Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Grieving in Minnesota, three tragedies April 23, 2022

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:01 AM
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Third grader Henry Johnson of Nerstrand Charter School created this vivid work of art for a Student Art Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Published with this post for illustration purposes only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I CONTEMPLATED WHETHER I should write about the tragic deaths of four Minnesota children recently. But it’s important for me, in some small way, to pause and share that which imprints sadness upon my heart. To lose a child is perhaps life’s deepest sorrow.

The first tragedy happened on April 15 in rural Wabasso—I graduated from Wabasso High School—in southwestern Minnesota. Braxton Welch, 20 months, died after being struck by a vehicle driven by his dad. I cannot even begin to fathom the grief this family is experiencing. This is personal to me because I know the Welch family back a few generations. I knew Braxton’s deceased great grandfather Gary, who lived in my hometown of Vesta and worked as a mechanic at my Uncle Harold’s service station. And I babysat Braxton’s grandfather (Gary’s son), Troy, and siblings a few times as a teen. Now Troy has lost his grandson, a sweet little boy with the brightest blue eyes. Braxton loved dancing and giggling and his big brother. And I expect so much more.

To the west, in rural Lynd, a 9-year-old girl (not yet identified) has died after being shot in the head on April 18. Authorities are classifying the shooting as “accidental.” Again, an unfathomable tragedy. UPDATE, April 26, 2022: The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department has identified Caitlin Renee Demuth as the young girl who died as a result of this tragic shooting. A public visitation will be held from 5 – 7 pm Friday, April 29, at the Hamilton Funeral Home in Marshall.

And then way up north, in the port city of Duluth, the Barry family was found shot to death in their beds on April 20. The victims include mom, Riana, 44; dad, Sean, 47; and their daughters, Shiway, 12, and Sadie, 9. The identified shooter, their 29-year-old nephew/cousin, also died, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Police continue their investigation into the motive while publicly stating the shooter struggled with mental health issues. This murder-suicide, resulting in the deaths of two children and three adults in a single family circle, is undeniably tragic. It is almost too much to bear and my heart absolutely breaks for everyone touched by this tragedy, especially family and friends but also the greater Duluth community and responding law enforcement.

Friends have set up a GoFundMe account to help extended family pay for the Barrys’ funerals and for travel and other expenses. I encourage you to visit that site, donate if you can and pause to read the comments written by those connected to the Barry family. You will read of a kind, loving and generous family who welcomed newcomers, of two little girls who sold Girl Scout cookies, of guinea pigs and bike riding and all those ordinary life events that, in death, take on new meaning.

Tears flow. I feel emotionally drained. My heart hurts. Yet, I recognize that what I feel is nothing compared to the friends and families of Braxton; the little girl from Lynd; and the Barry family. To experience their loss and grief seems incomprehensible. Tragic beyond words.


FYI: A public vigil for the Barry family will be held on Sunday evening, April 24, outside the family’s home at 715 E. 12th Street in Duluth. A short program begins at 8 pm with the lighting of holiday lights on the home. Christmas was one of the family’s favorite holidays. Attendees can also share stories at the event. The public is also invited to bring new children’s books to be donated in the family’s honor. The Barrys had a Little Free Library outside their home to share their love of reading and of books.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Ending domestic violence: It takes a community October 21, 2014

This logo comes from a 5K walk/run honoring Faribault native Margie (Brown) Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia. Margie's husband, Roger Holland, is serving two terms of life in prison for their 2013 murders.

This logo comes from a recent fundraiser honoring Faribault native Margie (Brown) Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, murdered in 2013. Roger Holland, Margie’s husband, is serving two terms of life in prison for their murders. Margie’s dad was once my neighbor.


His voice rising in anger. Yelling in her face. Rage exploding. The peace of a glorious autumn morning shattered.

The disturbance drew me from my task of emptying flower pots to observe the young couple passing by across the street.

He was shirtless on this October morning when the temp had not yet reached 60 degrees. That in itself seemed odd.

But it was his anger toward the woman walking beside him that led me into my front yard, thoughts of calling the police already formulating.

I pulled muddy gloves from my hands, patted the cell phone locked in my back jeans pocket. Then I watched. I watched as he shoved her, grabbed her. Then a parked vehicle blocked my view before they emerged on the other side and she attempted to cross the street. He pulled her back. Then they disappeared around the corner, out of my view.

I’d witnessed enough.

This is not fiction. This is an actual case of domestic abuse. This happened last week in my neighborhood in my community of Faribault, Minnesota, where last year the Hope Center served 473 women and 54 children through its domestic violence program. The center’s sexual assault program served 62 primary and 38 secondary (family and friends) victims.

Hope Center advocates provide additional assistance and education. Click here to learn more.

I don’t know what happened to the couple after I phoned law enforcement. Could I have done more? Should I have intervened?

If this man was verbally and physically abusing this woman in public along a busy street, I fear how he treats her behind closed doors.


THE HOPE CENTER and my county of Rice have submitted a grant request to fund a new program, “The Blueprint for Safety,” in an effort to stop domestic violence, according to information on the county attorney’s Facebook page. I wish it wasn’t needed. But it is.

The program initiates a collaborative effort among agencies to tackle issues, “to move forward with things such as better data collection, information sharing, training, and understanding of each player’s role to help improve the response to domestic violence in our community.” (Click here to learn more.)

I applaud this effort.

But it still takes each of us, individually, to speak up with a strong and unwavering voice against domestic violence. It takes a community.

FYI: If you live in Rice County, Minnesota, and are a victim of domestic abuse, you can call the Hope Center 24-hour SafeLine at 1-800-607-2330.  The center also offers support to family and friends. Call 507-332-0882 during business hours to speak with an advocate.


FORTY YEARS AGO in St. Paul, the first shelter in the U.S. for battered women and their children was established. Women’s Advocates will mark that occasion with an anniversary celebration and benefit on Thursday evening, October 23, at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul. Click here for more info. Today the center serves an average of 45 women and children daily.

FYI: For Women’s Advocates information or help, call the 24-hour crisis line at 651-227-8284 or state-wide toll free at 1-866-223-111.


TO THE NORTH IN DULUTH,  a coordinated community response to domestic violence has just received an international award. The World Future Council last week bestowed the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls upon The Duluth Model at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. The equivalent of a gold award recognizes best policies to combat violence against women and girls. In summary, the plan focuses on the community working together to end domestic violence and on holding offenders accountable and keeping victims safe. To learn more about The Duluth Model, click here. To learn more about the World Future Council, click here.

FYI: For more information about the Domestic Abuse Intervention Programs in Duluth, call 218-722-2781.


Another resource to call is the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Click here to read an earlier post I published about domestic violence.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A lesson in Minnesota sales taxes April 4, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:09 AM
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How much does your community tax purchases?

“ARE YOU A SEVEN?” she asked.

“What?” I asked her to repeat what she’d just told me over the phone.

“Are you a seven?” she repeated.

Still, I didn’t understand. Then she—the saleswoman at J.C. Penney in the Burnsville Shopping Center—explained that sales tax rates vary, depending on where you live in Minnesota. She wondered if I lived in an area with a seven percent rate.

Huh? I had no idea, about the rate or that such differences existed.

I live in Faribault. Is that a “seven,” or some other number?

The helpful saleswoman, who was trying to calculate the cost of pleated shades (which I’m not buying because they are way too costly at nearly $400 for two windows, but which I really, really want), was confusing me. Apparently orders shipped to my home would be taxed based on where I live, or something like that.

Not one to simply let this piece of information slip through the recesses of my brain, I googled “Minnesota sales tax” and ended up on the Minnesota Department of Revenue sales tax rate calculator website. It’s an easy-to-use site where I could type in Minnesota zip codes, a dollar amount and, zip, the sales tax rate appeared. The calculator covers Minnesota and local general sales and use taxes. Any other special taxes, such as those on entertainment, liquor, dining and lodging, are not figured into the totals.

First, I needed the nine-digit zip codes for my sample towns. Once I had those zip codes from a U.S. Postal Service link, I typed the numbers and my sample dollar amount of $10 into the tax calculator website.

I quickly discovered that Faribault is not a seven. Our sales tax rate, like that of my brother who lives in Redwood County in rural southwestern Minnesota, is 6.875 percent. We would each pay 69 cents in sales tax on a qualifying $10 purchase in our parts of Minnesota. We have no extra taxes, just the 6.875 state-wide basic sales tax levied by the state.

My daughter who lives an hour away from me in south Minneapolis, however, will pay more for purchases made in her area. The sales tax rate for her address is 7.775 percent. That breaks down to the standard state sales tax rate, plus an additional 0.15 percent levied by Hennepin County, 0.5 percent by the city of Minneapolis and 0.25 percent for Transit Improvement. She would pay 78 cents in taxes on a $10 purchase.

In Woodbury, where my youngest brother and his family live, a 0.25 percent Transit Improvement levy is also in place. It’s the only extra sales tax in that city, so tax on a $10 purchase there would be 71 cents.

I was surprised to learn that St. Cloud also has an extra tax, of 0.5 percent, pushing the sales tax rate there to 7.375 percent. That helped pay for an airport and other projects. You’d pay 74 cents sales tax on a $10 purchase.

But my biggest surprise came when I typed in a friends’ nine-digit zip code up in Duluth. There the local government has imposed a one percent additional general sales tax, pushing the sales tax in that port city to 7.875 percent. The tax on a $10 purchase is 79 cents. Authorized in 1973, that special tax “may be used for any city purpose, as determined by the city council.” It has no expiration date and is the longest-running local sales tax listed on a September 2010 document from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department.

Now, if you’re like me, you’ve just gotten a good basic education on sales tax rates in Minnesota.

Funny, isn’t it, how that J.C. Penney employee’s seemingly simple question—“Are you a seven?”—educated me about sales tax rates in Minnesota.

THE MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE is considering legislation that would loosen current restrictions on local sales taxes. Under the proposal, cities or groups of cities could impose local sales taxes with local voter approval. Twenty-two Minnesota cities currently have a local option sales tax.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling