Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

On the fridge: Photos, poetry, winter prose (rules)… February 15, 2022

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Love this art of my granddaughter on my eldest daughter and son-in-law’s fridge. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, your refrigerator functions as more than a food storage unit. Mine also functions as an art gallery, a photo gallery, a place to post notices and information.

One of several poems I’ve crafted with magnetic words on my refrigerator. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

On my fridge door, you’ll currently see six family photos, an inspirational quote, a clipped poem from my mom’s collection and two short poems I crafted from magnetic words.

Looking for clues in the “Gangster’s Gold” Mailbox Mystery now available (along with other mysteries) on Etsy at Orange Guy Games. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo November 2021)

Shift to the not-so-publicly-visible side and you’ll find an assortment of newspaper clippings (including my pastor’s column about mental health), the “We Remember Them” poem, a recycling calendar, two certificates for completing the Cannon Falls Library Mailbox Mysteries, an email about details for staying at the lake cabin…

And then, clipped under a sheaf of papers is a City of Faribault newsletter, Snow Season—HELPFUL TIPS & INFORMATION. Nine snow/winter-related stories fill both sides of the standard sheet of paper. Yes, there’s a lot to remember when you live in a state of winter for perhaps six months (or more, depending).

The articles are titled:

  • Parking Restrictions & Snow Emergencies
  • Pushing Snow into Streets is Prohibited
  • Help Keep Fire Hydrants Cleared from Snow
  • Clear Sidewalks of Snow and Ice
  • Avoid Frozen Water Pipes
  • Proper Mailbox Installation will Help Keep it Upright this Winter
  • Shoveling Driveway Openings
  • Children Stay Clear of the Street
  • Keep Trash & Recycling Bins Out of the Street
Best to keep vehicles off streets during or after a snowfall or risk a ticket and/or towing. ((Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

So basically keep your vehicles (during snow emergencies), garbage cans, snow and kids off streets.

Clear fire hydrants near your home because, you know, if firefighters need to dig out a hydrant, your house could burn down.

Remove snow and ice from sidewalks so pedestrians (especially letter carriers) don’t slip and fall and break a bone. And as long as we’re talking mailboxes, shovel the snow away from them. If a snowplow hits your curbside mailbox (note, you must have it properly installed), call the city.

Don’t blame the city if your water pipes freeze. They’ve advised you to insulate them and take other precautions to prevent freezing.

As any Minnesotan knows, the worst thing is to have the driveway all cleared and then the snowplow plows the end shut with a ridge of snow. Here Randy waits for the plow to finish clearing the street. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo February 2020)

Also, do not blame city snowplow drivers for plowing snow across the end of your driveway within minutes of your having opened your driveway. That one’s really tough to take. Too many times the plow arrives shortly after all snow has been removed from driveway’s end. Then it’s back to shoveling or blowing, mean-spirited words unheard over the scrape of plow blade upon asphalt.

I’m grateful for the City of Faribault drivers who clear our streets in winter. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2020)

The city is, after all, grateful for your cooperation as noted in this sentence of gratitude:

Thank you very much for your assistance and patience in getting through another Minnesota winter and plowing season.

You’re welcome, City of Faribault. My words, not theirs.

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TELL ME: What’s on your fridge? Anything snow/winter-related?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond me, myself & I February 5, 2022

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Coronavirus (Photo source: CDC)

THIS IS A COVID-RELATED public service announcement for residents of Faribault and then of broader Rice County. But, even if you don’t live here, read on.

First some facts: Rice County residents continue to die of COVID or COVID-related illnesses. Look at stats from Rice County Public Health or the Minnesota Department of Health. Or read the obituaries.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2020)

In a county with a population of about 67,000 we have lost 163 of our friends/family/neighbors to this awful virus. And, yes, I’ve known some of those who died. My heart hurts.

Early on in the pandemic, there was no vaccine to protect against serious illness or death. Much was unknown. That has changed. We have vaccines now and approved options to treat those with COVID. And, yes, the vaccine is less effective against the omicron variant with many break-through cases. Yet, those who are vaccinated/fully-boostered are much less likely to become seriously ill or die than the unvaccinated.

Our county infection rate remains high with a current 11.54 percent positivity rate. Still, that’s better than many other counties, especially rural counties farther from the metro. A week or so ago, a neighboring county had a positivity rate of nearly 40 percent. Yes. Forty.

Our vaccination rate in Rice County seems stalled at around 64 percent. We can do better.

Free, from the national government stockpile, N95 masks which Randy and I recently got from Hy-Vee. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo January 2022)

And we can do a heckuva a lot better at wearing face masks in indoor public settings. The omicron variant is highly-contagious and it’s our responsibility as members of this community to do our best to protect ourselves and others. Underline others. This is not solely about me, myself and I. This is about community, the common good. Our friends. Our neighbors. Our families. Our co-workers. Masking is one way to prevent the spread of this virus. There are people in our communities/families/circles who are especially vulnerable to complications from COVID because of age and/or health issues. Wearing face masks is one simple way to show we care about the health of others by helping prevent spread of the virus.

N99 masks are now available for free locally through the City of Faribault and Rice County.

Now our local government officials have made finding protective face masks a whole lot easier by offering free N99 masks to the public. The City of Faribault received a shipment. Residents can pick up masks at city hall, the fire station, the police department, the community center and the library, while limited supplies last.

Rice County Public Health acquired N99s from the Minnesota Department of Health and is giving them away (one to two per person) at city halls in Dundas, Faribault, Lonsdale, Morristown and Nerstrand; at libraries in Faribault, Lonsdale and Northfield; at the Faribault Community Center; and at the Rice County government services building.

And, yes, the tighter, snug-fitting filter masks (N99, N95, KN95) are necessary to effectively protect against the highly-transmissible omicron variant. Cloth masks, gaiters, etc. are not nearly as effective against omicron as the earlier delta variant. Still, anything is better than nothing. But let’s opt for the now available N99, N95 or KN95.

The best protection is still vaccination, which includes the booster shot.

I remain concerned about our overtaxed healthcare system with overworked staff, delays in care due to staff and ICU shortages, and more. I’m not talking just COVID here. I’m talking healthcare for every single one of us who may need it. Stuff happens. Heart attacks. Motor vehicle accidents. Cancer. This list goes on and on. Again, this is about all of us, not me, myself and I.

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NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-mask and anti-vaccine views or misinformation on this, my personal blog. Thank you for doing your part to keep our communities healthy.

© 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

 

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