Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on mental health after Naomi Judd’s death May 3, 2022

This message refers to the struggles with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2019)

A DAY BEFORE Mental Health Awareness Month began on May 1, the Judd family lost their beloved Naomi “to the disease of mental illness.” She was a wife, a mother and a country western superstar singer. That the family chose to publicly attribute Naomi’s cause of death to mental illness shows strength and honesty. And a desire to increase awareness.

On my reading list…

Naomi was open about her severe, treatment resistant depression. She wrote about her mental illness in a book, River of Time: My Descent into Depression and How I Emerged with Hope, in 2016. I have yet to read this book, but I will. Soon.

Reflecting on Naomi’s death focused my thoughts on the many books I’ve read in recent years about mental health related topics. I’ve reviewed numerous books on my blog and written on the topic often. Why? Because I care. I care that people understand depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, anxiety… I care that we show compassion, support, encouragement and more to those dealing with these often overwhelmingly challenging and debilitating diseases. I care that stigmas vanish, that treatment options improve, that access to mental health care is easily and readily available to anyone anywhere anytime.

Love this message posted along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I care, too, that no one feels alone. That anyone dealing with a mental health issue understands they are loved, valued and cherished. That families, too, feel supported.

Much progress has been made in recent years to shine the light on mental health. I appreciate that. And I appreciate the efforts of groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness. But, still, it is up to each of us individually to do what we can to educate ourselves and increase awareness, to offer love and support… To be there. To listen. To recognize the value of professional help.

Clinical depression like Naomi Judd experienced is deep and dark and debilitating. She couldn’t talk herself/smile herself/lift herself out of the depths of such depression. Not alone. That’s what we all need to understand. Hers wasn’t situational depression. Hers was persistent, powerful, all-encompassing. And, in the end, it killed her.

I find that reading or hearing personal stories is often the best way to understand anything. That includes mental health. For that reason, I recommend you read one or more of the following books, which I’ve previously reviewed on this blog (click on the title to read my review):

I highly-recommend this book, which is why it tops my list. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

Behind the Wall—The True Story of Mental Illness as Told by Parents by Mary Widdifield and Elin Widdifield

Written by a former Minnesota state representative, now an advocate on mental health issues.

Fix What You Can—Schizophrenia and a Lawmaker’s Fight for Her Son by Mindy Greiling

The author writes about her clinical depression.

Simply Because We are Human by K.J. Joseph

The author writes about his wife’s bipolar and the affect on their family.

Unglued—A Bipolar Love Story by Jeffrey Zuckerman

A must-read for connecting and ministering within faith communities.

One other book, which I’ve read and highly-recommend (but have not reviewed) is Troubled Minds—Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson. A friend referred me to this book and it’s a must-read. I’ve marked the pages with about a dozen Post-It notes. It’s that good, that invaluable for faith communities. Anyone really.

Thank you for reading this post. Thank you for caring about mental health. Thank you for doing your part to shine the light. To be the light.

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TELL ME: Are there any books about mental health that you recommend? Or, if you have other thoughts to share on the topic, please do. We can all learn from one another.

RESOURCES:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness offers online, telephone and in-person support (through local chapters). Call the HelpLine at 800-950-6264.

Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections from Redwood & Rice counties on NATIVE LIVES MATTER May 2, 2022

Part of a temporary public art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day Celebration. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

IN THE GEOGRAPHICAL BACKGROUND of my childhood, I knew of the “Indian Reservations” to the northwest near Granite Falls and then to the east near Morton. My hometown of Vesta sits between the two, no longer referred to as “reservations” but as the Upper Sioux Indian Community and the Lower Sioux Indian Community.

A Dakota man and Alexander Faribault are depicted trading furs in this sculpture at Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Ivan Whillock created the sculpture which graces the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain in my community of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

Today I live 120 miles to the east in Faribault, next to Wapacuta Park. Rice County is the homeland of the Wahpekute (not Wapacuta), a tribal band of the Dakota.

The Earth Day art carried two messages: NATIVE LIVES MATTER and CLIMATE JUSTICE. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

A temporary public art installation at the recent Earth Day Celebration in neighboring Northfield prompted me to reflect on Indigenous people in southern Minnesota. Growing up in Redwood County, my knowledge of area Native Americans focused primarily on “The Sioux Uprising.” History teachers then used that term, rather than the current-day “US-Dakota War of 1862,” which should tell you a thing or ten about how biased that perspective back in the 1970s. How thankful I am that my awareness and understanding have grown and that attitudes are shifting to better reflect all sides of history.

The message grows, blossoms in the Earth Day art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

The NATIVE LIVES MATTER message bannering the art installation at Northfield’s Earth Day event reinforces a Land Acknowledgment Statement adopted by the City of Northfield in November 2020. That reads as follows:

We stand on the homelands of the Wahpekute and other Bands of the Dakota Nation. We honor with gratitude the people who have stewarded the land throughout the generations and their ongoing contributions to this region. We acknowledge the ongoing injustices that we have committed against the Dakota Nation, and we wish to interrupt this legacy, beginning with acts of healing and honest storytelling about this place.

NATIVE LIVES MATTER fits the spirit of the Land Acknowledgment Statement. Those three words caused me to pause, to think, to consider what I’d been taught all those decades ago and how my thinking has shifted as I’ve aged, opened my mind and learned.

Dakota beadwork displayed and photographed at the Rice County Historical Society Museum, Faribault, in 2010. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2010)

The Rice County Historical Society, which exhibits a collection of Native American artifacts in its Faribault museum, shares a statement similar to the City of Northfield’s on its website:

We acknowledge that the land that is now Rice County, MN, was their (Dakota) homeland and for many tribal members today, it is still their home.

In all of this, I feel a sense of gratitude regarding increasing public recognition of the land history and contributions of Indigenous People in Minnesota. In my home area of Redwood County, nearly 1,000 individuals from the Mdewakanton Band of Dakota call the Lower Sioux Indian Community home. To the east in Yellow Medicine County near Granite Falls, nearly 500 individuals from the Dakota Oyate call the Upper Sioux Indian Community home.

Words on a marker in Reconciliation Park in Mankato where 38 Dakota were hung on Dec. 26, 1862. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2012)

I hope educators in my home area are today teaching students about the local Dakota and even bringing elders into classrooms. I graduated, after all, from Wabasso High School, the name Wabasso coming from a Native word meaning “white rabbit.” I would then go on to attend college in Mankato, site of the largest mass execution in the US with 38 Dakota killed in a public hanging on December 26, 1862.

I would be remiss if I did not share that, during the US-Dakota Conflict of 1862, family members on my mom’s side fled their rural Courtland farm for safety in St. Peter. They later put in a claim to the US government for crop loss.

Details on a sign outside the Cathedral of our Merciful Savior in Faribault. Bishop Henry Whipple, who served here, advocated for the rights of Native Americans and had a strong friendship with them. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2020)

Now, 160 years after that event in my ancestors’ history, I continue growing my knowledge, widening my understanding of Minnesota history and of the Indigenous people who first called this land home.

A graphic of Minnesota is painted on the back of the art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo April 2022)

FYI: Please click here to read previous posts I’ve written on the US-Dakota War (also called Conflict) of 1862.

Also, I suggest you read an article on the Minnesota Public Radio website about efforts to change the Minnesota State flag. The flag depicts, among other details, a Native American in the background riding off into the sunset while a settler focuses the foreground, hands on a plow, rifle nearby. I agree that change is needed. But, as too often happens, the issue has become politically-charged.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside the student art show at the Paradise, Part II March 17, 2022

Love the student art spanning walls in a current exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Aubrey Schafer, Roosevelt Elementary fourth grader, created the Love art on the left. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

IF I COULD TALK to these students, what would they tell me about their art? Would their responses show a passion for creating? Would they tell me they were just completing an assignment? Or would their answers fall somewhere in between?

Assorted art by Lincoln Elementary students. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As a wordsmith, I often wonder about the stories behind the art displayed at the annual All Area Student Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. While perusing the pieces, I see varied versions of the same theme. That reveals a general classroom assignment focused on a subject. Yet even that prompt leads to individual creativity.

Portrait by Isaac Rodriguez, fifth grader at Roosevelt Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

What would Ayub, Mariyo, Isaac, Natalia, Aubrey, Lily, Myrka, Jaelynn, Mumtaaz, Brianna, Rain and the many other student artists say about their art? The art they created at their respective schools—Faribault Area Learning Center and Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary schools.

Student art runs the length of a second floor hallway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

When I view their exhibit, I am impressed by the level of talent—from kindergarten through high school. But this is about much more than talent. This is about encouraging young people in the arts. This is about showing us adults that young people have an artistic voice. This is about taking away our own interpretations of this artwork.

Colorful insect art by Ayub Osman, fourth grade, Lincoln Elementary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)I
Myrka Mendoza, Faribault Area Learning Center 11th grader, drew this realistic butterfly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Envisioning Mariyo Mohamed’s (second grader at Lincoln Elementary) snail in a picture book. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I appreciate how, even on the theme of nature, students’ interpretations range from boldly colorful—as if illustrated in a children’s picture book—to realistic—as if printed in the pages of a nature guidebook.

This textured birthday cake art by Lincoln second grader Jaelynn Martinez makes me want to grab a slice and celebrate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

The art shown in this exhibit conveys celebration, joy, history, a sense of place, personality, messages, nature and more.

Each art piece is titled with basics of name, grade and school. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

If these students wrote artists’ statements, what backstories would they share? What inspires them? Why did they choose bold or subtle? Are they conveying a message? Or simply creating?

Art by students from Jefferson Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

As someone who’s created with words and images for decades, I understand how my prairie background, upbringing in a southwestern Minnesota farm family and personality influence my work. I write and photograph with a strong sense of place, with detail. And, I hope, with compassion, empathy, understanding, connection and a desire to make a positive difference. I listen. I observe. I create.

Created by Lily Krauth, kindergarten, Roosevelt Elementary. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I create, too, with a focus on what’s right here—in our area communities, in the countryside… And, today, what’s on the second floor of the Paradise Center for the Arts—the art of young creatives.

FYI: The student art show continues through April 9 at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. PCA hours are from noon – 5 pm Wednesday through Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturdays. Click here to read Part I in this two-part series.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Encouraging young people in the arts via Paradise exhibit, Part I March 16, 2022

Eye-catching student art lines a second floor hallway at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. The eye art is by Wyatt Suckow, Lincoln Elementary School first grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

ENCOURAGEMENT. OPPORTUNITY. CONFIDENCE. Like dominoes, those three words tip into one another. And the result for young people can make all the difference.

A poster outside the main gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts promotes the student art show on the second floor. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Those thoughts emerge upon viewing the All Student Art Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. This year’s show, featuring the art of students from Faribault Area Learning Center and Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt Elementary Schools, runs until April 9.

Eydelin Leon Ruiz, Roosevelt Elementary School second grader, created this sweet kitty face. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

I view this show through not only an appreciative lens, but also through the lens of encouraging students in the arts. Showcasing their art in a public exhibit most assuredly builds confidence.

One of the more unusual pieces of art was crafted by two Lincoln Elementary School fourth graders, Cole Hammer and Barrett Boudreau. The folded art looks different when viewed from opposite sides. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

If we all thought for a moment, I expect we could list individuals in our lives who encouraged us in our interests, passions and/or careers. For me, that would be Mrs. Kotval, an elementary school teacher who each afternoon read aloud chapters from books—the entire Little House series, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (and Tom Sawyer), Black Beauty… From those post lunch readings, my love for language and stories sparked. In middle school, Mrs. Sales fostered my increasing love for language and writing. Across the hall, a math teacher (whom I shall not name) scared me so much that my dislike of numbers multiplied. In high school, Mr. Skogen required journal keeping, further fostering my love of writing. And in college, Mr. Shipman and Mrs. Olson offered such encouragement that I never questioned my decision to pursue a journalism degree.

A portrait by Huda Muse, Faribault Area Learning Center junior. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

How reaffirming then to have educators encouraging young people in the arts, and an arts center that values their work.

Each piece of art names the artist and his/her school and grade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

At this student art exhibit, you won’t find ribbons or other awards. And that, too, I appreciate. You’ll find art. Simply art. I think too often there’s a tendency to pass out ribbons to everyone. Kids can see right through universal praise, which then feels mostly meaningless.

Art aplenty… (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
The art of Roosevelt Elementary School kindergartner Joey Trevino. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)
Art, inside a classroom exhibit space and outside along a hallway. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

But nothing is meaningless about the art showcased along the hallway and a classroom on the second floor of the Paradise. Every student, from kindergarten through high school, created a work of art worthy of public showing. Worthy, not necessarily by the art critic definition of art, but rather via the definition of this is something a child/pre-teen/teen created. That’s the value therein.

A cardinal by Nova Vega, a kindergartner at Jefferson Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

Perhaps some of these students will pursue art professionally. But I expect most won’t. For some, art will always be a side interest/hobby/pursuit. Yet, this early encouragement, no matter future interest, fosters an appreciation for the arts that can last a lifetime. What a gift that is to our young people.

Birch trees painted by Suprise Sonpon, 4th grade, Jefferson Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

To the students who created art for the 2022 exhibit, thank you for sharing your creativity. To the educators who worked with these youth, thank you. And to the Paradise Center for the Arts, thank you for each year hosting this student art exhibit. What a gift to our community.

Faribault Area Learning Center students Hunter Quast and Justin Horejsi worked together to create this service station model. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

TELL ME: Did someone encourage you at a young age to follow an interest/passion/other pursuit? I’d like to hear.

FYI: Other area arts centers are also featuring youth art in current exhibits. At the Owatonna Arts Center, view the Owatonna Public Schools K-12 Art Exhibit from now until March 27. At the Arts and Heritage Center of Montgomery, student art from Tri-City United is now displayed, beginning with elementary age. That transitions to art by middle schoolers and then to high school students, through May 14.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Dear Santa” letters from Minnesota first graders December 29, 2021

Santa, done delivering gifts at a family Christmas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS, a small town Minnesota weekly newspaper published 32 letters—31 addressed to Santa and one to Elsa. The letters written by Sibley East first graders, as you would expect, are honest. Or at least honest enough to convince Santa of good behavior.

As I read through the letters to Santa published in The Gaylord Hub (where I worked as a reporter from 1978-1980), I laughed. And I nearly cried. Read on and you’ll understand as I share highlights pulled from the kids’ writings.

Many first graders assured Santa of their helpfulness and kindness among family and friends. But young Oskar hesitated. “I have been kind of good this year,” he penned before asking for Legos and books with one Lego figurine.

WISH LIST BASICS

What kids wanted for Christmas varied widely. Aleah asked for markers, glue, coloring books, crayons and Skye from Paw Patrol. Her request for glue and for crayons caused me to pause, considering she needed/wanted something so basic. I hope sweet Aleah got those gifts. Other kids asked for items like shoes, clothes, a bunk bed, a garbage can for their bedroom. Necessities.

But perhaps the most touching was Elsa’s request: “Please can you give me a picture of me for my family.”

WISHFUL THINKING

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Alex requested items that could bankrupt Santa. He not only wanted a remote control car, a gun, a kids’ motorcycle and an iPhone 11, but he also asked for $1 million. Alright then. Alex wants a sister, too. Not sure how Santa handled that.

A UNIQUE REQUEST

Perhaps the most unusual gift desired came from Angie, who assured Santa she’s been working hard in school and helping her mom with dishes. The first grader asked for a skeleton so she can study the human body. Impressed? I am. I expect Angie will accomplish anything she sets her mind to, maybe even becoming a medical professional.

Other gift lists included Nintendo games, a skateboard, not just some but “a lot of” Nerf guns, a remote control semi, a LOL doll, Pokemon cards…and the usual horse and puppy. And for one boy, dogs. Plural, not singular. He promised to share the dogs with his friends.

QUESTIONS FOR SANTA

These kids also had lots of questions for Santa. About the reindeer (What do they eat? How do they fly?). About the elves (How are they?). About Mrs. Claus (How old is she?). About the North Pole (How cold and snowy is it there?).

Santa also faced questions about himself. “Do you like cookies or not?” Cameron asked, getting right to the point. Oskar was more specific. “Do you like cookies that are bought or decorated cookies?”

Angie, who wanted the skeleton to study the human body (I sure hope she got it) wondered why Santa wears a red hat instead of a blue hat. Good question. Like I said, I expect this inquisitive first grader will achieve whatever goals she sets.

REALLY PERSONAL QUESTIONS FOR SANTA

Then two first grade boys got even more personal. “Do you have any kids?” Charlie asked Santa. Good question.

And then there’s Jaxson, concerned about Santa’s mental health. “Are you happy? Yes?” I love how this little boy’s letter opened with that question before he went on to ask for one thing, a Nintendo Switch. He even thanked Santa. We could all learn from Jaxson. About compassion and care for others. From the pencils of first graders…

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© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Source: December 23, 2021 edition of The Gaylord Hub

 

Learning Mental Health First Aid September 22, 2021

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THE STRUGGLE IS REAL. Several years ago I saw that message printed on the back of a young woman’s shirt at a community celebration. I approached her and asked about the meaning behind those words. She explained that she lives with depression and that her family has loved and supported her through her struggles. I thanked her. Encouraged her. Then walked away feeling grateful for the young woman’s openness and for her caring and loving family.

That we should all be so honest. And compassionate. But the stigma surrounding mental illness, although lessening, continues. The failure to understand and support continues. And that’s where education and training are vital—to recognize, to de-stigmatize, to make a difference in how we perceive and approach mental health.

An upcoming opportunity in my area, Mental Health First Aid, helps those enrolled in the course to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness and substance abuse disorders. Attendees learn initial support skills and then how to connect individuals to appropriate care.

The class, taught by Mary Beth Trembley, a psychiatric nurse with 30-plus years of experience, will be held from 8 am – 4:30 pm on Tuesday, October 12, at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1054 Truman Avenue, Owatonna. The course meets Continuing Education Credits. Among those encouraged to attend are employers, law enforcement officers, hospital staff, first responders, faith leaders, care providers, and anyone, really.

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

My friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel, who completed Mental Health First Aid a year ago and is hosting the upcoming session at his church, agreed to answer several questions about the class. He has served as Redeemer’s pastor for 20 years and, during his time in the ministry, has cared for people in mental health facilities and provided support to the families of those who have committed suicide.

My questions and his answers follow:

Q: You took the Mental Health First Aid course. What prompted you to do that?

A: I first heard about Mental Health First Aid at the opening of an art show. The show was a benefit for a non-profit agency that promoted Mental Health First Aid. When I got home from the show I did some research on Mental Health First Aid and decided it would be a good thing for me to explore. The closest course I could find was in Mankato and then the pandemic hit but with a little perseverance I managed to take the course about a year ago.

Q: What was your biggest take-away from this class?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is one of the Agree/Disagree questions I was asked to respond to during the course: “It is not a good idea to ask someone if they are feeling suicidal in case you put the idea in their head.” If you are concerned about a person’s mental condition and their potential for self-harm it is better to ask a person if they are feeling suicidal than to avoid the topic.

I also learned a number of calming techniques to use for people in crisis. I learned about how to listen non-judgmentally and ways to get people to the appropriate help they need.

Q: How can we, as individuals and communities, best help family, friends and others who are dealing with mental health challenges?

A: Accessing the necessary professional mental health resources and dealing with the stigma of mental illness are two of the greatest difficulties that I see for people facing mental health challenges. So community leaders should make sure that their communities are just as prepared to respond to mental health emergencies as they are to respond to other health emergencies. Mental Health support groups such as those provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) are a great way for family members of those who have mental illness to support each other.

Q: What should we avoid saying/doing? What doesn’t help?

A: “Just snap out of it”, “Pull yourself together,” or “Here we go again” should be avoided when offering support to those with mental illness. We should also avoid words like “crazy” and “retarded.” Phrases like, “I am concerned about you.” or “Is something bothering you?” are more open-ended and non-judgmental.

Q: If you were to give one reason for taking this class, what would that be?

A: I don’t look at taking the Mental Health First Aid course as a “one and done” scenario. That’s not the way it works with traditional first aid classes either. Mental Health First Aid is an important first step in getting educated about the many facets of mental health and should be followed up with ongoing efforts to become better equipped to offer support to those who struggle with mental illness. Mental health issues are so common these days that everyone, but especially those in care-giving professions, should have at least a basic understanding of this topic.

Photographed along a bike trail in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I hope this post encourages you to consider taking Mental Health First Aid or a similar course and/or to connect with the National Alliance on Mental Illness for information and support. Or to seek professional help if needed. You are not alone, whether you are dealing with mental health issues or you love/care for someone who is facing challenges. The Struggle Is Real.

FYI: To sign up for the October 12 Mental Health First Aid class in Owatonna or for more information, email redeemerowatonna at outlook.com or call 507-451-2720. Registration deadline is Tuesday, October 5. Cost is $90.

Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Great Invader readies for school August 26, 2021

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An abandoned rural Minnesota schoolhouse, used for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2016.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a rising revolt threatened the kingdom, especially the remote villages.

The Great Invader observed the discontent, the disagreements, the squabbling and outright lies. He delighted in the division permeating the land. He was an opportunist who wasted no time sneaking into villages and even cities. The more misinformation spread, the more he gloated, the easier his mission to inflict sickness and death upon the land.

When he learned the Ministry of Education was meeting to discuss plans that would thwart his efforts, he took note. He needed to gather information, to strategize and then to implement a strong plan of attack.

So The Great Invader slid into the meeting room, tucking into a corner unseen. His invisibility was especially useful in situations like this. Already, he liked what he saw—people packed together, most without protective armor. Perfect. He felt giddy inside. He had allies.

ANGRY, DEFIANT VILLAGERS SPEAK

When the villagers stepped up to address the Ministry of Education, The Great Invader could hardly contain his joy. They—with the exception of two—sided with him, expressing outrage toward any efforts to protect the young children of the kingdom. This was going so much better than he had hoped.

“You will not tell us what to do,” said one defiant mother, her son posed beside her. “My children will not wear masks when they are in the village school.” That defied official recommendations from the Ministry of Health to wear protective face masks.

The Great Invader nearly revealed his presence by pumping his arm in celebration. That sent a ripple of air into the room. He reminded himself then to sit still and listen.

THE GREAT INVADER LOVES WHAT HE’S HEARING

Another mother stepped forward, claiming a mask would traumatize her children, that a face covering was unnecessary, and that she, and her children, had rights. The Great Invader nearly danced right there in the midst of his powerful grassroots allies.

But even he couldn’t believe the mother’s statement that “No kids have died (from the virus he inflicted).” He knew this to be a bold lie and hadn’t expected such an uncaring and uninformed public declaration of untruth. Yet, this only bolstered his campaign, so he quietly applauded.

And he applauded, too, when a villager attacked the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and called face masks “child abuse.” He hadn’t even considered that, noting the need to share this with his Office of Misinformation. He felt such gratitude for the angry villagers filling the room.

UGH, SOMEONE CARES, HE THINKS

But he loathed the two mothers who spoke in support of masking in the village school. The shared their concerns for the health and safety of their children, all the children and the village educators. This was not helpful. Not at all.

PLACES TO BE, WORK TO DO

In the end, The Great Invader needn’t have worried. The Ministry of Education voted only to strongly recommend (not require) wearing of face masks in the village school. He noted, though, two dissenting votes. One ministry member expressed her deep concern about the safety of the young village children. The Great Invader filed that for future reference before slipping from the room. He felt certain many of the village children would come to school unmasked. Oh, how this pleased him. He could roam freely, infecting the youngest with incredible ease.

Now, with schools opening soon, he had work to do. Routes to map. He would target the children of the kingdom, especially those too young to take a magic potion that helped many of the village elders and others keep him at bay. He held deep disdain for those who chose to protect themselves, their families and friends, and other villagers. How dare they challenge him. How dare they try to stop him. How dare they…

NOTE: In every story truth exists, this one no exception. The setting and quotes in this story are, sadly, real. Be safe. Be well. Care about our children. And each other. The Great Invader (COVID-19) is still hard at work in The Land of Plenty and beyond.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Revisiting & appreciating Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse August 18, 2021

Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota. The date on the building conflicts with the date on an on-site memorial and I don’t know why. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

MANY YEARS HAVE PASSED since Randy and I stopped at the Little Prairie Historic Schoolhouse, rural Dundas. But on a recent weekend afternoon, we picnicked on the school grounds, next to a cornfield and a stone’s throw away from a vintage outhouse.

We ate our picnic lunch here. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I embraced this rural Bridgewater Township setting as I ate my sandwich and watched the occasional vehicle fly by on paved Rice County Road 8. Mostly, though, quiet prevailed.

Little Prairie United Methodist Church, repaired following a damaging tornado several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

When I finished my lunch, I grabbed my camera to document the country school and more, including Little Prairie United Methodist Church just across the road. Last visit, the then-pastor toured us through the church and then unlocked the schoolhouse. This time, I had to settle for peering through a school window.

A paver honors Little Prairie founders, the Emerys. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Little Prairie—a name that resonates with my prairie roots—was settled in 1855 when Jacob and Eliza Emery homesteaded here. He’s noted as the church founder on a paver at the Little Prairie Community Memorial, new since our last visit. Emery, as history goes, cut a 3-mile track through the Big Woods to find this 60-acre prairie. Little Prairie.

A memorial honors the people of Little Prairie. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Among the “farmer” pavers. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.
Students remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

A study of the memorial pavers reveals names of early settlers, farmers, teachers, families and others with connections to this prairie place. History imprinted upon stone.

I pushed Randy briefly on the merry-go-round, Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Beyond that, when I let this place speak to me, I could hear the voices of children as they played tag on the playground. Or circled on the aged merry-go-round. Screams. Laughter. Joy. Maybe even pleas to stop the dizziness.

The mud scraper. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear, too, the scraping of shoes on the mud scraper bolted to cement steps outside the front doors.

A necessity at rural schools, the water pump. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

I could hear the creak of the water pump handle moving up and down, up and down.

The outhouse has been painted since the last time I was here and a screen added.

I could hear the bang of the outhouse door.

A view inside the classroom through a window. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

Locked doors kept me from accessing the school. But I imagined the determined voice of a teacher, the recitation of spelling words, the scratch of chalk upon slate, the clomp of shoes upon wooden floor…

A back view of the simple country schoolhouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

This schoolhouse, built in 1858, holds no personal meaning to me. Yet, I cherish it. Within these walls, children learned. They flourished. They grew friendships and knowledge and, I expect, a deep appreciation for their community. This place. This Little Prairie.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Merry-go-round details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2021.
Information on ordering and purchasing a memorial paver for $225 is available inside this mailbox on the schoolhouse steps. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo July 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Together”: Doesn’t seem that way August 4, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

ON PAGES 444 and 445 of my 2003 Webster’s New World Thesaurus, I read synonyms for the word together. (Jointly) collectively, unitedly, commonly…

Clearly, together means everyone working toward a common goal/purpose for the good of all.

Many times people have come together, especially during disasters, to help others. I recall when my second daughter traveled twice to New Orleans to help with clean-up after Hurricane Katrina. Recently, rescuers worked tirelessly to find victims and survivors following the collapse of a condo in Surfside, Florida. Locally, folks are providing financial support for a professional juggler who broke both wrists after falling from a ladder during a performance.

These examples of togetherness, rooted in genuine care for others, encourage me. They give me hope. They uplift me.

Together and togetherness as defined in the Fourth Edition of Webster’s New World College Dictionary. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

DISHEARTENED & FRUSTRATED

As I reflect further, though, I grow disheartened. Disheartened because, as much as the “We’re all in this together” motto defines many official/marketing statements about COVID-19, I don’t feel it. I don’t see it. I don’t experience it. Perhaps it’s time for public health officials and others to ditch the word together as it relates to this global pandemic.

I suggest tapping into personal experiences, sharing the stories of those who’ve experienced COVID at its worst, to perhaps reach those who remain skeptics about every facet of this virus and vaccines. Stories hold power in a way that generalizations don’t.

Like many, I feel such frustration that COVID is now back full force in the much more contagious and deadly delta variant. This didn’t need to happen…if only people would get vaccinated. I’m thankful to read that vaccination rates are rising. I hope that continues.

In the meantime, my county of Rice is among 45 (as of Monday) Minnesota counties in the high or substantial risk categories for community transmission of COVID. The Minnesota Department of Health, following CDC guidelines, recommends everyone (regardless of vaccination status), wears a face mask indoors in public settings. Yes, even those of us who are vaccinated can spread the virus, which is why we, too, must mask.

FINALLY

Now some retailers, colleges, entertainment venues and more in Minnesota are embracing those CDC guidelines and reinstating masking. For that I feel great gratitude.

My healthcare provider has also joined a growing number of providers requiring vaccination of all employees. Finally. I have never understood how anyone in the medical profession (and that includes those working in long-term care and assisted living) can, ethically or morally, continue to care for patients/residents while unvaccinated. And, looking at it from a patient perspective, I don’t want an unvaccinated nurse/doctor/lab tech/whoever near me, even if I am vaccinated.

One source for the definition of “together.” Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo 2021.

WHAT HAPPENED TO KEEPING STUDENTS SAFE?

That brings me to education. I really struggle with preschool-high schools that are not requiring students and staff to wear face masks going into the new school year. I fail to understand that thinking. Our public health officials tell us that masking is one very basic, and easy, way to help stop the spread of COVID. My concern focuses primarily on those under age 12, who can’t yet be vaccinated. Schools owe it to children, like my 5-year-old granddaughter, to implement the strongest health and safety protocols possible. Teachers fought last year for the best protection for themselves, and rightly so. Protecting our kids is equally as important.

When I hear people say, “Well, just keep your child home or send them to school in a mask,” I cringe. Most parents want their kids in the classroom. And putting the burden of protecting himself/herself on a young child seems pretty selfish and childish behavior on the part of adults. Most kids prefer to “fit it” with their peers. A parent may send their child to school with the directive to “wear your mask.” But we all know that doesn’t mean they will, especially if masking is optional and their classmates are mask-less.

Where’s the compassion, the care, the willingness to provide access to education for all in a safe school environment? It’s best, from a health and safety perspective, to require (rather than recommend) face masks in schools for everyone.

So, yeah, I’m not seeing much togetherness during this global pandemic. I’m disheartened. I’m disappointed. And, yes, I’m even angry. I feel like, just as we were making progress in ending the pandemic, we are now back to START, farther than ever from the FINISH LINE. I’m beyond frustrated. (Just like Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.)

That all said, we can decide, right now, to work together. to mask up, to get vaccinated, to make choices that protect ourselves and each other. To end this pandemic sooner rather than later.

NOTE: I welcome readers’ comments. However, if you are anti-vaccine or anti-mask, I will not give voice to those viewpoints on this, my personal blog. As always, with any posts, I screen/moderate comments and determine which I will, or won’t, publish.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Kenyon: More than just a bus service October 23, 2020

Held Bus Service in downtown Kenyon, Minnesota.

MANY TIMES I’VE PASSED through Kenyon, usually en route to visit family in Madison, Wisconsin, four hours distant. But many times also, this town of some 1,800 about a half hour east of Faribault has been my specific destination. Last Sunday afternoon on a drive to view the harvest and fall colors (before an unexpected snowstorm changed the landscape to winter), Randy aimed our van north out of Monkey Valley toward Kenyon just a few miles away.

This window features a classroom of yesteryear.
A close-up of a focal globe in the classroom display.
More details from the past…

We had no intention of stopping in Kenyon. But the passenger side window needed cleaning so Randy pulled into a corner service station and washed the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.) Then we continued down Minnesota State Highway 60, which runs through the heart of the business district. As luck would have it, I happened to look, just at the right time, at the Held Bus Service building. And there, in the front windows, I spotted a school-themed display. Photo-worthy, I thought, as I asked Randy to swing around the block and return to the bus building. He even pulled ahead so the van wouldn’t reflect in the glass. (He’s thoughtful like that.)

Look at this bus-themed window display with the apparently handcrafted bus.

Photographing the window art proved challenging given the reflections. But I was determined to do my best. Someone worked hard to craft and create these educational-themed displays that show the importance of the Kenyon-Wanamingo School in this community—right down to the Knights mascot, the happy bus driver in the red cap and the smiling students. Yes, by that time I’d noticed two separate window displays, one an historic classroom and the other themed to school buses.

Love these portraits of students on the bus.
The school mascot even gets a place of honor.
More KW students riding the bus.

As someone who grew up riding the bus for 12 years to schools in southwestern Minnesota, I understand the importance of bus drivers. Mine were Jeff and Harley. Great guys. Friendly. Kind. Competent. It’s not easy driving on rural roads during a Minnesota winter. Nor is it necessarily easy dealing with a bus full of kids.

Presumably Jon Held behind the wheel of the bus.

But Jon Held, owner of Held Bus Service, loves kids. According to a 2016 KARE 11 TV feature on him, he is well-loved, too. He knows kids by name, greeting them daily before and after school (pre-COVID), often with hugs. He keeps a candy stash and one year even handed out his company’s signature red caps to some happy students.

The business is housed in an historic building which was damaged in an August 2016 fire. You can’t tell by looking at it now.

That’s a snapshot of the backstory framing these window displays. These are the stories that define small towns like Kenyon as caring communities, more than simply some place to pass through en route to somewhere else.

Please check back for more photos from Kenyon.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling