Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Recommended Minnesota reads December 5, 2016

THIS TIME OF YEAR, when daylight fades too early into evening darkness, when I want nothing more than to stay indoors cozied against the Minnesota cold, I find myself gathering books. Stashing, stacking, sequestering them in my home.

And then I read, snugged into a corner of the reclining sofa that no longer reclines (unless the husband yanks on the redneck handle he’s improvised to replace the broken pull). I tuck into a fleece throw in hues that linger autumn.

Then I read. Of mystery in prose and poetry. Of fictional places. Of memories. Words wrapping stories around me. Writers writing so I can read. Of their experiences. Of their imaginations. Of their struggles and joys and moments.

Often I choose to read local, a subconscious decision tracing to my years writing book reviews for a now-defunct Minnesota magazine. But I am also drawn to Minnesota writers because of the connection I have to them. We are, or were, of this place, of these people.

In honor of Minnesota reads, I direct you to these books:




Under Minnesota Skies: John and Dorothy Hondl Family History and Farm Memories, penned by sisters Bernadette Hondl Thomasy and Colleen Hondl Gengler, is promoted as a family memoir of farm life in the 1940s-1960s that reflects on Czech and German heritage. The farm referenced in the book sits near Owatonna and has been in the Hondl family since 1881.

I can relate to much of the book’s content. The hard work and joys of farm life. Making hay. Filling silo. Tending livestock. This memoir, too, prompts long-forgotten memories of licking Gold Bond Stamps, of the South St. Paul Stockyard, of listening to WCCO 8-3-0, of driving tractor, of yearning for books.

Turning the pages of Under Minnesota Skies is like flipping the pages of a photo album detailing rural life. Except in words. Email the authors at kbthomasy at aol.com or dcgeng at frontiernet.net to purchase an autographed copy. Or buy the book at Little Professor Book Center in Owatonna or online at amazon.




Voices: Past & Present, The Talking Stick Volume 25, is an eclectic collection of writing by Minnesota authors, or those with a strong Minnesota tie. Published by the northern Minnesota Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, this anthology includes 139 poems, 26 pieces of creative nonfiction and 20 works of fiction from 118 writers. So a good sampling of Minnesota talent.

Getting published in this book is a competitive process. Two of my poems, “Confessions in a Grocery Store Parking Lot” and “Prairie Garden Memories” are among the works printed in this 25th anniversary edition. Order on amazon.




Finally, anyone interested in rural life, should read the books penned by prolific husband and wife team Gordon and Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville. The pair offer children’s picture books in their “A Farm Country” and “If I Were a Farmer” series. They have also written American Farm Heritage and poetry volumes for adults.

The Fredricksons’ books truly are a tribute to the rural way of life. These books can be purchased on the authors’ website, via amazon or at these Minnesota locations: Secret Attic in Northfield; The Old Hotel, New Market; and Bongards Cheese Shop, Bongards.

TELL ME: What local books have you read? What local books are you purchasing as Christmas gifts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering the magic of Santa in a small Minnesota town in March March 25, 2015

PEEF, THE MULTI-COLORED TEDDY BEAR created from the imagination of writer Tom Hegg and brought to visual life by artist Warren Hanson, has always held a special place in my heart. Because of my boy, who is no longer a boy but a young adult.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb's sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

For his eighth birthday, Caleb’s sisters created a PEEF cake for their brother.

Caleb loved his Beanie Baby-sized PEEF. Slept with the bear. Hugged him. Pressed his patchwork tummy over and over so the bear would squeak.

And then one day PEEF disappeared. Lost. Perhaps fallen from the van on a trip to Grandma’s house. Perhaps… I really have no idea what happened to this fur-roughened-by-little-boy-hands bear.

Somewhere, though, the first two PEEF children’s picture books are tucked away in a box in my house. Autographed during an author visit to Faribault in which Caleb posed for a picture with an over-sized patchwork bear. The location of that photo also eludes me.

PEEF The Christmas Bear reveals how the colorful bear came to be and how he also became Santa’s helper and friend.

This sign shows the artwork for the first PEEF book's cover with local Chad Winsell  as the Santa model.

This sign shows the artwork for the first PEEF book’s cover with local Chad Winsell as the Santa model.

Not until this past Saturday did I learn, though, that the model for that first PEEF book hails from West Concord, a rural southeastern Minnesota community of nearly 800. A sign attached to a chain link fence outside the town’s former school, now turned West Concord Historical Society and Community Center, identifies this town as the home of PEEF’s Santa, Chad Winsell.

Historical Society Director Janis Ray, who seems a reliable go-to source for all things West Concord, explained that Chad was friends with PEEF’s creators, thus became the inspiration for Santa. Chad definitely has that Santa look, that sparkle in his eyes.

Michael "Chad" Winsell. Photo from obituary published by Michaelson Funeral Home.

Michael “Chad” Winsell. Photo from obituary published by Michaelson Funeral Home.

On November 18, 2014, Chad, whose real name was Michael, died after living with a brain tumor for 14 years. He was only 64. When I read his obituary, I understood that this man was more than a model for a book. He modeled the spirit of goodness and kindness and generosity that defines Santa. And for a community to recognize that serves to remind all of us that no matter where you live, who you are, you are valued.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photo of Michael “Chad” Winsell from the Michaelson Funeral Home website