Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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

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Minnesota Faces: A church basement gentleman June 26, 2015

Portrait #29: George Derscheid

As a life-long Minnesotan, I appreciate the church basement ladies. You know, the women who labor in service to the Lord by brewing coffee, buttering buns for ham sandwiches, stirring together a hamburger-noodle-cream soup based hotdish for a funeral and more to feed the hungry.

These women are held in such high esteem in our state that musical comedies have been performed about them at the noted Plymouth Playhouse. Devoted followers have delighted in plays such as “The Church Basement Ladies in A Mighty Fortress Is Our Basement” and “The Church Basement Ladies in The Last (Potluck) Supper.”

But what about the men?

They, too, hold roles of importance in Lutheran and other church basements. I’ve attended a lot of church dinners in southeastern Minnesota in recent years and noticed many a man quietly volunteering his time in service to the Lord.

 

Portrait 29, George Derscheid, Moland Lutheran Strawberry Fest 2013

 

Take George Derscheid. I photographed the retired Kenyon area farmer two years ago as he tallied the number of people attending the annual Moland Lutheran Church Strawberry Festival. While on the surface his job may not seem as important as working in the kitchen, it certainly is. Numbers are necessary in food planning. Plus, Lutherans like their stats and reports.

George was more than the numbers guy, though. He was also a smiling face, an unofficial greeter, an engaging man whose whole persona exudes optimism. He simply looks happy. And every Lutheran church basement needs a Lutheran who breaks the mold of stoic and unemotional.

FYI: Moland Lutheran Church, 7618 N.E. 84th Ave., rural Kenyon, celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Sunday, June 28. It’s a must-attend event with the following foods available for purchase: pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, chocolate cake, angel food cake and fresh strawberries, ice cream, coffee and fruit flavored drinks. There’s also a bake sale.

The country church is located southwest of Kenyon or east of Medford or northeast of Owatonna.

Click here to read my June 2013 post about the Strawberry Festival. I highly recommend it for the food, the people and the beautiful old church in a rural setting.

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Minnesota Faces is part of a series featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rest in peace, Ole, Sophia, Amelie… May 4, 2015

THERE WAS A TIME when I stayed away from cemeteries. Walking among tombstones, atop burial sites, creeped me out.

But I’ve since matured, realized that a cemetery holds history and art, life stories and loss, and serves as a place to grieve, to honor and to remember loved ones.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

My most recent cemetery tour took me to North Grove Church and Cemetery just north of Faribault along Minnesota Highway 3. I’ve passed this site hundreds of times in 30-plus years, never once stopping to investigate.

North Grove Church, closed in 1931.

North Grove Church closed in 1931.

Here I discovered a quaint church, long closed.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

Peering through curtained windows, I glimpsed pews and wished I could get inside the locked building.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

On a quick perusal of grave markers, where the name “Ole” is chiseled in stone many times, I determined that Norwegian immigrants built this house of worship and established this cemetery.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

John Dalby of Faribault, who runs the Dalby Database along with wife, Jan, confirmed the ethnicity of North Grove Church. The Norwegian church was started in 1869 and likely closed in 1931, when First English Lutheran Church in Faribault formed, Dalby says.

Too many babies died.

Too many babies died.

Wander this burial grounds and you begin to understand the losses and grief endured by early Minnesota settlers. Babies dead. Wives and husbands gone too young. Immigrants who left Norway for a new, but not always better, life in America.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Then scroll through obituaries on the Dalby Database, which includes 2.5 million records from cemeteries, birth and death certificates and more, and names morph into people. Ole Christiansen is no longer simply a Norwegian name inscribed on a tombstone, but a man who was born in Alerude Odemark, Norway. Husband of Sophia. Then Caroline.

June's first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June’s first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June Carver-Zillgitt lived in a jailhouse with her husband-sheriff and cooked for inmates.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

Audrey Saufferrer had five grandchildren.

Grocer O.A. Brekke was termed a man of “sterling character.”

Mathilda Lund was a pioneer resident of the North Grove community.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Those buried at North Grove are 326 individuals who lived and loved and labored, although some were dead at birth, or lived too few days or months or years.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields with a woods just a bit beyond as shown here.

I knew none of them. But, after walking among their gravestones, I am reminded that a cemetery holds life stories, if only we pause to read them.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth's water. The pump is located behind the church.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth’s water. The pump is behind the church.

FYI: Click here to access the Dalby Database, a great resource for anyone doing family history research in Minnesota.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there  for watering flowers and plants.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there for watering flowers and plants.

FYI: Janice Uggen Johnson recently published a book, Faith of our Fathers: History of Markers Norwegian Lutheran Church and North Grove Church and Cemetery, Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota (2014). She is an associate member of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. I have not seen or read the book.

The Norwegian-American Historical Association, based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is “a private membership organization dedicated to locating, collecting, preserving and interpreting the Norwegian-American experience with accuracy, integrity and liveliness.” It was founded in 1925.

Check back for a close-up look at a memorial in the North Grove Cemetery honoring a young Faribault woman.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Calling all lutefisk lovers to Vang Lutheran Church October 6, 2014

Vang Lutheran is set among the farm fields of Goodhue County. The name "Vang" means field. Vang is a region of Norway from which the areas first settlers arrived.

Vang Lutheran is set among the farm fields of Goodhue County. The name “Vang” means field. Vang is a region of Norway from which the area’s first settlers arrived.

JUST DAYS BEFORE THE 34th annual Lutefisk and Norwegian Meatball Supper at Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison, the ladies were busy prepping Saturday morning.

A sign inside Vang Lutheran Church advertised its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper.

A sign inside Vang Lutheran Church advertises its annual Lutefisk & Meatball Supper.

Plates are stacked on the kitchen counter.

Plates are stacked on the kitchen counter awaiting diners.

Lists have been made with assigned jobs.

Lists have been made with assigned jobs.

Church ladies bring bowls from home.

Church ladies bring bowls from home.

Dishes and bowls stacked. Counters covered in plastic. Floors scrubbed. Lists in place. Folding chairs ready to unfold. Beet preserves and pickles already in the country store, made with produce from the Vang-Dennison Lutheran Church parishes’ Growing Connections Garden. Vinegar stashed in the fridge for coleslaw.

An empty lutefisk bucket from a previous supper.

An empty lutefisk bucket from a previous supper.

The lutefisk hadn’t arrived yet from Mike’s Lutefisk in Glenwood, Minnesota. But this Norwegian Lutheran church is ready for the 1,150 pounds that will feed 1,200 diners on Wednesday, October 8.

Beautiful stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Beautiful stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Not quite the 5,000 Jesus fed, but a seeming miracle for this congregation of 300 members—with a weekly attendance of 70 – 90—to prepare and serve this ethnic feast.

A view of the sanctuary from the balcony.

A view of the sanctuary from the balcony.

On the menu are lutefisk, Norwegian meatballs and gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, cranberries, coleslaw, rolls, fruit soup, lefse, Norwegian bakings and beverages.

To feed that many requires 1,150 pounds of lutefisk, 550 pounds of meatballs, 200 pounds of butter (presumably for all that lutefisk), 600 pounds of potatoes, 36 gallons of corn, 110 pounds of coleslaw, 20 gallons of cranberry sauce, 20 gallons of fruit soup, 4,500 cups of coffee (Norwegians must drink a lot of coffee), 600 half-pints of milk, 2,600 pieces of lefse, 90 dozen buns and 2,600 Norwegian bakings.

Uffda.

Diners will receive info about Vang and its annual supper.

Diners will receive info about Vang and its annual supper like these informational sheets photographed in a basket.

Mid-day servings are at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m. by reservation only. Call the church office at 507-645-6042.

Continuous evening serving runs from 4 – 7:30 p.m.

Cost is $16 for adults; $6 for 10 and under; and free for preschoolers.

The picturesque Vang Lutheran Church was built in 1896.

The picturesque Vang Lutheran Church was built in 1896.

Vang Lutheran Church, 2060 County Road 49, is located at  the corner of Goodhue County Road 49 and 20th Avenue, which is southeast of Dennison or seven miles northwest of Kenyon.

I won’t be there. I don’t like lutefisk. But apparently plenty of people do.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The faith of my forefathers September 12, 2014

A view of Immanuel from the church balcony. The pews, the chancel furnishings and the stained glass windows from the old church were incorporated into the new church.

A view of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Courtland, from the balcony. The pews, the chancel furnishings and the stained glass windows from the old church were incorporated into the new sanctuary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I love to tell the story,
’twill be my theme in glory,
to tell the old, old story
of Jesus and his love.

Katherine Hankey

IT SEEMED A FITTING HYMN sung by the Men’s Choir during a recent Sunday morning worship service at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, Minnesota.

Male voices blended in perfect harmony, a soothing symphony of the aged song that transcends time, a hymn as powerful today as it was for past generations.

Karl Jr. and Anna Bode, their nine children and a daughter-in-law. That's by grandpa, Lawrence (originally spelled Lorenz) in the front row in the white dress.

Karl Jr. and Anna Bode, their nine children and a daughter-in-law. That’s my grandpa, Lawrence (originally spelled Lorenz), in the second row in the glasses.

And the past prevailed on this Sunday, a day set aside for a reunion of the descendants of Karl Johann Bode, Jr. and his wife, Anna (Dallman).

The Karl Jr. and Anna Bode siblings, including my grandfather, Lawrence, right front.

An old photo of the Karl Jr. and Anna Bode siblings, including my grandfather, Lawrence, right front.

My husband and I were there, representing my mom and our siblings—the daughter and grandchildren of Lawrence and Josephine Bode.

A historical sign outside of Immanuel Lutheran Church, east of Courtland, Minnesota.

A historical sign outside of Immanuel Lutheran Church, east of Courtland, Minnesota.

Fitting Scripture read:

Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.

Deuteronomy 32:7

Beautiful aged stained glass windows highlight the sanctuary.

Beautiful aged stained glass windows highlight the sanctuary.

My Bode forefathers left a strong legacy of faith, evident in this very church they helped found in 1859 after moving from Illinois to Minnesota. Stained glass windows from the old church have been incorporated into the new, a visual connecting today’s generation to those before them.

The symbolic bouquet.

The symbolic bouquet.

Red roses in a stunning altar bouquet honored my great grandparents. Nine yellow roses represented each of their children, Herman, Alma, Otto, Paul, Emil, George, Lawrence, Carl and Ervel.

The Bode cousins pose for a photo at the reunion.

The Bode first cousins pose for a photo at the reunion.

I am proud to be a part of the Bode family, a family still firmly standing upon a foundation of faith.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thinking lutefisk season already August 20, 2014

IT’S NOT TOO EARLY to start thinking lutefisk and meatballs.

That is if you eat lutefisk, a Norwegian delicacy of cooked cod that has been soaked in lye.

I know. Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I’ve eaten it twice, once when covering a church basement lutefisk dinner as a young newspaper reporter.

The second time I sampled this fish out of respect for my Norwegian aunt whose maiden name is Knudson.

I didn’t like lutefisk either time. Tastes like warm Jell-O. Smothering it with lots of melted butter does help. A bit.

Whether or not I like lutefisk or meatballs matters not, though, because I’m German, not Norwegian. I don’t have to eat the stuff.

Vang Lutheran Church

Vang Lutheran Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But for those of you who appreciate lutefisk, mark your calendars for the Wednesday, October 8, annual Vang Lutheran Church Lutefisk and Norwegian Meatball Supper. Vang is located 10 minutes north of Kenyon or east of Nerstrand with a County 49 Boulevard address. That’s in Minnesota, where, of course, many Scandinavians live.

I photographed Vang Lutheran Church across the cornfield west of the Potpourri Mill Log Cabin 10 minutes north of Kenyon.

Vang Lutheran Church sits among the farm fields of southeastern Minnesota, near Kenyon and Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And these Norskes love their lutefisk so much they’re already advertising the October church dinner in August. I spotted this sign and reminder slips with peppermints last weekend at a garage sale in Kenyon:

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

I spotted this sign at a garage sale in Kenyon.

Have you eaten lutefisk? What’s your review of this Norwegian culinary specialty?

CLICK HERE TO READ a blog post about Vang’s lutefisk dinner written several years ago by a master of divinity student.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling