Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating historic downtown Owatonna March 2, 2022

National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna rates as particularly important architecturally. Designed by Louis Sullivan in the Prairie Architecture School style, it features stained glass windows, gold leaf arches, nouveau baroque art designs and more. This “jewel box of the prairie” was built between 1906-1908. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

STRIPPING IMAGES OF COLOR lends an historic context to several aged buildings I recently photographed near Central Park in downtown Owatonna. It’s easier for me to see the past, to appreciate these long-standing structures through the lens of time when I view them in black-and-white.

Love this corner historic building which houses A Taste of the Big Apple, serving pizza, soup, sandwiches and more, including a Tater Tot Hot Dish special on March 3. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

First, I feel such gratitude that these buildings still stand. A time existed when the thought was that new is better. Out with the old, in with the new. I’m not of that camp and I’m thankful for the shift in attitudes.

Firemen’s Hall, constructed 1906-1907 for $19,643, sits just across the street from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Twelve city blocks in Owatonna’s downtown define the community’s designation as a National Register Historic District. Three of the 75 “contributing buildings” within that district are on the National Register of Historic Places: the National Farmer’s Bank, the Steele County Courthouse and the Firemen’s Hall.

This home-grown bookstore anchors a downtown corner, directly across from Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

On a recent visit to Owatonna’s Central Park, I pivoted to observe those key historic buildings and others in a downtown of multiple core business streets.

A sign in Central Park provides information about the community stage. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

The park, with a replica of the 1899 community stage, serves as the “town square,” the physically identifiable point of focus and gatherings. Here folks gather for concerts, the farmers’ market and other events. Music and the undeniable human need to socialize connect the past to the present.

The replica community stage/bandshell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I feel inspired now, via my recent stop in Central Park, to return to downtown Owatonna and further explore its history and architecture. Sure I’ve been here before, but not in awhile and not with a focused purpose of intentional appreciation for and photographic documentation of this historic district.

Strip away the color and appreciate the stark beauty. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I encourage each of you, wherever you live, to pause. Strip away the color to black-and-white. See the basics, uncolored by time or attitudes or that which detracts. Observe how the past and present connect. Value the “good” in your community. Appreciate the place you call home.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about your community?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Owatonna’s Central Park on a winter Saturday with summer flashbacks March 1, 2022

A scene from the Owatonna Farmers Market in June 2014. The historic building anchoring a corner across the street is the National Farmer’s Bank of Owatonna. Architect Louis Sullivan designed the 1906-1908 building in the Prairie School Architecture style. The bank is considered “a Jewel Box of the Prairie.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Owatonna’s Central Park, this southern Minnesota city’s community gathering spot pulsed with activity. The park hosts a busy Owatonna Farmers Market from May through October.

A scene from Owatonna’s Central Park on February 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo February 2022)

But on this cold Saturday in late February when I stopped by, only a few people used the park. A couple walked their dogs. And two women crossed to the center fountain, purses angled across downy winter coats, stocking caps clamped on and shopping bags looped over three gloved hands, take-out coffee clutched in the fourth.

A crane tops the 1909 fountain, refurbished in 2021. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Imagine this fountain in the warmer months. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Love the graceful curve of the fountain top crane. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2022)

As the women paused near the centerpiece fountain placed here in 1909, I studied the scene before me, camera ready. Only moments earlier, I finished my packed lunch inside the cozy warmth of the van. Randy and I had planned to eat at nearby Rice Lake State Park. But that all changed when hiking trails proved too icy for safe walking. So here we were in Owatonna, shifting our plans.

This replica of the 1899 community stage centers the park. It was built in 2004, on Owatonna’s 150th anniversary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I was determined that the cold weather would not keep me from photographing the park. Dressed in a warm hand-me-down parka from my son layered over tee and flannel shirts, long johns under jeans, practical winter boots, hand-knit cap and mitten/gloves, I felt prepared. The combo mitten/gloves were a gift from Randy years ago. They work great for winter photography. I flip back the fleece ends to reveal open fingertips. That allows me to manipulate my camera without exposing my entire hand.

An artsy planter sits on fountain’s edge awaiting spring planting. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

Even with all of that, I soon found myself hurrying my creative pace. My fingertips were freezing.

Trees and lights against a bold blue sky by the stage/bandshell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

But I was determined to document the setting on an afternoon that looked deceptively warm. Bold blue skies. Sunshine. Artsy fountain. Stout community stage. Historic buildings bordering the park. Remnants of snow sculptures.

This snow castle still stands, albeit weathered after a month. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
Beautiful colored ice fills a window of the snow castle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)
The back side of the castle features a slide. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I regretted that we missed Owatonna’s Bold & Cold Winter Festival at the end of January. Then those sculptures would have been newly-built, pristine. But now I could only imagine kids slipping down the slide at the deteriorating snow castle.

Plants for sale at the 2014 Owatonna Farmers Market. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

I also imagined how, in a few months, this scene will change. How leaves will unfurl on the birch trees. How the fountain will spill water. How Farmers Market vendors will set up shop. How music will create a joyful rhythm that welcomes spring, then summer. And warmth.

A snapshot scene from the 2014 Owatonna Farmers Market, which covers one-block square Central Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2014)

This I contemplate as I snap frames, fingertips freezing, hurting now in the cold of winter. Back in the van, I hold my fingers close to the blower, seeking heat while the sun shines bright, bold over Central Park.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The winds of December topple holiday trees December 6, 2021

The Holiday Tree Display in Faribault, late Sunday afternoon, when winds tipped trees. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

WICKED WINDS SWEEPING from the northwest into Faribault Sunday afternoon into Monday brought more than cold temps. The strong winds also toppled Christmas trees displayed in Central Park.

Tipped tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen ornaments atop a Christmas tree skirt. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Fallen snowman tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Randy and I headed out to view the Holiday Tree Display, a project of the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, after the Vikings game. When we pulled up, we observed numerous trees lying on the ground, ornaments littering the lawn, tree toppers askew.

A member of the Wunderlich family stands near the tree (left front) he and his sister donated. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A cross tops the tree donated by the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Tubes of sand anchor a tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Several tree sponsors arrived to deal with the unexpected damage. A Wunderlich family member who, along with his sister set up a tree honoring loved ones and community members who died of cancer, headed across the street to Ace Hardware for sandbags. I noticed sandbags anchoring several trees. And when two women came to upright their trees, Randy and I convinced them to let the trees lie given the prevailing winds.

Randy chats Sunday afternoon with a member of the Wunderlich family. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Even though toppled onto the ground, this star topper still shines. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
A particularly beautifully-decorated tree. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

When Randy drove by the holiday display Monday morning on his way to work, he reported more trees down with only perhaps 10 of the 34 still standing. Winds still blew, with the temp dipping into the single digits. It feels a lot like winter now. No snow here, though. But central and northern Minnesota got enough to create travel issues and necessitate late school starts.

Across the street, the beautiful, historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour provides a lovely backdrop. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

Ah, Minnesota. I expect next year precautions will be taken to keep those holiday trees standing straight.

An unusual tree sponsor name. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
So many beautiful ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)
Grey against grey. A rustic star. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

This is only the second year of a project which spreads Christmas joy. All trees are sponsored and decorated by local businesses, organizations, civic groups, etc., and then donated to families/individuals without a tree. It’s a great idea, one which garnered the 2020 Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Award of Excellence for Faribault Parks and Rec.

In the grey of a December day, this red star brings light. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

I feel thankful to live in a community of generosity.

Found among the ornaments. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021.)

None of us ever knows when strong winds will sweep into our lives and knock us down. None of us ever knows when we will need the kindness of others to uplift us, to help us stand, to support us. To give us hope. There is something to be learned from wicked winter winds. We need one another, even if sometimes we think we don’t.

Photographed Sunday afternoon. All trees have now been placed upright. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo December 2021)

FYI: The trees have now been placed upright and staked, and will be displayed until December 10.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Getting cultured in Faribault: From opera to Somali song to booyah September 7, 2021

A promo for Mixed Precipitation’s on-the-road performance. Graphic source: Mixed Precipitation.

IN ONE WEEK’S SPAN, I heard opera for the first time and then seven days later listened to an internationally-known Somali singer perform. Both right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

What a delight to experience these performing arts locally, to be exposed to something new to me.

And at 6 pm Friday, September 10, I’ll be back in Central Park, enjoying “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon,” a play presented by Minneapolis-based Sod House Theater.

If I’m sounding a bit giddy, it’s because I am. I love the arts and feel grateful for our local Paradise Center for the Arts. Yet, I often yearn to see more. But I don’t want to go into the metro. And, truth-be-told, there’s always cost to consider. Even in attending local arts events. I expect others in Faribault face the same barriers.

So I feel such gratitude for our long-running free summer Concerts in the Park series. And I feel thankful, too, for sponsoring groups like the City of Faribault Parks & Recreation Department and the Paradise Center for the Arts and the local businesses and residents who helped fund the special events I attended recently.

When Mixed Precipitation brought its The Pickup Truck Opera, Volume 1: The Odyssey to Faribault on August 26, I wondered how I would respond. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I needn’t have concerned myself as the adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey proved lively and entertaining with dancing and over-sized puppets and toe-stomping music. Plus opera. And it was performed on the grass, in front of the historic bandshell from the bed of a blue pickup truck. I felt like I was in a small village of yesteryear being entertained by a traveling troupe.

Dalmar Yare. Photo source: Faribault Parks & Rec Facebook page.

The feel was completely different on September 2, when I set up my lawn chair in Central Park to hear and watch Dalmar Yare, a Somali entertainer from Minnesota and with family ties to Faribault. He describes his music as a blend of traditional Somali styles with hints of western influence.

I quickly found myself swinging my crossed left leg to the tempo of the upbeat music. I didn’t understand what Yare sang in a language foreign to me. But I understood the joy I felt, the joy I saw. Throughout the park, local Somali children, teens and adults gathered to listen. Many danced, especially the kids. It seemed part concert, part celebration, part reunion. Simply joyful.

While I listened, I observed the crowd. I noted the open affection of Somali youth for one another. Young men draped arms over shoulders as did teen girls. Preschool girls in their flowing dresses and hijabs ran hand-in-hand across the park. I noticed, too, a stunningly beautiful 20-something layered in a golden dress and matching hijab, fashionable mini purse dangling from her shoulder. The vibrant colors and patterns of dresses and hijabs swirled like a kaleidoscope. An ever-changing gallery of art.

Dressed in my casual attire of jeans, a tee and a zipped sweatshirt with the hoodie occasionally pulled up to provide warmth and protect me from the rain, I felt under-dressed and conscious of my white-ness. And that’s OK; I needed to feel this. I only wish more long-time Faribault residents would have attended.

Photo source: Sod House Theater

Now this week I’ll learn about booyah, a rich and flavorful stew that is supposedly an Upper Midwest tradition, although I’ve never eaten it. Booyah will theme the Sod House Theater musical comedy about Arla Mae, a rural Minnesotan claiming to operate the state’s first food truck out of which she serves her famous booyah. The play aims to spotlight buying and eating fresh local food. Thus the involvement of James Beard Award-winning chef Ann Kim in creating a special booyah recipe for the production. So what goes into this stew, which is traditionally cooked outdoors in large kettles over a wood fire? You name it: a mix of meats and an assortment of vegetables—onion, potatoes, rutabagas, cabbage, carrots, celery, peppers…

I envision a collage of shapes and colors. Art in a kettle. Art that is new to me. Served to me. Right here in Faribault. In Central Park.

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NOTE: “Arla Mae’s Booyah Wagon” will also be performed in neighboring communities on these dates and at these locations:

Keepsake Cidery, rural Dundas, 6 pm on Thursday, September 23

Pleasant Grove Pizza Farm, rural Waseca, 6 pm on Friday, October 1

Northfield Central Park, Northfield, 6 pm on Thursday, October 7

© Text Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Promoting community pride & more in Faribault June 7, 2021

Signage atop the Message Board defines its purpose. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

GRATITUDE. PRIDE. POSSIBILITIES. Those topics theme a new opportunity for locals and others to voice their thoughts on the positives in my community via a public Message Board.

The portable board is currently stationed along the Second Avenue side of Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

The Faribault Foundation, which aims to promote and enhance the quality of life for the greater Faribault area, recently developed and then crafted a portable public board from wood and fencing and stationed it along Second Avenue NW in Central Park.

Central Park is the backdrop for the Message Board. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

I love this concept of inviting people to ponder, and then post, their Faribault pride, gratitude and hopes for the future of our southern Minnesota city. Too often we hear the complaints, the negatives. This emphasis on the good qualities and the possibilities is much-needed. And appreciated.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
A container on the side of the board holds the tags and a Sharpie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

So what are people writing on the colorful tags wired onto the fence? On the Saturday afternoon I stopped to photograph the Message Board and then leave my thoughts, I counted 23 comments. Among the positives in Faribault—history, River Bend Nature Center, murals, historic buildings, diversity and more.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior sits right across the street from Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.
Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

As I aimed my camera, I looked across the street toward the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Savior. In the other direction, I noted the historic Bandshell, where our community gathers on Thursday summer evenings for free concerts in the park. On the side and back of that bandshell are two historic-themed murals. Although I didn’t grow up here, I appreciate Faribault’s rich history and the beautiful old buildings that grace our downtown and other parts of the city.

An iris blooms in a Central Park garden. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.
A lovely garden bordered by hosta. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Then I meandered through the park, admiring the flowerbeds tended by Faribault Gardeners Reaching Out With Service (GROWS). That reminded me just how much I appreciate the natural beauty of Faribault. And also how grateful I am to the Faribault Farmers’ Market vendors who set up here on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the growing season.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

Just as many of those vendors grow produce to feed the body, so this new Message Board can grow positivity to feed the spirit. I hope my community embraces this Faribault Foundation project. When we shift our focus to that which is good, to hopes and dreams and gratitude, then the possibilities for this place we call (or called) home are endless.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2021.

FYI: The Message Board will be moved to different locations throughout Faribault for greater accessibility and exposure.

TELL ME: Have you seen a similar project? Nearby Northfield has a Gratitude Tree at the public library. I recently featured that in a post.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree December 5, 2020

A star shines atop a tree at Central Park as the sun sets Saturday evening.

THIS WEEKEND IN FARIBAULT, we would have celebrated Winterfest, complete with a lighted holiday parade, fireworks and more. But, due to COVID-19, organizers canceled the celebration. And rightly so.

Santa at Central Park.

But then the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department got creative, coming up with a Drive-by Tree Display as part of the community’s annual Hometown Holidays celebration, which typically centers at the library with activities and the arrival of Santa on a fire truck. None of that happened.

Decorated trees line the sidewalk in Faribault’s Central Park.
Each tree is uniquely decorated.
The display is just across the street from the historic cathedral.

This year we have Christmas trees—a line of 19 decorated evergreens stretched along one block on the east side of Central Park next to Second Avenue and across from the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

We arrived around 4 pm with plenty of time to view the trees before dark.
Detailed ornaments grace many of the trees.
The lights turned on as the sun set.

Randy and I checked out the display around sunset Saturday evening. It’s beautiful. In daylight. And even more lovely when the sun colors orange into the sky and darkness edges in and the holiday lights switch on.

Randy walks ahead of me, northbound along the row of trees.
Among the many simple and beautiful toppers.
Looking to the south…

Meant to be a drive-by look-and-see, Randy and I opted to walk by. The timing of our visit meant few people in the park. We had our masks in hand if needed.

An angel tops a tree.
I loved viewing and photographing the wide variety of tree toppers.
Especially beautiful as the sun colored the sky.

Walking by and stopping at the trees provided a close up look of ornaments, of tree toppers, of all the details that made each tree a holiday delight.

A downtown hair salon decorated this tree.
A local church created a faith-themed tree.
Another tree sponsor: Faribault Heritage Days.

Each of the 19 trees was decorated by a business or non-profit or organization. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and effort put into decorating the trees, which will be given to St. Vincent DePaul and donated to needy families.

I’m reflected in a bulb as I photograph it.

But most of all, I appreciate this gift to my community. Now, more than ever, we need to feel uplifted, joyful, happy. And I felt all of those when I photographed these decorated trees.

A group participating in the Faribault Parks & Recreation Department’s version of The Amazing Race poses for a photo in Central Park.
Posted in Central Park for participants in Faribault’s The Amazing Race.
Santa is centered in the tree display.

If I would change one thing, it would be to leave these trees displayed for more than a few days. They went up on Thursday. Sunday, December 6, marks your last time to view the Drive-by Tree Display.

A star glows atop a tree.
The lovely trees drew both motorists who slowly drove by and also pedestrians.
The largest tree stands in front of the historic Central Park Bandshell.

What a gift. Thank you, Faribault Parks and Recreation and all who participated in what I hope will become an annual community tradition.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Not even COVID-19 can stop the music in Faribault August 22, 2020

Just a small portion of the people attending a concert in Faribault’s Central Park on Thursday evening.

 

IN THIS SUMMER OF COVID-19 limitations, I feel fortunate to live in a community where at least one bit of normalcy remained—weekly Thursday evening concerts in Faribault’s Central Park.

 

People walk, bike and drive to the park in downtown Faribault.

 

With concert-goers spreading out throughout the block square park and wearing masks when needed, I am comfortable in the outdoor space listening to music. Randy and I missed only a few concerts, one due to rain, the other because we didn’t want to be in the park following the annual pet parade. I love kids. But they tend to forget about COVID and the need to keep their distance. Who can blame them? They’re just kids.

 

Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing perform in the Central Park Bandshell.

 

This past Thursday evening we went to the final scheduled concert in this summer series organized by the Faribault Parks and Rec Department. It was a lovely evening relaxing in our lawn chairs listening to Jivin’ Ivan and the Kings of Swing. Minus Ivan Whillock. The aging musician and noted woodcarver is being extra cautious during COVID and stayed home. Instead, we were treated to an audio of him singing. It was a nice personal touch, Ivan’s way of connecting with fans of his rich, golden voice. The Kings perform Golden Era swing music. Soothing. A journey back in time.

 

I’ve seen more families at this summer’s concerts than in recent years.

 

As I listen, I watch. And I observed children running, playing, painting, tossing hula hoops and multi-colored scarves, doing back flips. It all looked so normal. Just like any summer evening. Except for the face masks occasionally seen on kids and adults. And except for the lack of people mingling and visiting as typically happens at these summer concerts.

 

Art in the Park, an opportunity to paint, has been added to this year’s concerts. Here Paula creates.

 

Professional artist Kate Langlais paints during the concert.

 

A young concert-goer creates art.

 

I also noted the size of the crowd, much larger than in past summers. That comes as no surprise given many of us in the aging demographic are limiting who we see and what we do. And this is the one event we can attend because it’s outdoors and people (mostly) follow safety protocol.

As the evening closed in on 8:30 and the bandshell lights switched on, the air chilled and some concert-goers began leaving. But my friend Valerie didn’t leave before we met up. She’d texted earlier wondering if I was at the concert. I haven’t seen her in forever, long before COVID started. And so we stepped to the side of the crowd, both in our face masks and caught up. It was so hard not to hug one another. But we didn’t. And even though I couldn’t see Valerie’s smile, I could see the smile in her eyes. In our brief conversation I felt reconnected, overjoyed, as if COVID exited and we were just two friends chatting with each other on a summer evening.

I can only hope that by this time next summer, COVID-19 will be history and we will all be vaccinated and life back to normal, whatever that may be.

 

Art in painting. Art in music.

 

But for now, for this summer, this is life. Masks and social distancing. Few or no social activities. Except for these concerts in the park—with an encore concert set for 6 pm Thursday, September 3, featuring instrumentalist Doug Madow and vocalist Barb Piper. To that announcement, the crowd reacted with raucous applause. One more evening of music to help us sort of forget about this global pandemic.

ENCORE TWO: Minnesota-born singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark Joseph performs at 7 pm Friday, September 11, in Central Park. Sponsored by the Caron family, this blues concert benefits the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault via a suggested free will donation of $10.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Bishop Whipple’s “unfailing love & hope for humanity” on a mural in Faribault June 29, 2020

The Central Park Bandshell mural on the left honors Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple. The one to the right features the Faribault Pet Parade and was placed there several years ago.

 

THE RECENT INSTALLATION of an historic-themed mural on the west side of the Central Park Bandshell in Faribault prompted me to look more closely at the man featured thereon—Bishop Henry Whipple.

 

The middle mural panel features a portrait of Bishop Whipple and a summary of information about him.

 

Just across the street from Central Park, the stunning Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

 

The historic marker posted on the Cathedral bell tower.

 

He is a prominent figure in the history of my community and the history of Minnesota. Explore Faribault, and you will find Whipple’s name on numerous plaques, including across the street from the park at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, the cathedral he helped build as Minnesota’s first Episcopal bishop. He’s buried in a crypt beneath the chancel there. The bell tower was dedicated in his honor by his second wife, Evangeline, as “a monument of love and Christian unity.”

 

Posted outside the front door of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the east side of town, Whipple’s name graces an historical marker at The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. He helped found the school, separately first as Shattuck School for boys and St. Mary’s Hall for girls, along with St. James and Seabury Divinity schools, all in Faribault.

 

The soaring tower landmarks the Cathedral. Ralph Adams Cram, architect of St. John the Divine in New York City, designed the Cathedral tower. The tower was added as a memorial to Whipple after his death in 1901.

 

The inscription, in stone, on the bell tower.

 

An historic marker on the Cathedral grounds.

 

As admirable as Whipple’s role in founding educational institutions, it is another facet of this man—his humanitarian efforts—which are often cited in history. The inscription on the Cathedral bell tower states that Whipple’s “unfailing love and hope for humanity have made his life an inspiration far and near.”

 

This panel depicts the relationship between Native peoples and Bishop Whipple.

 

Bishop Whipple’s portrait, up close.

 

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral reference Whipple as “Straight Tongue.”

 

What, exactly, does that mean? To understand, one must consider the time period in which Whipple arrived in Minnesota, just years before the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. He was a missionary and, as such, worked to educate and convert the Native peoples to Christianity and agrarian ways. (Not necessarily the adaptive approach one would take today toward other cultures, but the mindset then.) In his work, Whipple observed poverty among the Dakota and Ojibwe and mistreatment by the government and began to advocate for their rights. The Native peoples called the bishop “Straight Tongue.” That title speaks to their trust and respect for him.

 

The mural, in full, including the right panel recognizing Whipple and his first wife, Cornelia, and his second wife, Evangeline.

 

Whipple was among the few leaders who publicly pressed for sparing the lives of 303 Dakota warriors sentenced to death following the war. President Abraham Lincoln spared or pardoned most, but 38 were still hung during a mass execution in Mankato.

Whipple’s strong public stances on behalf of Native peoples were not necessarily widely-embraced. Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Susan Garwood shared at a presentation I attended several years ago that several assassination attempts were made on the bishop’s life. Following the U.S.-Dakota War, about 80 Native people, under Whipple’s protection, moved to Faribault. Some helped build the Cathedral, a construction process which took from 1862-1869. Additionally, several Dakota and African Americans attended Seabury Divinity School, Garwood noted. That, too, caused concern.

 

The Whipples.

 

But through it all, from the information I’ve read, Whipple remained steadfast, unwavering in his compassion toward Native peoples, advocating for them, loving humanity.

 

FYI: The Mural Society of Faribault actively promotes Faribault history through public murals posted throughout the downtown area, this one the latest. Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs crafted, painted and installed the Whipple mural with help from his team.

For more information about Bishop Whipple, click here to reach MNOpedia.

Or read this post I wrote about a Rice County Historical Society event in 2018. The RCHS features a museum exhibit on Bishop Whipple.

 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thursday in the park by Little Chicago June 27, 2020

A portion of the crowd enjoying Little Chicago’s June 25 concert at Central Park in Faribault.

 

ANY OTHER SUMMER, and I wouldn’t consider a concert in the park anything but typical for a Thursday evening in Faribault. The weekly warm weather concerts have been part of my community’s history now for 134 years. But these are the days of a global pandemic. Yet, not even COVID-19 can stop this music tradition.

 

Many couples brought their lawn chairs and found a social-distancing spot in the park.

 

Central Park sits in Faribault’s downtown area, along Second Avenue across from the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

 

Some folks opted to sit on park benches near the stage.

 

Thursday evening I attended my first 2020 summer concert organized by the Faribault Parks and Recreation Department and sponsored by area businesses. Things looked a bit different. The vast crowd was spread throughout the block-square Central Park, mostly adhering to CDC social-distancing guidelines. Some wore masks, especially when coming to and leaving the park.

 

Loved the 60s and 70s hits performed by Little Chicago.

 

Randy and I settled at the back of the gathering to enjoy the music of Little Chicago, a New Prague-based cover band for hits from the 60s and 70s. Our music. Songs by The Grassroots, Chicago, the Turtles, Neil Diamond… Familiar hits that took me back to my teen years, especially songs like “Color My World” and “Saturday in the Park” by Chicago, one of my all-time favorite bands.

 

Thumbing through a book while enjoying the concert…

 

As I listened, swung my foot and occasionally sang along to songs like “Happy Together” and “Sweet Caroline,” (who can resist?), I watched. I am an observer. Taking in the setting and the people and the experience.

 

All ages attended the concert, with more young families than I’ve seen in past years.

 

What a beautiful evening for a concert with pleasant temps and a stir of a breeze as the day edged toward sunset.

 

Most people arrived via vehicle. But some also walked and biked.

 

I noticed a difference in this year’s crowd with more young families in attendance. Typically, these concerts draw older folks like me. But I watched kids arrive—in red wagons, on trikes, in strollers—with parents and grandparents. And then dance, play, toss balls. Simply enjoying the exceptionally beautiful summer evening outdoors. It reminded me of all the years we brought our own three children here to do the same.

 

Visiting…

 

I saw quite a few dogs, all under control and well-behaved.

 

Little Chicago’s homemade sign banners the base of the bandshell where folks enjoy the music.

 

I watched as people swayed their hands, as a couple danced, as dog owners circled their dogs around the park. It all looked so normal. If not for the lawn chairs spaced far apart, the face masks, the reminder in the back of my brain, I would have considered this just any other Thursday summer evening in Central Park. For a few hours, it felt that way, as if COVID-19 had exited and only the music of summer played.

 

One final look at the crowd-pleasing band, Little Chicago.

 

FYI: The Lakerlanders Barbershop Chorus performs at the next free concert set for 7 pm Thursday, July 2, in Faribault’s Central Park.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Outdoor summer Concerts in the Park a “go” in Faribault June 17, 2020

A July 2015 concert in Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DURING A TYPICAL SUMMER, the City of Faribault features free Concerts in the Park on Thursday evenings. I’ve attended for decades, taking our kids when they were growing up. It was a family night out. Years later, Randy and I still pack our lawn chairs and head to Central Park for music and visiting.

I expected this summer, there would be no concerts due to COVID-19. But as state restrictions loosen, the Faribault Parks & Rec Department has opted to start those concerts this Thursday, June 18, at 7 pm with the six-member Gold Star Band performing. The band, with members from around the area, plays classic country, 50s/60s and classic rock.

 

Another past concert. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Nine additional musical groups—from Little Chicago to the Lakelanders Barbershop Chorus to Bend in the River Big Band—are on the Thursday schedule from now until August 20. It will be interesting to see how these musicians social-distance in the confined space of a bandshell. For the smaller groups, it shouldn’t be an issue.

 

I photographed this scene in Central Park on Sunday morning, just days before this week’s concert. Park benches had been pulled out of storage, but are obviously not spaced to allow for social distancing. Hopefully they will be moved apart prior to tomorrow evening’s concert.

 

Because these concerts are outdoors in a park that covers a city block, Randy and I feel safe attending. We can easily social-distance. That, and adherence to all Minnesota Department of Health guidelines related to COVID-19, are expected.

But after the concert, we won’t linger to visit with friends, as we usually do. We’ll fold our lawn chairs, carry them to the van and head home, thankful for the evening of music in a safe environment. Yet missing the sense of community that comes from interaction and conversation.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling