impressed by the advertising content. Yes, advertising.

All of the ads in this supplement highlight the number of years that local businesses have been in business. Some have been in Faribault for more than 100 years. Those are impressive numbers in today’s economy and impressive personally to someone like me. My hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota was founded in 1900, while Faribault was founded in 1852. Do the math. That’s a 48-year age difference.

Since those triple digit numbers wowed me, I decided to do a little online research into several of the long-time Faribault businesses that advertised in the special section.

Here’s the scoop on some of our oldest businesses, starting with 134-year-old Parker Kohl Funeral Home, 607 N.W. Second Avenue. As you would guess, the business name reflects the merger of two funeral homes (in 1978). Most interesting to me is the fact that Flora Ray Parker joined her dad, David Ray, in operating the Ray Funeral Home, which originated in the 1870s. Later, her son, John Parker, would join the Parker Funeral Home. Was it common for a woman to operate a funeral home back in the day?


The offices of Faribault Foods, surrounded last September by floodwaters.

Moving on, I clicked onto the Faribault Foods website and found a detailed timeline showing how this 115-year-old canning company has evolved. “Faribault Foods started in 1895 as a vegetable company. We were known for small-sized, juicy corn kernels, tiny ‘petits pois’ peas and a willingness to do everything we could to please our customers,” I read.

Today, according to the company website, Faribault Foods produces canned vegetables; sauced, refried and baked beans; kids’ and family style pasta; soup; chili; and organic and Mexican specialties. In 2007 it became the largest producer of canned organic soups in the country. I did not know that.

Farmer Seed and Nursery, 818 N.W. Fourth Street, has been around for 122 years and is the historic-looking building you’ll see driving along Minnesota Highway 60 from the west toward downtown Faribault. I didn’t find any history on the website except for this statement: “Serving the needs of America’s gardeners for more than 120 consecutive years.”

Yes, this is the company with the seed catalog that Minnesotans (and other northerners) drool over in the dead cold of winter as they plan their gardens and wish for spring.

Some of Faribault’s other long-time businesses include The State Bank of Faribault, founded in 1919; The Community Co-op Oil Association of Farbault, founded in 1925; the Boldt Funeral Home, here since 1927; and Grampa Al’s, established in 1929.

Many more businesses have been around for six or seven decades. Really, that’s impressive, isn’t it?


Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a third-generation family shoe store in historic downtown Faribault.

If you’ve never been to Faribault, come and check out our community sometime. We have a beautiful, historic downtown with interesting shops, like Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, where they fit your feet for shoes, place the shoes in a box and tie the box with cotton string. They’ll even add a lollipop. That’s what I call old-fashioned service from a third-generation family business of 61 years.


The Cheese Cave serves a limited menu and also sells gourmet products, including cheeses made right here in Faribault and aged in sandstone caves along the Straight River two blocks away.

We also have a cheese store, a candy store, antique and specialty shops, a coffee shop, many ethnic and other restaurants, an art center, thrift stores…enough really to provide you with a day of shopping and entertainment in a historic downtown with a decidedly small-town charm and ambiance.


Banadir Restaurant, the red building in the center and one of Faribault's many ethnic eateries, is next door to Sweet Spot Candies, where you can buy homemade and other candies and homemade ice cream.

The Paradise Center for the Arts is the cultural hub for theater and art in a historic downtown theater.

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Soleful art in Paradise August 10, 2010

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"1,001 Uses for Duct Tape" by Harry Skalski

THEY ARE NOT EXACTLY ruby slippers. They are, in fact, quite the opposite of the sparkly, magical heels worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

Yet, angled on a pedestal under the strategically-placed lights of the art gallery, these one-of-a-kind silver flip flops shine with individual style, for they are made of shiny duct tape-wrapped board.

Welcome to “Shoe Stories,” the latest art exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. Here nearly 40 pieces of juried art, like “1,001 Uses for Duct Tape” by Harry Skalski of Northfield, fill the gallery. Artists were invited to submit a shoe-themed piece that fit inside a shoebox.

"Shoe Stories" opened Friday at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

The result is a show as magical and alluring as the Emerald City. As I circle the gallery, weaving in and out of displays, I feel as if I am on the yellow brick road, encountering not flying monkeys, but pieces of soleful art that engage and invite me to pause and ponder.

Visitors peruse "Shoe Stories" on the exhibit's opening night.

"Step on a line," a batik with stitching by Faribault artist Tami Oachs, received first place as judged by Minnesota State University-Mankato Professor Emeritus James Tanner.

"This is My Box," an oil on canvas by Cindy L. Brant of Faribault.

Internationally-renowned Faribault woodcarver Marv Kaisersatt's wood caricature, "If the Shoe Fits."

Faribault artist Deb Johnson's batik, "Hey, Baby, Let's Go For a Walk."

Truly, every artist has communicated some message, some idea, on the subject of shoes. Many have shared stories in addition to art.

Krista Kielmeyer Swanson, for example, presents a nostalgic remembrance of shopping at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a long-time family shoe store several blocks away and a co-sponsor of “Shoe Stories” along with Johnson Advisors. Writes Swanson: “To this day I can remember the feeling I would have when you handed me my shoes, tied with string. I felt so proud walking out of the store carrying my new shoes.”

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, "A Family Tradition Since 1949," and located at 128 Central Avenue in Faribault. Purchased shoes are still boxed and tied with string in this old-fashioned traditional shoe store.

As I read the stories, peruse the art, I begin noticing the shoes of other art gallery visitors—strappy leather sandals, shiny Mary Janes, sturdy two-toned practical ties, clogs…

"The Sole of Art," my blog art version of "Shoe Stories," inspired while photographing exhibit visitors' shoes.

And then I look down at my feet and my silver flip flops which, except for the field of flowers growing under my soles, resemble “1,001 Uses for Duct Tape.”

My silver flip flops, purchased at a major retailer.

“SHOE STORIES,” the idea of Faribault artist and PCA Gallery Committee member Arlene Rolf, is showing through September 25 in the Carlander Family Gallery. The art center is open Tuesday through Saturday and is located at 321 Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling