Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When violence touches your life June 2, 2022

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I see grief in the grey tile, part of a “Love Remains” mosaic displayed on the exterior of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Barb Larson, a Chamber employee, was murdered there in 2016, shot to death by her ex-husband, a former Faribault police officer. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I HAD A MUCH DIFFERENT POST planned for today. But then the identity of a homicide victim was released by the Rice County Sheriff’s Department and my focus shifted. I knew the 41-year-old man shot to death in neighboring Morristown early Tuesday morning. A suspect was arrested at the scene and has been charged with second-degree murder.

The victim, Brian, grew up two blocks away, where he and his sister lived with their grandparents. The siblings attended the same Christian day school as my children. The pair were older. On the occasional days the school bus didn’t run, their grandpa would stop to pick up my girls and all four kids rode to school together.

Much time has elapsed since then. Yet, I remember Brian, his short, slim frame and reddish hair. Many years have passed since I’ve seen him out and about walking around Faribault, always wearing a backpack. I have no idea what he did in life, but that connection to him and his family all those years ago means something. My heart hurts for his sister.

WITHIN MY CIRCLE OF CONNECTIONS

This isn’t the first time homicide has indirectly affected me. In May 2004, the father of a close friend was murdered. In May 2010, the sister of a blogger friend from Duluth was murdered by her ex-husband. In May 2013, a former neighbor’s daughter and unborn baby were killed by their husband/father.

Violence has touched my life too many times.

IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD

In May 1999, a SWAT team swept through my neighborhood searching for a knife used in the stabbing death of a 19-year-old some two blocks from my house.

On another occasion, a breathless young man showed up on our doorstep one evening, pleading for us to let him inside. Randy and I refused, not wanting to put ourselves or our family in danger. Instead I called 911. As I begged the police to hurry, a group of men rounded the corner of our house obviously looking for the guy at our door. That they didn’t dash up our front steps and attack him still surprises me all these years later. The potential for violence was real. Eventually law enforcement arrived and left with the young man safely inside a squad car.

And then there was the middle-of-the-night awakening to a woman across the street screaming for help. Screaming for someone to call 911, which I did. Again, I urged officers to hurry. Eventually police arrived as did an ambulance. I never learned what happened on that night all those years ago, only that no one died.

When I count all of these violent acts to which I have been indirectly exposed, I consider the number high. I expect most of you have never known a murder victim (or a murder victim’s family) or had to call 911 to report a crime in progress. I’m thankful if that fits you.

HOW I’VE REACTED

I’ve learned a few things through these experiences. I’ve learned that, no matter who you are or where you live, violence can touch you personally. And when it does, you find the strength, the resolve, the ability to do something. That may mean making a 911 call. That may mean showing up with food and a hug and doing anything you can to support a friend. That may mean mailing an encouraging card, phoning, texting, emailing. Remembering. For those families who’ve lost loved ones to acts of violence, remembering is vitally important. Their lives are forever changed and they need our love and support.

These are my thoughts today as I consider how violence has, once more, indirectly entered my life.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

My thoughts following the Uvalde school shooting May 27, 2022

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My tears spill in a fountain of grief at the deaths of 19 beautiful children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2015)

Eliahana

Annabelle

Jackie

Amerie

Xavier

Rojelio

Uziyah

Tess

Alexandria

Jose

MaKenna

Alithia

Miranda

Maite

Nevaeh

Ellie

Jailah

Jayce

Layla

Eva Mireles

Irma Garcia

I SHARE THE ANGER. The outrage, too. The frustration, sadness, grief… Feelings of hopelessness and “not again” and disbelief over yet another mass shooting in this country, this time at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

If the deaths of 19 children and two teachers are not enough to effect change, what will? How often, how many more times will this happen—whether in a school, a church, a grocery store, a movie theater—before lasting change happens to prevent such tragedies? I will never understand why assault rifles are available (and accessible) to the public, why they are “needed” in the United States. There is so much I don’t “get” when it comes to the politics and rights and money that factor into this ongoing lack of action against gun violence.

I share these sentiments expressed by elected officials and other public figures:

  • I am sick and tired of this.—President Joe Biden
  • What are we doing?—Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut (2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting)
  • Stop saying that mental illness is behind this.—Joy Behar, “The View”
  • I’m so tired of getting up here and offering condolences to the devastated families that are out there. I’m tired of the moments of silence. Enough.—Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr (whose father was killed by gunmen in Lebanon)

When I heard the breaking news of the school shooting on Tuesday in Texas, I thought of my own precious granddaughter, a kindergartner at a Minnesota school. I thought of all those grandparents and parents and siblings and other family members who loved those 19 young children and two teachers from that Texas elementary school. I cannot even fathom the depth of their grief, how their lives are forever changed. How their loved ones went to school that Tuesday morning and never came home.

If the initial outcry and anger remain, then I hold hope that perhaps, finally, something will happen. Something that ends this senseless loss of lives. Something that shows we care more about human beings than money and gun rights and politics and power.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hitting the sauce May 9, 2022

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Cry Baby Craig’s, Faribault made hot sauce, which I love. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

STEREOTYPICAL RURAL MINNESOTANS, especially those of Scandinavian descent—of which there are many—avoid spicy foods. Just a hint of heat in chili is plenty, thank you. And to flavor hotdish, pass the salt and pepper, please. Oh, and that hot sauce, no thank you.

But at least one Minnesota woman, arrested recently in Faribault, loves to spice things up.

Faribault police responded to a disturbance call on April 16 only to find the woman speeding away in her car, evading them. When she eventually stopped, the officer noticed signs of intoxication. But the 32-year-old refused to take field sobriety tests. This is all according to police reports.

A popular mass-produced hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

As the officer was preparing a preliminary breath test, the woman “grabbed a bottle of hot sauce and began drinking it.” Yes, you read that correctly. She hit the hot sauce in an apparent effort to avoid alcohol detection. Once arrested and taken to jail, the driver refused to take a breathalyzer test.

Made in Faribault, Minnesota, Cry Baby Craig’s hot sauce. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

The report about the incident in the April 29 issue of “The Point After” police newsletter doesn’t list the hot sauce brand consumed. I’m wondering because…a popular Minnesota hot sauce, Cry Baby Craig’s, is made right here in historic downtown Faribault. I hope she was at least loyal to her hometown brand.

While the hot sauce consumption rates as not the brightest idea ever, I give the woman credit for creativity and for making me laugh. But the rest of this incident is not at all humorous, entertaining or smart. There is nothing funny or wise about allegedly driving while under the influence. She now faces charges of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, 2nd degree DWI, DWI test refusal and child endangerment. There were two children in the car with her. No amount of hot sauce will hide that fact.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Two men, two stories November 19, 2021

Missing: Daryl “Dice” Budenski (Photo credit: Search for Daryl Budenski Facebook Group)

HE’S BEEN MISSING since October 1. Daryl Budenski of Northfield, last seen at 3:30 pm near Koester Apartments, his home in Northfield.

This Saturday, November 20, his community will rally at Bridge Square at noon to raise awareness of the missing 71-year-old and to continue the search for “Dice,” as he is known. Northfield police term him an endangered missing person due to possible onset dementia.

The only clues in his disappearance are the discovery of his hat and money clip.

Law enforcement and volunteers have searched many areas in and around Northfield for Budenski, who is 5-foot 9-inches tall, weighs 145 pounds, with brown hair and brown eyes.

If you have any information about this missing man, contact Northfield police, the prime investigating unit, at 507-645-4477. Or if you can aid in the search on Saturday, show up at Bridge Square. Visit the search Facebook page for more information.

Arnie Lillo of rural Good Thunder (Photo credit: Go Fund Me page)

FROM THE EIFFEL TOWER to the Golden Gate Bridge. From Jesse James to Noah and his ark. From locomotive to Cinderella’s carriage. All are the creations of Minnesota artist Arnie Lillo of Timeless Images in Metal.

If this was a story about art, I would pen an endless list of this 83-year-old’s accomplishments. But this is not a story focused on Lillo’s sheet metal art. Rather, this is about a crime. He was the victim of a recent brutal attack.

On November 10, Lillo was attacked from behind and hit in the head with a hammer. He was able to drive to a neighbor’s home for help. A 34-year-old acquaintance is now charged in the crime which left the rural Good Thunder man hospitalized with serious injuries. Lillo is recovering, but in need of financial and emotional support.

A Go Fund Me page, “Arnie’s Angels,” has been set up with a goal of $10,000. I encourage you to contribute if you are able. I don’t know Lillo. But, from what I’ve read and viewed on his business website and Facebook page, I am impressed by his work and by how he has opened his rural property to anyone who wants to view his art. He finds great joy in sharing his creativity. And he is, clearly, much loved.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hope, help & tragedy in Faribault July 22, 2021

I photographed this woman’s shirt at a public event in Northfield. The message refers to struggles with mental illness. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU’VE FOLLOWED my writing long enough, you understand my dedication to increasing awareness on two important issues—domestic violence and mental health.

This week, both made headlines in my community. I can’t let this opportunity slide without sharing what’s happened/is happening in Faribault. We need to stay informed, to choose awareness over sticking our heads in the sand. Understanding leads to action and, perhaps, saving lives.

First the really good news for Faribault and the surrounding region (according to the Faribault Daily News): Our local hospital, District One, and Rice County Social Services are collaborating on new adult outpatient mental health services. The hospital, part of Allina Health, will offer a day treatment program and a partial hospitalization program for adults dealing with mental illnesses. Social services will provide referrals.

Photographed at the Northfield Public Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

To say I am thrilled is an understatement. This is so needed in Rice County and the surrounding rural areas. Our access to mental health care, especially during or following a crisis, is limited. Waiting time to see a psychiatrist, if that doctor is even accepting new patients, can be up to six weeks. Can you imagine waiting six weeks if you were experiencing a heart attack? You would likely die. Individuals facing mental health issues—from depression to anxiety to bipolar to schizophrenia and more—deserve, and need, immediate access to local care. As do their families.

To get treatment and support locally, rather than traveling to the Twin Cities metro, will ease some of the stress during an already stressful situation. Even with this improvement in services, though, we really need more mental health professionals to alleviate the shortage and meet the area’s needs.

Stress, while a bit of a buzzword, is part of life. And this week my community feels especially stressed by a murder-suicide, which left a 32-year-old woman dead, allegedly shot by her 27-year-old boyfriend, who then killed himself. It’s devastating. Two young people dead in an apparent act of domestic violence.

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My heart breaks every time I read of such murder-suicides, or any act of domestic violence. Shortly before Christmas 2016, Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband, who then took his own life, in a high profile case in Faribault. She worked for the local tourism office. He was a retired police officer. That crime shook Faribault to its core.

Likewise, I expect the murder of Amanda Schroeder on Monday evening is prompting similar angst. And increasing awareness of the ongoing crime of domestic violence. HOPE Center, which advocates for victims of domestic and sexual violence, is already reminding the community that advocates are available to listen, help and support. 24/7.

In both of these situations—domestic abuse/violence and mental health crises—people are here to help. I feel thankful to live in a community that cares. No one ever needs to feel alone, to face life’s challenges and stresses solo.

Warning signs of domestic abuse/violence from a previous community event on the topic. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I know Amanda tried. She called 911. To make that call took strength and courage. Still, she died. If Amanda’s death can save one life, can result in one person safely leaving an abusive partner, then something positive has come from this tragedy.

Where does all of this leave us as individuals? I encourage you to educate yourself on domestic abuse/violence and mental illness. Then take that knowledge and show your care and compassion to those who need it. To those experiencing challenges. And their families. Listen. Support. Encourage. Refer to professionals. Be that person who chooses not to ignore, but rather to be there. To engage. To understand. To uplift. To care.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Able to breathe again April 21, 2021

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A message chalked in Bridge Square in Northfield carries a repeated phrase as young Black people continue to die at the hands of police. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

WHEN MY ELDEST DAUGHTER texted at 2:31 pm Tuesday that a verdict had been reached in the Derek Chauvin trial, I replied with one simple word. What?

That the jury could reach a verdict in such a short time—about 10 hours—following weeks of testimony likely meant that the former Minneapolis police officer would be found guilty of killing George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis by pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

I immediately switched on the TV to await reading of the verdict by Judge Peter Cahill. As I waited and watched news coverage, I felt a sense of hope. Hope that this would end in a conviction. Hope that, finally, there would be accountability in the death of a Black man at the hands of police.

I’d watched the Chauvin trial off-and-on. I heard the words of the bystanders who witnessed Floyd’s death, who pleaded with police officers to give him medical attention. Who asked Chauvin to remove his knee from Floyd’s neck. Who chose to pause and care and document and attempt to save another human being’s life. They felt hopeless, helpless, traumatized, according to their sworn testimony. I listened, too, to police officers testify against one of their own. And I heard Floyd’s loved ones and medical experts speak. Listening to testimony left me at times feeling exhausted and heart-broken.

So when the guilty of all three counts—second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter—came down yesterday, I felt relief. Finally.

I watched Chauvin as the verdict was read. His eyes darted from side-to-side. I wondered what he was thinking in that moment and the moments following—when his bail was revoked, he was handcuffed and led away to wait in a Minnesota prison for his sentencing in eight weeks.

Messages on a house in small town Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

But mostly, I wondered how the Floyd family felt. Later they would speak at a news conference led by Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton and Civil Rights attorney Ben Crump. Said Sharpton: “This gives us the energy to fight on.” And Crump: “America, let’s frame this moment as a moment where we are finally getting close to living up to our Declaration of Independence…that all men are created equally…with certain unalienable rights like life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

My mind focused on this single word: life. George Floyd needlessly lost his life on May 25 at the corner of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, a place now known as George Floyd Square.

In the 11 months since, his family has focused on attaining justice in the death of their brother/cousin/uncle/father and on effecting change. They have done that with grace, poise, eloquence, prayer and passion. George’s brother, Philonise Floyd, has stepped up as the family spokesman. At Tuesday’s news conference, these words, especially, resonated with me: “Today we are able to breathe again.” That comment by Philonise linked directly to George Floyd’s plea to police officers as he lay face down on the pavement dying. “I can’t breathe.”

A photo and comment posted at the “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College in Northfield in 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

Much work remains to be done. Tuesday’s verdict marks an important step in accountability and a move toward justice and equality. It’s easy to type that. It’s harder to live it. To speak up. To take action. To care. And we need to care, whether we live along a rural gravel road, in a small town, in the heart of a big city or anywhere in between.

FYI: I’d encourage you to read posts by two Minnesota bloggers whom I respect and follow and who share their thoughts on the Derek Chauvin verdict. Click here to read Margit Johnson’s post, “Endings and Beginnings,” and Kathleen Cassen Mickelson’s “Guilty. Guilty. Guilty.”

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Car slams into house in my Faribault neighborhood December 11, 2020

The scene mid-morning a block from my house shows a KIA Optima lodged in my neighbors’ house.

HOURS AFTER LAW ENFORCEMENT and first responders swarmed my Faribault neighborhood this morning, I called a neighbor to see if she knew what was happening. Up until that point, I’d only walked to the end of my driveway to, from afar, observe at least six police cars and other vehicles parked near a house on Tower Place, lights pulsating. Just minutes earlier, an ambulance turned the corner by my home, sirens blaring. That concerned me.

A child’s slide sits near the point of impact.

The neighbor in me wanted to run up the hill to assure everyone was OK. The journalist in me wanted to race up the hill with my camera. The you’re-not-a-reporter-anymore voice warned me to stay away, that emergency personnel didn’t need extra people roaming the scene.

Close-up you can really see the extent of the damage.

When I observed a tow truck and a flat bed tow truck driving up the street, I surmised that perhaps a vehicle hit the house. My neighbor confirmed that in our phone conversation.

I believe the tarped area is a fort where the boys who live here play.

At that point, with nearly all emergency personnel clearing the scene, I headed up Tower with my camera. I passed by an angled vehicle blocking the street and was greeted by a police officer who asked if I was from the Daily News. I told him I was a neighbor, but that I sometimes work with the local paper. He seemed OK with that. I asked if everyone inside the house—a couple with two elementary-aged boys—was alright. He assured me they were, but declined to give the condition of those in the vehicle. Media reports state both the driver and passenger were taken to the hospital with the passenger flown to the metro and that the incident involved a police pursuit which was called off.

This house is within a block of mine.

My first look at the blue KIA Optima lodged into the house at 128 Tower Place left me standing there in disbelief. The car apparently hit the house at a high rate of speed given the damage to both car and house and given the entire front of the KIA rested inside the home.

I’ve been in this house, when the previous owner lived there. If I remember correctly, the section hit is the kitchen. This incident happened around breakfast time, well before 9 a.m. That the family inside was not injured and that no gas explosion occurred are truly reasons to feel grateful.

Tracks and paint mark the path the car followed as it shot across the road and flew over a fence before landing inside the house.

Once I took my focus off the house and car, I looked for signs of how the KIA got into the yard without demolishing the chain link fence. Tire marks and paint sprayed by investigators show that the car failed to negotiate a turn and then launched from a hill, over the fence, across the yard and into the house.

Hours after the crash, police and State Patrol remained on-scene. This is located near Bethlehem Academy, to the left.

As I photographed the tire marks, the police officer standing guard advised me that I was walking in an investigation scene. I apologized. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I overheard him tell to young people that the Minnesota State Patrol would wrap up its investigation within an hour. He was tight-lipped, and rightly so. He suggested that I’d taken enough pictures. He extended only kindness to me at my misstep. I got the hint, apologized again, and started back home, shaken.

This isn’t the first time a car hit a house in my neighborhood. Decades ago, a parked car rolled down another steep hillside street and slammed into the front of our next-door neighbors’ house. And a tire once came off a vehicle, rolled down the hill and slammed into our house, nearly hitting the gas line/meter. The tire mark is still there on the siding. Yet, that’s nothing compared to what happened this morning at 128 Tower Place.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Faribault: Challenged to talk about domestic violence, to end the silence January 13, 2020

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, several years ago.

 

STATISTICS IMPRESS. But stories impress more. And what we do after we hear those numbers and those stories matters. Profoundly.

Take a story shared by Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen on Friday evening during a meeting on domestic violence. Sponsored by HOPE Center, the event aimed to get men in the community talking, caring about and speaking up on the issue. I was among the women, outnumbered by men, in the audience.

In 2001, before he joined the Faribault force, Bohlen was called to the scene of a murder. A “domestic,” in which a 4-year-old boy was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend. No one called the police when they heard the boy screaming. Previously or on the day of the murder. Every adult failed that 4-year-old, the chief said. The child’s horrific death profoundly affected Bohlen.

“We (police department) never try to fail a kid or a family,” he said, also praising HOPE Center, its Blueprint for Safety plan (a collaborative county-wide effort to address domestic violence) and local social workers. He praised, too, those gathered at South Central College for Friday’s event. “It’s the right thing to do, to get involved.”

 

A plaque honors Barb Larson, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism employee, who was shot to death by her ex-husband in the tourism office on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I listened to the chief, to HOPE Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher, Prosecuting Attorney and HOPE Board Chair Wendy Murphy, guest speaker Scott Miller of Duluth’s Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs and audience members, I considered that we likely each brought stories of domestic abuse to the room. I expect that every one of you reading this post has, in some way, been affected by domestic violence. Directly or indirectly. For example, in December 2016, two high profile murder-suicides within weeks rocked Faribault, forever changing my southern Minnesota community. We are much more aware. People are talking. Men (and women) of Courage.

We can take our experiences and hold them or we can, as HOPE Director Staab-Absher encouraged, start having those difficult conversations to end the shame and silence of domestic violence, to show compassion to survivors and those who love them, and to hold abusers accountable. She challenged attendees to begin thinking of ways they can accomplish that.

 

Information from a previous meeting on domestic violence in my community.

 

Miller, himself a childhood victim of abuse and bullying, works in Duluth with men who batter. To end the silence. To make a difference. He offered insights on abusers, saying they see themselves as better than women—controlling a woman’s space and winning. I found that word choice, “winning,” especially unsettling. Miller also explained that an abusive personality uses whatever his victim values (ie. car, faith, family) as leverage to punish or gain submission.

In his work with abusers, Miller strives to listen, not to tell. To hear the men’s stories. To encourage these men to think about emotions, to express feelings, to work on changing.

 

Among the inspirational words honoring Barb Larson in a memorial mosaic at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism Office. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As I listened to Miller and the others, I experienced a mix of emotions. Hope. Despair. Sadness. Empowerment. Anger.

In the past five years, Faribault police have responded to 630 verbal and physical domestic violence calls and 190 sexual assault calls, Police Chief Bohlen said, adding that the actual number of cases (because so many go unreported) can be conservatively doubled.

Attorney Murphy stated that getting a conviction in Rice County is “extremely hard.” I wanted to stand up and ask, “Why?” I had too many questions.
But I held my questions, choosing instead to simply listen. To a pastor, among four in attendance. He shared about a woman who called him. A woman hiding in her room, dresser shoved against the door, as her partner rushed up the stairs in pursuit of her. The pastor called the police. She was angry. At him. The pastor. He recognized the seriousness of the situation, of the need to call police to protect this woman. “Don’t call me. Call the police,” he told those attending Friday’s gathering.

Guest speaker Miller earlier brought clergy into the conversation, terming them, and not the police, as the 911 for many people. Abusers, he said, may claim to “find Jesus in prison,” then manipulate unknowing pastors. I felt gratitude in that moment for Miller bringing that component into the conversation and for the four pastors in attendance, men of faith learning and standing up and refusing to remain silent about domestic violence.

 

Photographed on the inside of a women’s bathroom stall at Lark Toys in Kellogg five years ago, this powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

It takes all of us. Men. Women. Communities. Individually and collectively. Personally and professionally. To think and talk about ways to end domestic violence and sexual assault. To end the silence. To act. To make a difference.

FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help from a place like HOPE Center. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. You deserve to live a life free of abuse and violence. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, seek the advice of advocates to learn how you can best support and help victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The unlucky leprechaun April 17, 2019

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.

 

NEARLY 40 YEARS after I left my first newspaper reporting job, I still receive The Gaylord Hub each week. The third-generation family-owned Hub holds a special spot in my heart. Here I initially put my journalism education to work, covering the southern Minnesota town of Gaylord and surrounding areas in Sibley County.

Part of my job included checking reports at the Sibley County Sheriff’s office where I sometimes had to push to access public records. Being young, a woman and the first full-time staff writer (outside of family) put me in the occasional challenging position of not being taken seriously. Locals quickly learned, though, that I would stand my ground and intimidation didn’t work with me. Jim Deis, the editor and publisher, always backed me up and for that I was grateful.

All that serious talk aside, I met plenty of wonderful folks who embraced my writing and photography. The diversity of my job ranged from writing a feature about current WCCO TV sports director Mike Max and his brother Marc’s sizable baseball card collection to covering massive church, school and chicken barn fires to filing through initial complaint reports.

But I don’t ever recall anything quite as unique or humorous as the story I read in the April 4 issue of The Hub under a column labeled Sibley County District Court. As I read the story aloud to my husband, I couldn’t stop laughing. Here’s the line that prompted my laughter:

According to court documents, the Sibley County Sheriff’s Office was dispatched to Westgate Apartments in Gaylord at 3:55 a.m. on March 25 for a complaint of a man dressed as a leprechaun running up and down the halls and creating a disturbance.

My first questions: Why would a man dress as a leprechaun? It wasn’t St. Patrick’s Day. And what exactly does a leprechaun wear? Green clothes, hat, pointy shoes?

I read on that the responding deputy spotted a man “with something red on his head” driving a vehicle out of the parking lot. The driver took off but was eventually stopped, admitted to drinking and also driving with a canceled license. He’s now been charged with multiple crimes.

Randy listened without interruption. Then he offered this assessment: “Sounds like his luck ran out.” And that would be right.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering Barb Larson December 23, 2018

A mosaic on the exterior of the Faribault Chamber office honors employee Barb Larson, murdered there on December 23, 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I WISH I WASN’T WRITING this post. But I must. Today marks two years since Barb Larson was shot and killed by her ex-husband at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. Richard Larson then turned the gun on, and killed, himself.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This high-profile crime rocked my community. And raised awareness of domestic violence. Barb was a victim even before her death. A harassment restraining order was served on her ex the week he killed her. A piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper.

 

Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The anniversary of Barb’s murder is a sobering reminder of domestic violence. But it is also a time to remember that we can all step up and do something about it. We can support, encourage and love those who are in abusive relationships. That includes all types of abuse, not just physical. We can direct them to professionals for help. In Faribault, HOPE Center offers help and hope. We can be there, listening. We can be a voice for victims. We can refuse to look the other way.

 

A portrait of Barb Larson by Faribault artist Dana Hanson. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We can do this. For Barb. And for all the other Barbs who need us to care.

If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call 911. Have a safety plan in place to leave your abuser. Please seek help. It is there. Locally or by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling