Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

New date for Valley Grove’s Donut Hole Roast January 6, 2022

The gated entry to Valley Grove, rural Nerstrand. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

HERE WE GO AGAIN. Due to extreme cold temps, the first-ever Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast at an historic Minnesota country church grounds has been rescheduled for the second time.

The event at Valley Grove churches is, as of today (Thursday), slated for 2 – 4 pm Saturday, January 8. Weather forecasters predict a temp of around 30 degrees, much warmer than our recent weather. Saturday will also be warmer than the predicted three degrees on Sunday, the first rescheduled date.

If you attend the Saturday gathering in the parking lot of this rural Nerstrand hilltop setting, dress warm. Even 30 degrees can feel cold if the slightest wind blows and you’re not dressed properly. That includes wearing warm winter boots. Organizers also encourage guests to bring blankets, chairs and hot beverages. If you have snowshoes and want to walk the prairie, bring that footwear.

Whether you attend the bonfire and roast or not, I encourage you to visit the Valley Grove website to learn more about these Norwegian churches on the National Register of Historic Places. Valley Grove rates as one of my favorite area rural destinations. It’s a peaceful, quiet and beautiful place with a strong sense of history and heritage.

On bitterly cold January days like today I respect the hardiness of those early Norwegian settlers who endured much to make a new home in America, in rural Rice County. This morning when I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk, I three times returned to the house to warm myself. Even wearing long johns under jeans, a heavy parka over my clothes, boots, a hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around my neck and face, my fingers and toes began to numb. That’s a warning sign that, if ignored, could lead to frostbite.

So here I am, inside my cozy office, fleece throw tossed across my lap, thankful for the warmth of the overworked furnace. Thankful to have finished that shoveling in, according to the local radio station, a wind chill temp of -31 degrees. No wonder I felt cold.

When the Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast happens on Saturday, the temp will feel some 60 degrees warmer.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Cruisin’ around Faribault area lakes, this evening June 19, 2020

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From a past car cruise on Central Avenue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


BACK IN THE 50s AND 60s, teens idled away time cruisin’ Main Streets. It was a thing then, when life was simpler, much less complicated. No COVID-19 to consider.

Fast forward decades later and cruisin’ is still a thing. Except it’s organized. And the drivers are mostly older and hold a deep appreciation for vehicles of the past, perhaps reliving the days of their youth.


Lovely old buildings in the 300 block of Central Avenue provided the backdrop for a past Faribault Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Tonight my southeastern Minnesota community hosts its monthly summertime Faribault Car Cruise Night. Participants will meet at the Faribault Middle School at 6 pm for a cruise which will take them around area lakes and then back to Faribault along Minnesota State Highway 60 and south down Central Avenue.


Cruise participants await the start of the cruise in the Buckham Memorial Library parking lot in May. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.


This car cruise, typically a stationery event on Central Avenue where vehicles park and folks mingle, transitioned to an actual on-the-road event in May. That was due to COVID-19. The change proved a hit and drew a high number of participants, including motorcyclists. Even more, maybe double, are expected at this evening’s cruise. I hope organizers have social-distancing plans in place. I didn’t observe those at the May cruise.

Randy and I plan to watch the cruise, although we haven’t yet selected a place that will be aesthetically pleasing and uncrowded. Yes, even outdoors we are cautious about reducing our COVID-19 exposure risk.

To view the June 18 Faribault Car Cruise Night route, click here.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota Faces: Historical reenactors “Katie” and “Jim” plus more October 2, 2015

Portrait #42  : Siblings Kaylee and William


Portrait 42, Night at the Museum actors


Back in the day when I studied history, it was dull and boring and printed mostly as straight factual information in books. Dates and events and important people. Page after page after page with the occasional illustration or photo to break up the blocks of copy. Since I’m good at memorizing, I passed history classes with ease, but not with interest.

I haven’t cracked a history textbook in decades. But I presume they are a bit more interesting, perhaps in a storytelling, personalized way.

Today, thankfully, living history conveys the past in a personal and relatable way that a textbook never will. When I met siblings Kaylee and William last September, they were role-playing pioneer children during the Rice County Historical Society’s second annual “A Night at the Museum.

Lots of kids were running around the grounds in period attire or attending class inside the historic Pleasant Valley School. I was learning, too, as I wandered the museum grounds and observed reenactors portraying historical characters. I suspect I’m like most people who find this much more educational and entertaining than simply peering at historical items on display inside museum walls. Not that that doesn’t have value, too. It certainly does. I just prefer living history and am grateful our local historical society started this annual “A Night at the Museum.”

From 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. this Saturday, October 3, attendees can interact with costumed characters from Rice County’s past on the museum grounds at 1814 Northwest Second Avenue in Faribault, right next to the fairgrounds. New this year is a Flashlight Tour of Harvest and Heritage Halls at 6 p.m. There will also be horse-drawn wagon rides and food available around the fire pit. Click here for more information.

Maybe you’ll spot Kaylee and William there, pretending to be Katie and Jim.


Participants in last year's Chili Contest dish up chili at a business along Central Avenue during the Fall Festival.

Attendees sample chili at a business along Central Avenue during the 2011 Fall Festival. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IF YOU WANT TO MAKE a full day of it in Faribault, arrive earlier for the annual downtown Fall Festival and Oktoberfest. Most events begin at noon. However, starting at 9:30, until noon, local artists will gather outside the Paradise Center for the Arts to create en plein air.

At noon there’s a kiddie parade and a Chili Contest with businesses and others offering chili samples (for a fee) until 2 p.m. From 12:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m., those interested can take the Spooky Basement Tour, a free event at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The PCA is also holding a costume sale.  Kids can go trick-or-treating downtown from 1 – 3 p.m. Games for kids, pumpkin painting and a unicycle show are also among fest activities.

New to the downtown festival this year is Oktoberfest, celebrated from noon to 11 p.m. at Faribault’s new brewery, F-Town Brewing Company, just off Central Avenue. The event features food trucks, yard games, live music and, of course, beer.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling