Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What to read, or not, during a global pandemic March 17, 2020

The sun rises east of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


WITH A RECENT OVERLOAD of reading and listening to media reports on coronavirus, I need mental diversions. I continue to start each day by praying and reading devotionals. That’s mostly unchanged from pre-COVID, although the number and types of prayers are fluid. Beginning my morning this way calms and centers me. As a woman of faith, I need this reassuring, peaceful mindset that God is in control and will see us through this pandemic.

In the evenings, I settle into my recliner with a book or a magazine and hope that my tired eyes won’t cross (a vision problem fixed as a child, but not fixable again), rendering the pages unreadable. Sometimes I struggle to stay awake.


Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I love to read. For that reason I’m especially thankful I got to the library on Saturday and stocked up on reading materials. No empty shelves there. The City of Faribault closed Buckham Memorial Library on Monday to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. We’ve no confirmed cases in my county. Yet. The library closing continues until the end of the month. Maybe longer. I appreciate that city leaders are being proactive in declaring a local state of emergency rather than reactive.


In Audrey’s reading pile.


At the time I visited the library, I had no idea the facility would close two days later. I’m glad I chose as many magazines and books as I did. I checked out six magazines ranging from architectural to lifestyle to food. And I have a stash of five books covering topics from farming to murders in Minnesota to mental health and more.


In Randy’s reading selections.


Now compare that to what my husband chose. Randy, not nearly as much of a reader as me, selected books about Putin, fish in Minnesota and, get this, plagues. Or more specifically, Diseases in History—Plague by Kevin Cunningham. As if we don’t have enough to think about with the current coronavirus global pandemic. Let’s toss in learning about the bubonic plague, the Black Death, the flu…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault renames airport honoring WASP Liz Wall Strohfus, who proved that girls can fly June 22, 2017

SHE WAS AN AVIATION PIONEER for women, an advocate for female veterans and an inspiration to many. And Saturday afternoon, local celebrity Elizabeth “Betty Wall” Strohfus will be posthumously honored with renaming and dedication of the Faribault Municipal Airport as Liz Wall Strohfus Field. She died in March 2016 at the age of 96.


Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, circa 1943, at Avenger Field. (Photo from family archives.)


Strohfus served as a Women’s Air Force Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II. In that job, she trained infantry gunners for battle, taught instrument flying to male cadets and ferried warbirds around the U.S. After her service, she lobbied and succeeded in getting active military duty status for WASPs and burial rights for these service women at Arlington National Cemetery. She is best known perhaps, though, for her inspirational talks primarily to students in 31 states over nearly three decades.

Commercial pilot Cheri Rohlfing, who was inspired by Strohfus, will be among several speakers addressing attendees during a 2 p.m. program at the Faribault airport. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, with whom Strohfus worked on WASP veterans’ issues, will speak first. Others scheduled to talk are Strohfus’ son Art Roberts and Terry Baker, who worked on restoring a BT-13 like the one Strohfus piloted. That plane will be on-site at Saturday’s 1 – 4 p.m. event. Eventually the bomber will find a permanent home at the National WASP Museum at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where Strohfus trained.


Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed and created this sign gracing the newly-renamed Faribault airport. Image is courtesy of Brushwork Signs.


The Faribault American Association of University Women, prompted by retired educator Gloria Olson, initiated renaming of the airport and has been planning Saturday’s tribute. “It fits our (AAUW’s) mission—recognition and support of women and girls, along with education of women and girls, which was important to Liz as well,” Olson wrote in an email.

In addition to the airport renaming and placement of new signage honoring Strohfus, a sculpture by renowned Faribault woodcarver Ivan Whillock has been completed just in time for the June 24 dedication. It will hang in the airport lobby.

Family activities and music are also part of Saturday’s celebration along with a display—including memorabilia, photos, posters and a continuously running video telling Strohfus’ story. After the airport event, the Village Theater in historic downtown Faribault will feature two free showings (at 4 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.) of local filmmaker Steve Cloutier’s documentary, “Betty Wall: Girls Don’t Fly.”

Strohfus proved she could fly, joining the Faribault Sky Club and becoming the first woman to solo fly at the Faribault airport in 1942. She acquired a bank loan to join the club by putting her bike up as collateral.

Such tenacity impresses me as do this aviator’s numerous accomplishments. Among her many awards are two Congressional Medals of Honor and induction into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.


Liz Wall Strohfus. Photo courtesy of Gloria Olson.


AAUW member Olson shared the importance of renaming the local airport in honor of Strohfus for “all her military accomplishments, what she did for women veterans, and women and girls in general, inspiring youth to follow their dreams, all her honors, Faribault icon, everyone’s friend, and…first local site of any significance honoring a woman.”

Strohfus will receive one more posthumous honor. The Faribault City Council recently passed a resolution designating June 24 as Liz Wall Strohfus Day in the city of Faribault.

Memorabilia donated by Strohfus’ son will be added to an exhibit on the aviator already in place at the Rice County Historical Society.

For a woman who was once told by a local banker that “girls don’t fly,” all these tributes prove she could. And she did. And on Saturday, Strohfus will be recognized in her hometown for her many accomplishments in the field of aviation.

FYI: Northfield-based KYMN radio (95.1 FM) will rebroadcast an interview with Strohfus at 10 a.m. Friday. The interview with radio personality Wayne Eddy originally aired on May 30, 2014.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos are courtesy of Brushwork Signs and of Gloria Olson


Brainstorming on Faribault’s future September 29, 2014

NEVER HAVE I BEEN PART of a community’s visioning process.

Until Thursday evening, when eleven of us gathered at the Historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast to discuss Faribault’s strengths, challenges and future under the guidance of hosts Doug and Tami Schluter.

In the distance you can see the clock tower on Shumway Hall at Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, photographed last fall from City View Park.

A stunning autumn view of Faribault taken at City View Park show the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

For nearly three hours, our baker’s dozen of Baby Boomers focused on our southeastern Minnesota community through this “Meeting in a Box” session. It was a thoughtful process which allowed every single person the opportunity to speak as we rounded the dining room table, one-by-one taking our turns.

To have this grassroots chance to voice one’s opinion, without interruption (mostly) and in an informal setting, will provide invaluable information to the City of Faribault, which has launched this seven-month-long community visioning process tagged as Community Vision—Faribault 2040.

Leaving the show and driving southbound on Central Avenue through historic downtown Faribault.

A recent shot of a section of historic downtown Faribault’s Central Avenue. This scene represents to me Faribault’s past, present and future.

Projecting 25 years into the future allows our community to be proactive, to plan, to build on strengths, to identify weaknesses, to grow a stronger and better Faribault.

I couldn’t help but think, during this brainstorming session, how my second daughter recently reacted to news of a nephew’s upcoming move from Utah to rural Faribault. “It’s Faribault, Mom,” she said, a definite disdain tinging her words. I wondered how many other twenty-somethings share her attitude, how they can’t wait to graduate and move away.

Keeping our young people here popped up as a challenge facing Faribault. But I expect residents of almost every city or small town feel the same about the exit of their youth. I left my native southwestern Minnesota prairie at age seventeen.

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

A mural, one of several in the downtown area, promotes historic Faribault. Our community’s rich history and architecture came up repeatedly as strong assets during the “Meeting in a Box” conversation.

Our discussion, among Faribault natives and those of us who relocated here, began with this statement: “My community is great, because……”

The Cheese Cave is housed in a beautifully-restored building in historic downtown Faribault. The interior, with an arched ceiling and sandstone-colored walls, mimics the caves where Faribault Dairy ages its cheeses.

The Cheese Cave is housed in a beautifully-restored building in historic downtown Faribault, site of many old and well-preserved buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

We could jot down three answers before circling the table and sharing. Once all answers were listed, we voted these as the top five reason’s Faribault is great: variety of educational choices, downtown architecture and rich history, efforts to preserve the past, good mix of businesses and people who care about one another.

Then it was on to the next question, which proved much more difficult: When you look 25 years into Faribault’s future, what are the most important community strengths we should build upon as we plan for Faribault’s future?

Note the Faribault Ochs store in this mid-1920s photo from the private collection of Daniel J. Hoisington.

This mid-1920s photo from the private collection of Daniel J. Hoisington was shot in downtown Faribault. Preserving our rich history and architecture ranked high in discussion at the “Meeting in a Box.”

After significant effort to even understand the question, we responded, then voted for our top five most important community strengths: educational opportunities, grow industries, preserve small town feel, tourism opportunities and preserving historical buildings and history.

Finally, the last question asked us to identify Faribault’s most pressing challenges as we plan for the future.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

A Somali family waits to cross a street in downtown Faribault. Diversity-related issues rated high in conversation. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

Those responses flowed fast and easy with the following marked as Faribault’s top challenges: housing code enforcement, crime (specifically domestic violence, drugs and DWIs identified), diversity related issues, city/county/citizen leadership, community planning and poor community pride.

Not much revealed at this “Meeting in a Box” session surprised me.

Yet, it’s good to get our thoughts out there so city leaders are aware of Average Joe or Jane Resident’s concerns. Our long lists of answers—all of them, not just the top five—will be forwarded to city officials. That’s reaffirming, to know that every single response will be passed along.

This week, from 7 – 9 p.m. Thursday, October 2, the Schluters are hosting another “Meeting in a Box.” They’re looking for participants. So, if you want a voice in the conversation about Faribault, contact them.

These sessions are being held through-out the community as the second step in the visioning process. Focus groups and community forums will follow.

For this process to truly reflect Faribault, though, more than just grey-haired Caucasian Baby Boomers will need to provide input. Opinions from all races and ages are needed.

Young people are our future. They will live the longest with the decisions made today. Unless they leave Faribault. Like my two daughters and son.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Flood updates from southern Minnesota March 23, 2011

AS YOU WOULD EXPECT, Minnesotans are keeping a close watch on rising rivers, creeks and streams as rain and snow continue to fall across much of our state.

Here in Faribault, sandbagging has begun at the wastewater treatment plant, which flooded during last September’s flash flood. Sandbags have been filled and are available to property owners. The city has an emergency plan in place to deal with any flooding.

Faribault officials are working to protect the city's water reclamation plant which sits along the Straight River and which was flooded in a September 2010 flood. This photo is from September 2010.

Thankfully, the precipitation—rain, sleet and then snow overnight—have stopped in Faribault.

Further to the south, I’ve heard from Katie Shones of Hammond, a Wabasha County village nestled along the Zumbro River. Last September Hammond and nearby Zumbro Falls were devastated by the same flash flood that occurred in Faribault.

Katie updated me just this afternoon on the situation in Hammond. “So far, no sandbagging in the area,” Katie writes. “We are under a flood warning in Wabasha County, just as much of southern Minnesota. The Zumbro is high, but it is still contained in its banks. People are watching the river closely as you can well imagine.”

Looking down on Hammond during the September 2010 flash flood. Photo courtesy of Hammond residents Micheal Mann and Tina Marlowe.

Sadly, yesterday the spring floods claimed the life of a Minnesota Department of Transportation worker who was swept away by floodwaters after his backhoe tipped into Seven Mile Creek, which feeds into the Minnesota River. The accident happened between Mankato and St. Peter along U.S. Highway 169 when Michael Struck 39, of Cleveland, was attempting to clean out flood debris, according to an article in The Free Press, Mankato. His body was found today in Seven Mile Creek County Park.

Please be careful out there, and if you have any reports you would like to share about flood preparedness, flooding or other weather in your area of Minnesota, please submit a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Grader and vehicle collide as more snow falls December 16, 2010

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ABOUT 45 MINUTES AGO, while sitting at the dining room table proofing the winter edition of Minnesota Moments magazine, I heard the unmistakable bang and crunch of metal on metal.

I looked outside to see that a city grader and a passenger vehicle had collided at the intersection of Willow Street, a major arterial road in Faribault, and the side street by my corner house.

This City of Faribault grader and passenger vehicle collided at the intersection of Willow Street and Tower Place. By the time I grabbed my camera and got to the window, the grader had already backed up, out of the intersection.

I don’t know how the crash happened—it could have been anything.

But it’s slippery out there right now and the side street ends at the bottom of a hill.

Fortunately, no one was hurt and I don’t think the passenger vehicle sustained much damage. I didn’t tromp outdoors to look, though.

Yes, thick snow is falling here. Again. The snowfall began Wednesday evening. So, if you live in southeastern Minnesota, or anywhere else weather conditions are dicey, please be cautious.

Faribault police arrive at the crash scene around 9:45 a.m.

This truck, which was not involved in the crash, travels down the side street while the cop car remains parked on Willow Street wrapping up details following the collision.

WHAT ARE ROAD and weather conditions like in your neighborhood?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling