Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

From Wheeling Township, Part III: More images & words from Germanfest October 4, 2017

A farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 near St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.

 

IN A RURAL SETTING not far from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, the members, families and friends of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, serve not only an incredible German dinner each September, but also incredible hospitality.

 

 

Shirley checks and refills food on the serving line.

 

Even the pickles are homemade.

 

Through my many years of attending dinners, luncheons and other events at this country church, I’ve gotten to know these friendly folks—Lynn, Kim, Doug, Craig, Shirley… I can’t come and go without stopping to greet and hug sweet Elsie, who now into her nineties still works in the kitchen stirring gravy or potato salad or cutting and plating pies (during the church ice cream socials). Truly, these dinners are labors of love.

 

Here two volunteers, in ethnic costumes, take a break at the root beer stand.

 

Petting zoo animals come from a nearby farm.

 

There’s always a well put together historical display.

 

I can only imagine the tremendous time, effort and energy involved in pulling off Germanfest, an event which features more than just the showcased ethnic meal which this year fed some 650. I appreciate the country store and market that offer home-baked and garden grown goods and more. I appreciate, too, the quilts stitched by talented hands and the music and petting zoo and historical displays and more.

 

On the church altar, a beautiful harvest display.

 

There’s something divinely wonderful about a Minnesota church festival that reconnects me to the land, that brings a sense of peace in a world brimming with too much discontent and chaos.

 

BONUS PHOTOS:

This gentleman arrived from four miles away in his Model T Ford.

 

Congregants make and sell crab apple jelly from trees growing on church property.

 

Dressed in lederhosen, a volunteer pauses to enjoy the music and check out the market under the tent.

 

Lucy, seven months, and her grandpa listen to the old-time music.

 

The Ray Sands Band plays tunes like “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie…”

 

I observed these guys kicked back and relaxing to the music of the Ray Sands Band.

 

A display of German items honors the congregation’s heritage.

 

I enjoyed this over-sized woodcarving of a fisherman.

 

Church festivals are made for visiting.

 

Ice cream cones of feed for animals in the petting zoo were popular with the kids.

 

These piglets were among animals in the petting zoo.

 

Even the church windowsills are adorned with harvest themed decor.

 

One final look at St. John’s UCC as we drive away.

 

NOTE: To all my readers who wish I would have told you about this church dinner in advance, I’m sorry. Please mark your 2018 calendars for next September. Germanfest is always held around the same time annually.

But I can tell you about another outstanding area church dinner set for 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, October 8, at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. With a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings, it’s one of the best (in my opinion) church dinners around. The event also includes a craft and bake sale in the church basement. Click here to read previous posts about Trinity’s fall dinner.

Please check back for one last post in my four-part series from Germanfest. You won’t want to miss this final, especially endearing, photo essay. Click here to read my first post and click here to read my second post, both published last week.

© 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Blessings, beer & baseball in St. Patrick January 18, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is a story from summer-time, season inappropriate. But, in the throes of a Minnesota winter, we need reminders that summer will return. In something like four months.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church cemetery sits St. Patrick's Tavern.

Across the road from the St. Patrick of Cedar Lake Township Catholic Church and cemetery sits St. Patrick’s Tavern.

A BAR AND A CHURCH. It’s not an uncommon pairing in parts of rural Minnesota, in Catholic faith communities especially.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick's Tavern.

The bar recently changed ownership and became St. Patrick’s Tavern.

Blessings and beer.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township.

On a Sunday afternoon drive in the summer of 2015, my husband and I happened upon St. Patrick, an unincorporated burg in Scott County. There, upon a hill, sits St. Patrick Catholic Church of Cedar Lake Township. Out the front door and down the hill rests the bar, appropriately named St. Patrick’s Tavern. And on the back side of the hill lies the baseball field, St. Patrick’s Bonin Field. It’s named after Father Leon Bonin, a strong supporter of baseball in St. Patrick.

St. Patrick's Bonin Field

St. Patrick’s Bonin Field

Blessings, beer and baseball. How decidedly rural Minnesotan.

BONUS PHOTOS:

St. Patrick's Tavern in St. Patrick, Minnesota

St. Patrick’s Tavern is located at 24436 Old Highway 13 Blvd. in St. Patrick, Minnesota.

Cruising past St. Patrick's Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

Cruising past St. Patrick’s Tavern on a Sunday afternoon.

More signage on St. Patrick's Tavern.

More signage on St. Patrick’s Tavern.

TELL ME: Do you know of any similar hamlets that offer blessings, beer and baseball. I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: When memories cruise into a car show August 4, 2016

A 1964 Chevy SS.

A 1964 Chevy SS.

THERE ARE REASONS we love the things we do. Always reasons. And at the Cruise-In Car Show held last weekend at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, there was a reason my husband voted for a 1964 Chevy SS as his favorite car. He once owned a similar Chevy. Not an SS. But a rusted out 1964 Chevy Impala. He wishes he still had that vintage vehicle, albeit in pristine condition.

The tail light on the 1958 Chevy I liked.

The tail light on the 1958 Chevy I liked.

I favored a cherry red 1958 Chevy that reminded me of the car my maternal grandpa drove. I remember mostly the salmon (not red) hue, the distinctive click of the blinker and the bumpy plastic protecting the seats. Grandpa’s car may not even have been a Chevy. But the lines of this car looked familiar.

Look at the graceful lines in these vintage cars.

Look at the graceful lines in these vintage cars.

My appreciation of vehicles is more about lines, curves and colors—the visual artistic appeal—rather than performance. Perhaps that’s why current day cars seem less attractive than those of 50 years ago.

Several tractors were registered at the show.

Several tractors were registered at the show.

As I approached the four tractors parked at the cruise-in, I hoped to see a B Farmall or John Deere like the ones from my childhood farm. But there were none. It’s difficult for me to think of 1970s tractors as collectibles. There’s a reason for that and it’s called aging. My aging.

At the request of St. John's car cruise-in organizers, I climbed a 10-foot step ladder to photograph the scene.

At the request of St. John’s car cruise-in organizers, I climbed a 10-foot step ladder to photograph the event.

These days I find myself growing more nostalgic. I am drawn to that which defined my past. I find that a tad unsettling, this yearning for seemingly simpler days when life was less complicated, less stressful, less cluttered. The “good old days,” they call them. Am I that old already to think that way?

Chevrolets are popular collector cars.

Chevrolets are popular collector cars.

Perhaps this is really what car shows are all about. Not about shiny vehicles or souped up whatever, but rather about memories and appreciating the past.

BONUS PHOTOS:

A tractor owner left his key in his tractor, complete with key chain from the Little Brown Church in the Vale.

A tractor owner left his key in his tractor, complete with key chain from the Little Brown Church in the Vale.

I have an affinity for Mustangs that traces to my teen years.

I have an affinity for Mustangs that traces to my teen years.

I was intrigued by these gauges on the exterior of a car, just outside the driver's side of the windshield.

I was intrigued by these gauges on the exterior of a car, just outside the driver’s side of the windshield.

Because green is my favorite color, I am naturally drawn to this car.

Because green is my favorite color, I am naturally drawn to this car owned by a Minnesotan who is a big Green Bay Packers fan.

Likewise, this blue on a blue Volkswagon also drew my eye and my interest.

Likewise, this blue on a blue Volkswagon also drew my eye and my interest.

FYI: Click here to read my first post from St. John’s Cruise-In Car Show. And check back tomorrow for one final post from this rural Faribault event.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Cruisn’ to church, but not for a sermon July 27, 2016

UCC-CarShow-page-001

 

FOR ST. JOHN’S UNITED CHURCH of Christ, Wheeling Township, a weekend Cruise-In Car Show offers an opportunity to bring the community together.

There’s no ulterior motive. This isn’t a fundraiser. The church isn’t trying to get folks to join.

Rather, says Steve Wille of the St. John’s Revitalization Group, the Car Show is strictly a social event aimed at bringing folks together in a neighborly sort of way. I like that. Visiting with your neighbors, he says, seems to be a lost art.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

St. John’s, a country church located east of Faribault near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, is good at reaching out to the community. The congregation hosts annual events like the Big Woods Run, The Last Supper Drama, German Fest, an ice cream social and more. I’ve been there many times, often enough that congregants know me. These folks are country friendly and welcoming. And they’re fantastic cooks and bakers.

No St. John’s event is complete without food. Pork sandwiches and snacks will be available at the 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday, July 30, Cruise-In Car Show.

Car Show is a bit of a misnomer, though. Trucks and tractors are also welcome with first place trophies awarded to each of the top three.

If you enjoy cruise-ins, country churches, a rural setting and visiting, consider attending (or participating in) St. John’s first-ever Cruise-In Car Show.

FYI: St. John’s is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: The detailed craftsmanship of Holden Lutheran Church April 1, 2016

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Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

IT IS THE DETAILS, always the details, that define a place, a person, a whatever. In long-standing country churches, especially, detailed craftsmanship prevails.

The sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

The sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

Craftsmanship and beauty at the altar.

Craftsmanship and beauty at the altar.

This glorious Easter themed window shines above the altar.

This glorious Easter themed window shines above the altar.

Looking from the front of the sanctuary to the rear and the balcony.

Looking from the front of the sanctuary to the rear and the balcony.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota, is a prime example with countless stained glass windows, handcarved wood and chiseled stone. I can imagine the rough hands of a Norwegian farmer, the calloused hands of a bricklayer, the creative hands of an artist shaping this church into this glorious house of worship.

I assume this is an original vintage light suspended in the sanctuary.

I assume this is an original vintage light suspended in the sanctuary.

I wonder, though, did long ago parishioners form committees, as Lutherans are wont to do, or did they simply do what needed to be done? The current congregation has several committees, including a Property Management Committee.

Look at the details of three distant crosses in this snippet of a stained glass window.

Look at the detail of three distant crosses in this snippet of a stained glass window.

However Holden evolved, I am impressed, as I often am, by the efforts entailed in building a structure like this for $56,687 in 1924 without modern day tools and equipment. How did they do it? Hard work and determination, I expect.

Gravestones bear many Norwegian names.

Gravestones bear many Norwegian names.

It takes a lot of money to sustain and improve such a massive structure and to pay the heating and other bills. That Holden continues to do so reveals faithfulness, tenacity and a determined spirit that traces to the Norwegian immigrants who founded this congregation.

Confirmation photos hang above a history timeline.

Confirmation photos hang above a history timeline.

History remains an integral part of Holden as evidenced in a time-line posted inside the church and in photos displayed.

Hanging from the pulpit.

The art of a seamstress hangs from the pulpit.

This bible, lying open on the lectern, was turned to

This bible, lying on the lectern, is open to Proverbs 6 – 8.

I photographed this counted cross-stitch art in the church basement. It seems especially fitting for this rural region of Minnesota.

I photographed this counted cross-stitch art in the church basement. It seems especially fitting for this rural region of Minnesota.

Details, too, still matter. One need only look to see them. It is the details, always the details, that define a place like Holden Lutheran Church.

A simple banner message for those exiting the church entry to the south.

A simple banner message for those exiting the church to the south.

FYI: Click here to read my first post on Holden.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: Inside Holden, an historic Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Minnesota March 31, 2016

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, the heavy oak doors to the sanctuary were closed and Sunday morning worship underway. Not wanting to intrude in the middle of the service, my husband and I instead wandered the cemetery, vowing to return.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

Several weeks ago we did, on a Saturday afternoon, en route home from Wanamingo to Faribault along the back roads rather than the more direct Minnesota State Highway 60. Goodhue County Road 30 led us right by this landmark Norwegian brick church standing high and solid among farm fields and farm sites.

A photo of the "old church" is posted in the present church.

A photo of the “old church,” built in 1871, is posted in the present church.

With my rural roots and deep appreciation for country churches, I was excited to tour this church built in 1924. The congregation was established in 1856. Previously, members worshiped (for 53 years) in a standard wood-frame country church.

Holden's Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

Holden’s Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

This congregation is especially notable for its strong Norwegian heritage tracing back to Telemarken, Norway, specifically the village of Holden. From thence comes the name.

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was built in

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was unveiled in May 1937. It is dedicated “In gratitude to God who enabled the pioneers to establish His church in this community…and to the pioneers for building upon Jesus Christ and His Word.”

Holden Lutheran is also notable for its connections to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. A memorial on the church grounds honors Holden’s first pastor, Bernt Julius Muus, who founded St. Olaf and helped to found Luther. He shepherded Holden for 40 years.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

This is a place of deep history and heritage reflected in craftsmanship and artifacts within the church building.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery surrounding the church.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery.

And in names—like Gustaf, Tollef, Ole—chiseled in to stone in the graveyard.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

Here in this rural place, the wind blows steady on a sunny spring-like March afternoon. I meander with my husband among the gravestones, noting a weathered holiday wreath on one. And then, as I step back and back and back to photograph this massive church in its entirety, I skirt a mound of fresh earth. Not that long ago, mourners gathered here, like the Norwegian speaking settlers 160 years prior, to grieve and to bury a loved one.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

Time imprints upon generations in the cycle of life.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

Through these church doors, below the far-reaching steeple tipped with a cross, the faithful have gathered here to worship God, to exchange vows, to baptize children, to mourn the dead. And in late autumn to dine on roast beef, pulsa, lefse, rommegrot and fruit soup at the annual All Saints Dinner celebrating Holden’s Norwegian heritage.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from Holden Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From North Morristown: Church basement food & fellowship October 13, 2015

THE OCCASIONAL LUMP in mashed potatoes is culinarily acceptable to me, because it means the potatoes are real. Not instant.

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity's annual fall harvest dinner on Sunday.

Delicious home-cooked food fills roasters at Trinity’s annual fall harvest dinner on Sunday. That’s gravy in the first roaster and squash in the second.

When you dine at the annual fall harvest dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown, as I did on Sunday, you get (mostly) authentic homemade food. Potatoes that have been peeled and mashed in the church basement. Sometimes with lumps. Baked turkey and ham sliced into roasters. Squash picked from the garden and baked. Cranberries that are prepared, not dumped from a can.

Volunteers sell tickets outside the church.

Volunteers sell tickets outside the church.

As much as I savor the delicious food served at this church dinner, I also delight in the location and the people.

Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown

Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown

To drive into the country on an October Sunday to celebrate the harvest among hard-working folks rooted in the land seems a rural pilgrimage.

A snippet of the stained glass window in the balcony.

A snippet of the stained glass window in the balcony.

Diners file into the sanctuary through a side door and wait in pews until dining space opens in the basement.

Diners file into the sanctuary through a side door and wait in pews until dining space opens in the basement.

Stunning stained glass windows line the sides of the sanctuary.

Stunning stained glass windows line the sides of the sanctuary.

To wait in the pews of an aged church, stained glass windows filtering light, seems almost sacred.

A member of the kitchen crew dishes up meals for take-out.

Members of the kitchen crew dish up meals for take-out.

In the fellowship of church diners, there’s a reverent respect for those who labor in the church basement. For they provide that which fills the stomach as much as the soul with all that is good. Food and fellowship.

Decorations celebrate a thankfulness to God for the harvest.

Decorations celebrate a thankfulness to God for the harvest.

Whether you come with family or friends or no one you know, you'll soon be engaged in conversation.

Whether you come with family or friends or no one, you’ll soon be engaged in conversation.

Two lines keep things moving. About 430 diners attended Sunday's dinner.

Two lines keep things moving. About 430 diners attended Sunday’s dinner.

Dining in the church basement.

Dining in the church basement.

There’s something simply satisfying about sitting on a folding chair in the closeness of a church basement communing with others at a Thanksgiving style meal. Conversation and pass the coleslaw please. Or the cranberries. Clatter of knives and forks and a swarm of volunteers squeezing between tables to pour coffee and deliver plates of frosted cakes and then, afterward, to clear plates and set new place settings.

The pastor and his family raise chickens in a backyard coop.

The pastor and his family raise chickens in a backyard coop.

North Morristown is authentically, next to cornfields and farm sites, rural. It’s as rural as chickens in the pastor’s backyard.

Sven the dog plays catch me.

Sven the dog plays catch me.

It’s as rural as Sven the dog roaming the church grounds.

Just down the road from Trinity, harvest is underway at this farm.

Just down the road from Trinity, harvest is underway at this farm.

It’s as rural as a grain truck and a wagon brimming with soybeans a farm site away.

Vehicles ringed the church and school during Sunday's dinner.

Vehicles ring the church and school during Sunday’s dinner.

No pretentiousness exists here. Even the pastor excuses himself to wash dishes in the church basement.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Gigantic painted pumpkins sat outside the church and school. Kids at the school painted pumpkins as part of art class.

Gigantic painted pumpkins sit outside the church and school. Kids at the school painted pumpkins as part of art class.

A camo pumpkin.

A camo pumpkin.

Produce, baked and canned goods, crafts and more were sold in a back room of the church basement.

Produce, baked and canned goods, crafts and more are sold in a back room of the church basement.

Church members brought in canned produce to sell like these pickles.

Church members bring in canned produce to sell, like these pickles.

Several years ago I photographed this lovely woman drying dishes. S

Several years ago I photographed this lovely woman drying dishes. She worked for years at the dinner, but is no longer able to do so. I found her resting at the craft and bake sale.

My friend Tammy, a native of North Morristown, crafted these caramel crosses and other items for the craft sale.

My friend Tammy, a native of North Morristown, crafted these caramel crosses and other items for the craft sale.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling