Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Free family fun at Zootopia on the RiverFront in Wabasha October 12, 2017

My first view of Zootopia on the RiverFront from the hill overlooking this play area along the Mississippi River in Wabasha.

 

ON AN EARLY OCTOBER Sunday in Wabasha, brilliant sunshine angled sharp shadows across the beaten grass of a riverside attraction teeming with kids and watchful adults.

 

 

 

 

 

The lion tunnel proved especially popular.

 

Here, while a young boy carried his tacklebox and fishing pole along a busy Mississippi River walkway, kids tossed rings, rolled balls, scrambled through a tunnel, zipped down a slide and more in a magical land. Here adults encouraged and interacted with the little ones and clicked endless photos.

 

 

 

 

My son-in-law, Marc, takes Izzy’s photo as she walks through the tiger tunnel while her mom (my daughter Amber) watches.

 

Walking on the colorful walrus crafted from tires…

 

My husband and I joined in on the SeptOberfest kids’ activities along with our 18-month-old granddaughter and her parents.

 

You can zip down this elephant slide into Zootopia on the RiverFront.

 

 

I discovered the play area after sighting an elephant slide behind Hill’s Hardware Hank. I walked the half-block to check it out and found the city of Zootopia. The good folks of Wabasha crafted a temporary themed play area after the movie of the mammal metropolis. What a delight for not only grandmas like me, but also for all those kids and other adults.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wabasha has always impressed me as a small town that knows how to bring visitors into the community. The addition of Zootopia on the RiverFront to this year’s nearly two-month long SeptOberfest just notched up my respect for the tourism, business and other leaders in this southeastern Minnesota town of some 2,500. These folks are smart enough to realize that bringing families into town equals an immediate financial return plus an investment in future returns. The kids’ activities are free. But the local economy benefits from monies dropped in restaurants, gas stations, and ice cream and other shops.

 

Randy waits for Izzy to emerge from the lion tunnel.

 

Running in the kick ball croquet area.

 

Even the big kids/aka grandpas can have fun.

 

Watching my 1 ½-year-old granddaughter crawl multiple times through the lion tunnel, place rings on elephant trunks, roll a ball in the kick ball croquet area and more simply made me happy. Even at her young age, Izzy could participate in most of the activities.

 

 

This Zootopia rated as just plain good old family fun—Wabasha style.

 

In the foreground, on the hillside, giraffes (and zebras) overlook Zootopia.

 

FYI: Zootopia on the RiverFront continues through October 21. Click here for more details.

Check back for two more posts on kids’ SeptOberfest activities in Wabasha.

This community is also home to the National Eagle Center, another family friendly place to visit.

Advertisements
 

Rural Minnesota patriotism July 1, 2016

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it's an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it’s an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

I HAVE YET TO FIND a more patriotically-themed garage.

Painted red, white and blue and decorated with stars and an American flag, the Stars & Stripes Garage in the hamlet of Heidelberg in Le Sueur County stands out for its grassroots show of patriotism.

Copy of Garage, Stars & Stripes 1

The Stars & Stripes Garage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009

I first came across the Stars & Stripes in 2009, subsequently writing a magazine article about the garage owned by Vietnam veteran Joel Kukacka.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first painted it.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first photographed it.

Recently I passed through Heidelberg, pausing briefly to snap a few images of Joel’s business on a bright Sunday summer afternoon. The paint is faded in some places, a few new stars have been added and the business sign moved. But, basically, the exterior appears unchanged.

This public show of patriotism still endures in this out-of-the-way spot along quiet Le Sueur County Highway 30 in rural southern Minnesota. It’s the type of place you discover when taking the back roads.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, returns to the North Morristown stage for two performances, at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Several other musical groups are also performing throughout the day and into the evening. There is no charge, although donations are welcome. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO ALL OF MY READERS, have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July weekend as we celebrate the birth of our nation.

If you’re seeking an authentic Americana experience of the holiday in rural Minnesota, attend the 124th annual North Morristown July Fourth celebration. From the Firecracker Walk/Run to a parade to a patriotic program to a medallion hunt to music to kids’ rides to bingo to fireworks and more, you’ll find a full day of activities. You also find the best homemade food (buy your slice of pie early) on the festival grounds. North Morristown is a few farm homes and Trinity Lutheran Church and School and is located north of Morristown/west of Faribault.

Click here to view a photo essay I published in 2013 on the North Morristown celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Turning one May 13, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , ,

Birthday, 5 blowing out candle

 

BIG BROTHER BLEW out the candle. But one-year-old Evelyn didn’t care. She seemed more focused on the flame. And then the cake. Smart girl.

 

Birthday, cake 1

 

Her mom baked a homemade chocolate cake layered with homemade raspberry preserves and frosted with more chocolate. The cake looked like something out of a food magazine. And it tasted like something out of a master baker’s kitchen.

 

Birthday, 15 eating cake

 

Once the prerequisite candle blowing was complete, Evelyn proceeded to dig into all that chocolatey goodness while grandmas and aunts laughed and snapped more photos.

 

Birthday, 17 eating cake

 

When a child turns one, we celebrate with exuberance. It is a joyful and memorable occasion. A first. First year. First cake. So many firsts during those first 12 months of life.

I wonder what lies ahead for my sweet great niece. I look forward to watching her grow under the care of loving parents. She is much-loved, too, by extended family. And I can’t think of anything better for a one-year-old than to be so loved.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

When the polka music fades in Seaforth December 10, 2015

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

Northbound on Redwood County Road 7 just minutes from Seaforth.

ON MY LAST VISIT back to my native southwestern Minnesota in late October, my husband and I drove through Seaforth. This community of 86 residents lies seven miles to the east of my hometown of Vesta in Redwood County.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

A farm site along CR 7 near Seaforth.

When I was growing up, my school bus passed Seaforth en route to Wabasso, stopping along the way to pick up farm kids.

The former post office in Seaforth. Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed.

Like so many small town post offices, the one in Seaforth was closed by the U.S. Postal Service.

On occasion I attended a funeral, bridal shower or wedding at the Lutheran church in Seaforth at a parish that, because of diminishing congregational size, closed years ago. The church is now a house.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

One of the many buttons my mom saved from Seaforth Polka Days.

As a teen and young adult, I sometimes attended Seaforth Polka Days, an annual July event featuring, as you would expect, polka bands. For 42 years, Seaforth has hosted this celebration and billed itself as “The Smallest Polka Town in the Nation.” That will be no more, I learned from my mom, who today resides in an assisted living apartment in Belview the next town north of Seaforth. Mom didn’t know details. So I turned to the internet and found this July 14 entry on the Seaforth Polka Days Facebook page:

It is the end of an era, the booster club has decided that this will be the last year for polka days. Every year becomes harder to find enough volunteers to work and crowds have been smaller as well. Let’s make this year one to remember. Spread the word that it will be the last, for those who always planned to come one of these years or for those who have fond memories from years past this weekend will be your last chance to celebrate polka days in Seaforth!

Still open or shuttered, I don't know.

Still open or shuttered, I don’t know.

Such decisions to end large-scale small town celebrations are not uncommon. Year after year, the same locals often find themselves planning and working these events.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

A scene in the heart of Seaforth.

Yet, Seaforth isn’t totally giving up. Area residents are still planning a 2016 community celebration during the last full weekend in July: softball games, bean bag toss competition, the fire department fundraising supper, tractor pulls, a DJ and one polka band (instead of many) and “buckets of beer.”

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

On the north edge of Seaforth, even the grain elevator is closed.

Now they’re soliciting names. Online Facebook suggestions thus far include C4th Small Town Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Days, C4th Clear Creak (sic) Fest, C4th Hometown Days, C4th Summer Days, Polka Days Part 2 and, finally, Redneck Fest.

Look closely, and you can see the faded words "Farmers

Look closely, and you can see the faded words “Farmers Grain Co.”

Thoughts, on any of this?

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don't know whether he still does.

Last I knew, my Uncle Milan owned this grain elevator complex. I don’t know whether he still does.

Do you help plan and work at a small town celebration? Do you attend small town celebrations? Let’s hear. Why are such events important to rural communities like Seaforth?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Six-plus great reasons to visit Faribault this weekend August 6, 2015

WHETHER YOU LOVE pets, BBQ, art and a whole lot more, you will find it all in Faribault during the next four days. It’s as if my Southern Minnesota community has been saving a summer’s worth of activities for one weekend plus Thursday.

These students were hammering and chiseling away during a class, making quite a racket in the ice arena/fest site.

These students were hammering and chiseling away during a class, making quite a racket in the ice arena/fest site during the 2012 festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Events kick off Thursday evening with Minnesota’s annual woodcarving festival, Carv-Fest, opening in the Faribault Ice Arena at North Alexander Park. Expert woodcarvers teach classes and the general public is free to wander and observe. Faribault is home to noted woodcarvers from the Whillock family (who organize this event) and Marv Kaisersatt. The fest runs Thursday – Saturday.

Lots of dogs and that 1939 date on the right side of the mural.

A section of the Pet Parade mural on the bandshell in Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Faribault hosts its 79th annual Pet Parade. The “Into the Jungle” theme promises plenty of creative entries. The cuteness factor rules here.

As dusk settled, volunteers begin lighting the luminaries which stretched and wound around the Rice County Fairgrounds.

As dusk settled, volunteers begin lighting the luminaries which wound around the Rice County Fairgrounds during the 2012 Relay for Life.

Friday brings the 23rd annual Relay for Life of Rice County. Several times I’ve attended this gathering to honor and remember those who have faced cancer and to raise monies and awareness. Most impressive are the honorary luminaries circling the fairgrounds. Activities begin at 4 p.m. and continue late into the evening with closing events the next morning.

Information about the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center was available at the concert.

The Center promotes life-affirming solutions for women. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Saturday promises to be a jam-packed day in Faribault beginning with the Run Baby Run! 10K, 5K and kids run sponsored by the Pregnancy Options LifeCare Center in support of life. Registration runs from 7:30 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. at Roosevelt Elementary School.

Bikers and others gather for a post hospice ride party at Faribault Harley-Davidson.

Bikers and others gather for a post hospice ride party at Faribault Harley-Davidson in 2012.

Across town The Ride for Hospice at Faribault Harley-Davidson begins with bikes and cars leaving mid-morning. From noon to 2 p.m., there will be food, music and prizes at the Harley shop.

With the weather about as good as it gets on a summer day, attendance was high at the Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest.

A street scene from the 2012 Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest.

Meanwhile, in the heart of historic downtown Faribault, art and food lovers will gather for the annual Blue Collar BBQ & Arts Fest from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. There’s a BBQ competition, plenty of food vendors, an art/market fair, recycled art sale, music, kids’ activities, washer tournament and beer garden. The fest raises monies for the Paradise Center for the Arts and the Faribault Mural Society.

And if that isn’t enough. Bethlehem Academy, the Catholic school in town, chose this weekend to celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Crafty signage suspended high in a window at The Crafty Maven hints at the crafty goodness you will find inside this historic building at

Crafty signage suspended high in a window at The Crafty Maven hints at the crafty goodness you will find inside this historic building. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Aside from all the organized activities, Faribault is worth a visit for its historic downtown with quaint shops. Among my favorite is The Crafty Maven which is across the street from a new bakery, Ginger Spice Bakery, 209 Central Avenue. The bakery opens its doors on Friday.

An overview of the Peterson building which houses architectural salvage and antiques, left, with the brewery on the left.

F-Town Brewing, Faribault’s new craft brewery. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And for you beer lovers, check out F-Town Brewing.

Things are happening in Faribault. I just wish everything wasn’t on the same weekend.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Father’s Day portrait June 21, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:34 PM
Tags: , , ,

Randy napping on Father's Day.

 

AFTER A ROAD TRIP to Owatonna for a Father’s Day picnic at beautiful Morehouse Park, my husband kicked back in the backyard with the paper. It wasn’t long before he was sleeping, getting a much-needed nap on a glorious day.

To all of you father’s out there, I hope you had a fabulous celebration with those you love. We love and appreciate you.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The importance of a two-year-old’s birthday party March 10, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , ,

SATURDAY MORNING OUR NEPHEW’S WIFE texted to ask if my husband and I could come at noon, instead of 3 p.m., for her son’s birthday party.

There was no question. We would be there. At noon. Never mind that we were deep in a basement project. That could wait. The basement wasn’t going anywhere. This party was way more important.

Landson opens gifts while his grandparents, left and right, and great uncle (my husband), middle watch.

Landon opens gifts while his grandparents, left and right, and great uncle (my husband), middle, watch and visit.

Landon would turn two only once. And we wanted to be there to celebrate with his parents and brother, who recently moved back to Minnesota from Salt Lake City, and other extended family.

Landon loves his grandma's pickles and wanted some for his birthday. He got two jars. But there was no sharing. I can vouch for the deliciousness of these pickles.

Landon loves his grandma’s pickles and wanted some for his birthday. He got two jars. But there was no sharing. I can vouch for the deliciousness of these pickles, though, as my husband received a jar for his birthday. Did you notice the one sock off, one on?

Our nephew’s family lives on a rural acreage near our Faribault home. For the first time ever, we have family living close by and we are thrilled. Already in the past five months, we have seen my husband’s sister and her husband (Landon’s paternal grandparents) more than we do in an entire year as they’ve driven down to visit their son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

There's such joy in watching a two-year-old open his gifts.

There’s such joy in watching a two-year-old open his gifts.

Family is important to us. And, in this crazy busy world, we will always find time for family gatherings like a two-year-old’s birthday party.

How about you?

BONUS PHOTOS:

Landon had a lot of fun sticking candles into his cake.

Landon had a lot of fun sticking candles into his cake.

But then his mom removed all but two of the candles and lit them.

His mom removed all but two of the candles and lit them.

And Landon worked on blowing out those two candles.

Then Landon worked on blowing out those two candles.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling