Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When reporters cover tough topics… January 31, 2019

 

THE NEXT TIME YOU CRITICIZE a journalist or rant that reporters are nothing but a bunch of biased writers, consider this. My local newspaper, the Faribault Daily News, recently placed first in the Social Issues category of the 2017-2018 Minnesota Newspaper Association Better Newspaper Contest. For a series on domestic violence.

The award-winning series, titled “Abuse,” published over a period of a year and covered the gamut from information to interviews with survivors and their families, advocates, police and more. These were powerful pieces, written primarily by reporter Gunnar Olson but also by Regional Editor Suzanne Rook.

It is the personal stories which made this series. Emotional stories. Gut-wrenching, difficult stories. Stories that needed to be told, heard, written, read and, then, remembered.

 

 

When a reporter can take a topic like domestic abuse and violence, interview people in a caring and compassionate way, and then share those stories through dynamic writing, that work deserves recognition. By fellow journalists. And by readers. I applaud the Daily News for raising awareness, educating and connecting people to this social issue via deeply personal stories.

As a former weekly and daily newspaper reporter, I will confirm that writing stories like this is difficult. I once wrote a series on eating disorders that included interviewing a survivor and the mother of a young woman who died from anorexia. Although I kept my professional persona in place while working on the series, inside my heart hurt for every single individual I interviewed. Reporters have a job to do. But they are still human.

I often hear newspapers criticized for printing nothing but bad news. That raises my ire. Do not kill the messenger. Newspapers are not PR mouthpieces. They are newspapers. It is their job to report the news—good and bad. Features and hard news. They do not cause the bad news. People do.

Today, more than ever, journalists are under attack. For writing fake news. For not writing something they should have or for writing something they shouldn’t have. They are losing their jobs. The free press is threatened. That should scare every single person. Democracy needs a strong and free press.

Yes, I’ve sidetracked a bit. But I’ll circle back now and reaffirm how much I appreciate my community newspaper. Reporters keep me informed of local issues and happenings, of good news and bad. I am grateful for their hard work and their willingness to stretch beyond the everyday news to cover important topics. Like domestic violence.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

Tune in as faith radio addresses the issue of domestic violence October 24, 2018

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

 

October 25 could be a lifeline.

Those words banner the home page of my favorite radio station’s website as I write this post. That would be Twin Cities based faith radio, KTIS. It is my go-to station for music and messages that uplift, comfort and encourage.

On Thursday evening, October 25, KTIS radio personality Donna Cruz leads the station in addressing the topic of domestic violence through stories, information, and uplifting messages of hope and healing. Cruz can empathize. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

Additionally, counselors will take calls from listeners, engaging in conversations that will not be aired.

For this radio station to put the spotlight on this issue during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is noteworthy. Too often faith communities avoid the topic or approach it in a way that blames the victim, excuses (and/or believes) the abuser and encourages restoration of a relationship.

It is time for that to change, for those within faith communities to acknowledge that domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It is time for faith communities to recognize abuse and believe victims. It’s time for faith communities to figure out how to help—and that stretches beyond prayer to education, support and connecting with professionals.

Really, it’s time for all of us to educate ourselves, to start caring, to break the silence, to be the voice, the help, the encouragement for those who need support and hope for a way out of an abusive relationship. It starts with you. It starts with me. Today.

FYI: Please tune in to KTIS at 98.5 FM or online from 7 – 10 p.m. Thursday, October 25.

Please note that some faith communities have tackled the topic of domestic violence and for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bone break related topics on a Saturday morning August 18, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:14 PM
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This splint holds my healing left wrist in place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHEN A THICK ENVELOPE arrived in the mail this morning from my insurance company, I felt angst. I expected it would contain information on a $19,431 claim for surgery to implant a plate into my broken left wrist. I was right.

Recently I received a nearly $15,000 hospital bill for that surgery with nothing covered by insurance except an allowed amount of $4,662. I reacted as nearly anyone would—with disbelief, anger and tears. I pay $1,000/month for health insurance and already paid my $3,600 deductible. So the thought of paying another $15K pushed me over the edge. One phone call later and the hospital billing department assured me I didn’t owe $15,000 and that, due to a “processing error,” the claim would be reprocessed.

The insurance paperwork I got today includes two code notations:

Based on additional information received, this service will be processed on a new claim.

We are making this adjustment to a previously processed claim.

Those codes flag most, but not all, of the claims in four pages of claims. So is this a done deal? I don’t know. I hope so. Zeroes fill every space in the amount I owe columns. I choose for now to think this ends a stressful ordeal.

Speaking of end, the question of the week to me has been: “How much longer do you have to wear that?” The questioners, at least a half dozen yesterday, are referring to the splint on my wrist. The last time my orthopedic doctor discussed this with me, he said I would be wearing the brace well into late September. I see him next week. Maybe he will shorten that time. Range of motion therapy continues to go well. Strengthening therapy comes next. I’m now more than two months out from my bone break.

 

Margie Brown Holland (formerly of Faribault) and her unborn daughter, Olivia, were murdered by Margie’s husband in 2013. This t-shirt, part of The Clothesline Project, honors the two. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women coordinates the project to honor victims of domestic violence. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This plaque at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office honors employee Barb Larson, shot to death in the tourism office by her ex-husband, a retired Faribault police officer.

 

Kim Sisto-Robinson of Duluth created (and shared) this graphic honoring her sister Kay. Kay’s husband shot and killed Kay in 2010. Kim has made it her mission to be a voice for Kay, to speak out on the topic of domestic violence. File photo, courtesy of Kim.

 

One issue still lingers, though, and it’s something I dislike as much as that incorrect $15K hospital bill. Just last evening a burly stranger joked that my husband hurt me. Not funny. Not funny at all. I don’t care who you are. To suggest that domestic violence is in any way funny rankles me. There is absolutely nothing humorous about any aspect of abuse, whether psychological, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, technological or physical. I’ve heard more times than I can count that insensitive, uninformed and supposedly funny comment that Randy must have pushed me or hit me. He didn’t. I fell on rain-slicked wooden steps. I don’t understand this attitude. Women (and sometimes men) are being assaulted and dying every single day in this country from domestic violence. I find absolutely nothing funny in that. Nothing.

THOUGHTS ON ANY of this?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The not-at-all amusing topic of domestic violence June 22, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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I took a photo of this photo at a domestic violence awareness event in Faribault. The word STOP and outstretched hand (exactly how I landed, palm down when I fell) hold double meaning as it relates to this post. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

PERHAPS I’M MORE SENSITIVE than many people on the subject. But I have personal reasons for my feelings about domestic abuse. Many women who are friends or family have been directly or indirectly affected by domestic abuse or violence. Some of those victims are dead. Shot. Beaten. Attacked. Dead. (Click here. Here. Here. And here.

So when someone sees my broken left forearm, laughs and suggests that my husband assaulted me, I get angry. Inside. I try to react with words that are kind, yet clearly reveal that I am not amused. There is nothing even remotely funny about domestic violence or any violence against a human being.

 

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. File image.

 

I understand the medical personnel who ask me to repeat the story of my fall. It’s their job to be aware of possible domestic violence, sometimes hidden by the victim. They need to look for inconsistencies in my story, especially since I fell and broke my right shoulder just a year ago (while at the hospital to donate blood).

But I want to state here, publicly, that my husband of 36 years has never abused me. Ever. To suggest that in jest offends me. I heard the “humorous” accusations last year against Randy and now I’m hearing them again. Not funny.

 

Domestic violence cycle of abuse as photographed at a local awareness event. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

That said, if you sincerely suspect a friend or family member has been abused in any way, don’t ignore what your gut, your observations, are telling you. Seek professional advice at a women’s shelter or advocacy center so you can help. Likewise, I urge you, if you are an abuse victim, to seek help. You deserve to live a life free of any type of abuse.

There, I got that out.

 

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at an unfathomable act of domestic violence in rural Minnesota & more March 24, 2018

WHAT CAUSED A MINNESOTA farmer to kill his entire family—his wife and four young children—with an ax in a horrific act of domestic violence?

We likely will never know the truth behind the murders-suicide which happened on March 24, 1917, in rural Redwood County, my home county in the fertile farmland of southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

Up until the release of a book of historical fiction, Sundown at Sunrise by former Minnesota state legislator Marty Seifert in late 2016, I’d never heard of this crime. I recently read the book published by Beaver’s Pond Press. Therein I found familiar names, including the maiden surname of my maternal grandmother and other known names from Redwood County.

 

The murder occurred in Section 16 of Three Lakes Township in the area noted by the pointing hand. This is a photo of a Digitized State of Minnesota Plat Book map from 1916. I found this through the Minnesota History Center, Gale Family Library, Borchert Map Library. The author grew up in the northeastern corner of Sundown Township.

 

Seifert grew up in Sundown Township within miles of the murders. In a farmhouse in Section 16 of Three Lakes Township north of Clements, William Kleeman, 31, raised an ax and killed his wife, Maud, and their children ranging in age from six weeks to five years. He then hung himself. Many times I’ve passed that former farm place at the intersection of Minnesota State Highway 68 and Redwood County Road 1 west of Morgan and near the site of Farm Fest. I had no idea of the violence that occurred there.

But the author grew up hearing the story of the Kleeman ax murders. That and his interest in history—he’s a former history teacher—prompted Seifert to research and pen this book rooted in fact.

 

From the Minneapolis Morning Tribune dated March 27, 1917. This is a photo of the article found in the Minnesota Digital Newspaper Hub.

 

I decided to check out for myself newspaper accounts of the murders. That led me to the Minnesota Digitized Newspaper Hub and sensationalized layered headlines followed by detailed stories. I expect Seifert used the same sources, and more, to research for his book. But he goes beyond those stories to suggest the real reason behind the crime discovered by a young teacher (her name is fictionalized in the book) who boarded with the Kleemans. I won’t share more. You need to read the book.

 

The story about the murders published in the New Ulm Review on March 28, 1917.

 

In reading Sundown at Sunrise, I noted specific red flags pointing to future domestic violence and an awareness of that potential. A hired hand, for example, tells Maud’s father upon her engagement to William Kleeman that, “I think Miss Petrie done deserve better.” Henry Petrie agrees.

The author also describes William Kleeman “from a young age parlaying his handsome looks and confident demeanor as ways to manipulate his mother.” That manipulative charm threads throughout the story. I appreciate that the author understands the characteristics of an abuser and writes that into this work of fiction based on fact.

And then, after the murders, the hired hand sees the Kleemans’ marriage certificate nailed above the bed where Maud and her baby lie in pools of blood. Frank Schottenbauer notes that “he’d rather look at a bloody corpse than view the license William Kleeman had used to violate Maud Petrie.”

The author many times works the appearance of garter snakes and William Kleeman’s aversion to religion into the storyline, alluding to evil.

 

The Pine Island Record printed this story on March 29, 1917.

 

You can surmise what you will from this book of historical fiction. But nothing changes the fact that Maud died at the hands of her husband and Gladys, Lois, Gordon and Rosadell died at the hands of their father in an unfathomable act of domestic violence in Redwood County, Minnesota.

Today I honor the memories of that young mother and her beloved children. They deserved to live full lives on the prairie, to love and to be loved.

 

A plat of Three Lakes Township from a 1963 Atlas of Redwood County Minnesota shows the section (16) in which the crime occurred. You’ll find some of the surnames here included in Sundown at Sunrise.

 

FYI: The ax used in the murders is stored in the archives of the Redwood County Historical Society in Redwood Falls. For years, it was kept as evidence by the sheriff’s department before its donation to the county museum.

 

 

 

TODAY, AS YOUNG PEOPLE and others gather in Washington, DC, and around the world (including right here in Minnesota) for the “March For Our Lives” anti-gun-violence rally, I honor those I knew (via personal connections) who have been murdered in acts of domestic violence. Not just by gun violence, although several were shot.

Violence, whether in our schools, our homes, on the street, needs to stop. We need to take a stand, to act when we can, to say, “Enough is enough.” We need to care, to speak up, to listen, to educate ourselves, to push for change. I don’t pretend to have the answers. But I have witnessed and experienced the pain and grief of those who have lost loved ones through acts of violence. If you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate.

I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to comfort a friend whose father was murdered. I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to comfort parents whose daughter was murdered by her ex-boyfriend. I’ve had to reach deep inside myself to write about the murder of a beloved community member by her ex-husband at our local tourism office.

I’ve watched a SWAT team sweep through my neighborhood searching for a knife used in a murder within blocks of my home. I’ve talked to police many years ago about a drive by shooting involving big city gang members. A gang member purchased a car from us, failed to change the title, used the car in a shooting and then stashed the gun in the trunk. Investigators started with us, owners of the car.

Yes, I’ve been touched many times by violence. Gun and other.

Enough is enough. To those young people and others who are speaking up today, thank you for using your voice to effect change.

 

 

 

IMPORTANT: If you are in an abusive relationship and in immediate danger, call or text (if that option is available in your area) 911. If you are leaving (or thinking of leaving) your abuser, please seek help and have a safety plan in place. Talk to someone you trust like a family member, friend, c0-worker, clergy, advocate…  Immediate help is available. Reach out to a local women’s shelter or advocacy center for professional help. You are not alone. You deserve to live a life free of any type of abuse whether physical, mental, emotional, psychological, financial, spiritual or technological.

Please know that you are in greatest danger when you are about to leave, are leaving or have left your abuser. Abuse is about power, control and manipulation. When abusers lose that control, they often become violent. Be safe and know that you are loved.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Quoted passages are copyright of Marty Seifert and used here for review purposes only.

 

Beyond the final rose, a billboard message that really matters March 14, 2018

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

DO PEOPLE NOTICE billboards? Apparently yes, if based on all the media hype last week about billboards supporting Becca Kufrin, the young Prior Lake woman dumped by bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jr. From LA to Minnesota to Times Square, digital billboards proclaimed their love for this Minnesotan to whom Arie initially proposed during the reality TV show The Bachelor.

While it’s nice to read that Minnesota Nice message—Becca—You’ll always have a rose from Minnesota—there are much more important public messages that should grab our attention.

 

 

That includes a billboard just north of Faribault along Interstate 35 which promotes texting 911. In December, Minnesota rolled out this option to reach emergency services in our state. For those with a hearing loss, the texting option is a valuable tool.

But it’s valuable to others, too, including victims of domestic abuse and violence. In many cases, they may be unable to safely call, and talk to, a 911 dispatcher. Texting offers an option, one that could save a life.

We need to care as much about domestic abuse and violence as we do some reality TV show and whether or not someone gets a rose.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Minnesota’s 911 texting system.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling