Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The holiday spirit comes to Faribault during Winterfest this week (end) November 28, 2018

This classic vintage pick-up truck decorated by Brushworks Signs rated as one of my favorite entries in last year’s Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

MORE AND MORE, COMMUNITIES in greater Minnesota are discovering the value in creating holiday events that attract locals and visitors. That includes Faribault, which this week hosts Winterfest, an expansion of the long-running Hometown Holidays.

It’s a smart move on the part of host, Faribault Main Street. Anything that brings people into Faribault benefits tourism and businesses through exposure and sales. This marks the second year of Winterfest, highlighted last December by a Parade of Lights. This year fireworks precede the 5:30 p.m. Saturday parade along Central Avenue in our historic downtown.

 

Faribault’s version of the Polar Express. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

But before I expound on Saturday, there’s Thursday’s Hometown Holidays evening of family-oriented attractions and activities from 5 – 7:30 p.m. at Buckham Center. From greeting Santa and his reindeer to crafts, music, snacks, a holiday movie and more, families will find plenty to do. I wish my granddaughter lived closer. I’d take her.

 

Local merchants showcase the holiday spirit in window displays. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

A few blocks away in the heart of the business district, the holiday spirit prevails Thursday evening in a window decorating contest, horse-drawn wagon rides, ice carving, and caroling by Due North, a Minneapolis-based a cappella group. From 6 – 8 p.m. our local art center hosts the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery featuring music by Cannon River Currents and artisan gifts crafted by 20 regional artists at the Holly Days Sale. Downtown shops will be open, too.

That’s Thursday. Friday focuses on teens with open gym and swim, board games and other activities at the Faribault Community Center from 6 – 8 p.m.

 

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside Walmart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then comes Saturday, a day so jam-packed with events that I wonder how I can possibly get to everything. I’m also ringing bells for the Salvation Army for two hours.

 

The table set for Christmas guests at the Alexander Faribault house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Saturday at 10 a.m., the Rice County Historical Society opens the doors to the home of our town founder for a French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. That runs until 3 p.m. But if Saturday doesn’t work for you, the historic home will also be open on Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a fun way to learn about Faribault history in a festive setting.

 

The back of the parade as it heads north along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

History will also be on display along Central Avenue at the Faribault Sno-Go Club Vintage Snowmobile Show from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, as darkness settles, units start arriving for the 5:30 p.m. parade with the fireworks kick-off. A street dance follows from 6:30 – 10 p.m.

In between, you can take in Mick Sterling Presents “At Christmas,” a blended show of music and comedy opening at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Sunday brings another holiday show with the Paradise Children’s Theatre performing “The Nutcracker Prince” at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

That’s a lot happening in my community. And I’m sure there’s more, like the annual craft and bake sale and luncheon at Peace Lutheran Church on Saturday.

 

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun sets before the 2017 Parade of Lights. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

I’m grateful to all who are working so hard to bring the holiday spirit to Faribault through Winterfest and other events. Thank you.

TELL ME: Does your community host any big holiday events?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Downtown Wabasha up close during SeptOberfest September 27, 2018

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Autumn decor (including German flags) adds an artistic seasonal welcome to a side street next to Heritage Park in downtown Wabasha.

 

GIVEN MY PHOTOGRAPHER’S EYE, I see beyond an overview. I notice details. And in the Mississippi River town of Wabasha, details abound, especially during SeptOberfest, the community’s annual two-month celebration of autumn.

 

Driving toward Wabasha and the bridge that connects Wisconsin and Minnesota.

 

Pumpkins line picnic tables in Heritage Park, site of many SeptOberfest events, including activities for children.

 

A view from the river bank of the Mississippi and the bridge between Wabasha, Minnesota, and Nelson, Wisconsin.

 

On a recent late week day afternoon, I walked about 1 ½ blocks from Heritage Park, a community gathering spot under the grassy area of the bridge connecting Wabasha to Nelson, Wisconsin, through the business district. I intentionally looked up, down and around to see the character of Wabasha. Details reveal much about a place and its people.

 

Signs above a business note the history of the building. Wabasha has some beautiful historic architecture as noted in the reflections in the window.

 

This street clock adds to the visual historic appeal of downtown Wabasha.

 

German or Irish, Wabasha has your food tastes covered during SeptOberfest.

 

I especially enjoyed the woodcarvings of George Schwalbe currently displayed in the front window of Jerry Arens Insurance.

 

Scroll through my photos and you will note an appreciation for history and heritage and a strong sense of community pride. Folks here care about how this town looks.

 

Outside Pure Identity Salon & Spa, the Tin Man, created from a pumpkin.

 

Pay attention to signs in windows. They tell you a lot about a town.

 

Festive scenes like this are staged throughout downtown Wabasha.

 

I appreciate the seasonal décor of scarecrows propped on straw bales, of festive banners, of carved pumpkins. I remember a town that goes the extra length to transform a downtown into a memorable visual. Wabasha impresses.

 

 

If you value small towns, you must visit Wabasha, also home to the National Eagle Center. Make this river town a day trip, an overnight destination. Now, as autumn blazes color into the landscape, as Wabasha celebrates the season during SeptOberfest.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

To have and to hold, 36 years later May 15, 2018

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Audrey and Randy, May 15, 1982

 

I FLIP THROUGH THE PAGES of the photo album looking at the faces. Young. Smiling. Happy.

Thirty-six years have passed since those formal portraits were taken on my wedding day. It seems so long ago, 1982. We were just 25 then, Randy and I. But as anyone who’s now in their sixties knows, time has a way of flying. It’s not just a saying. It’s the truth.

 

A selfie of Randy and me taken in September 2017 at the walleye statue along Mille Lacs Lake in Garrison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Tomorrow soon becomes yesterday and all of a sudden you aren’t that newlywed on the cusp of life but rather that married nearly four decades couple entering the golden years of life.

I would be lying if I said married life is fairy tale perfect. Maybe in the fantasy world of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. But not in real life. We’ve faced many challenges from health to personal and family issues to injuries and accidents and deaths of loved ones. We’ve managed tight budgets and long hours of hard work and even survived many home improvement projects. And we’ve come through on the other side stronger, more appreciative of each other and maybe even better people for having endured difficulties.

Recently, Randy informed me he’s a legend. I laughed, said I would need to treat him with a higher respect. He’d been dubbed a “legend” by a customer referred to my automotive machinist husband as an expert in his field. He is. Randy is really really smart about all things automotive. And with something like 40 years of experience, he rates as a legend. I don’t know what his customers will do when he retires in a few years. I don’t care, frankly.

A favorite photo of my husband holding our then 10-day-old granddaughter, Isabelle. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2016.

Life isn’t all about work. It’s about finding time for each other and those you love. And those we love has now expanded to include our two-year-old granddaughter. I love watching my husband in his relatively new role as Grandpa to Isabelle. There’s such sweetness and tenderness in the moments they share whether reading a book or crawling around on the floor pulling Brio trains.

Thirty-six years ago I didn’t see beyond the front of the church and the face of my groom on our wedding day. I saw only the man I loved. And still love, all these decades later.

© Copyright 2018 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.

 

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

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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