Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Kenyon: How a small town police chief connects via Facebook December 3, 2015

Kenyon's Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60.

Kenyon’s Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT 15 MILES TO THE EAST of Faribault lies the town of Kenyon. Other than roses planted along the boulevard of Minnesota State Highway 60, Kenyon appears your typical southern Minnesota farming community. Hardware store. VFW. Restaurants. Grocery store. Municipal swimming pool. Police station.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its annual August Rose Fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But look a little closer, online closer, and you discover that things operate a little differently in Kenyon. Specifically in the police department. Police Chief Lee Sjolander, according to a recent story in the Kenyon Leader, “highlights the positive, human side of law enforcement with Facebook.”

And that he does, so I confirmed after checking out the Kenyon (MN) Police Department Facebook page penned by the Chief. With introspective, encouraging and uplifting words, often mixed with humor, this policeman shows care and compassion for those in his community of around 1,800.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read the Chief’s thoughts on thankfulness, safe driving, the challenges of his job and more. Read his encouraging words to a commenter who feels like an outcast. Read how his department is helping those in need at its annual Garage of Goodness, a give-away event set for noon to 4:30 p.m. December 5.

View the photos and read the stories in the Chief’s “My hands, my story” series.

Laugh at the postings in his “Life with my teenage daughter” series.

Cats roam the farm and kids chase after them.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only (not photographed in Kenyon).

See how he cares for wandering dogs and cats in Kenyon.

His posts get hundreds of likes.

In a day when law enforcement officers are less and less appreciated, it’s refreshing to see the support given to the Kenyon Police Department, to read the words of a police chief who cares deeply and passionately for those he serves.

#

Check back on Friday to read another story that originates in Kenyon.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Join the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” movement November 21, 2013

TYPICALLY, I’M NOT ONE to jump on the bandwagon of a cause. If I have a strong opinion on a topic, I will express my viewpoint in a one-on-one conversation. That’s just me. But, occasionally, I will publicly voice my opinion here on a social issue.

This time that issue is retail stores opening on Thanksgiving Day and a new online grassroots effort to encourage people not to shop on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving the real deal logo

I wholeheartedly support my friend Beth Ann Chiles of Mason City, Iowa, and her co-organizer, Katybeth Jensen of Chicago, in their Facebook campaign, “Thanksgiving The Real Deal,” aimed at consumers, not retailers. Their premise is simple. If people don’t shop on Thanksgiving, retailers won’t feel pressured to be open.

Kind of the supply and demand premise. If there are no shoppers on Thanksgiving, there is no need for retail stores to begin Black Friday sales on Thursday.

Here’s a snippet of their thoughts:

Thanksgiving is about giving thanks, being grateful, and feeling content. It’s about timing dinner around football games, not store openings. It’s about arguing with family members over politics, not with strangers over a toaster. It’s about eating too much, not spending too much. It’s about dreading kissing Uncle Albert or Aunt Mabel, not dreading long check-out lines. It’s about acing someone out of the last piece of pie, not a parking spot. It’s about arguing with kids over dishes, not a trip to the mall. It’s about putting away left-overs, not shopping bags….

…Thanksgiving is the best deal in town; it’s priceless. Let’s work together to keep it that way by protecting it from retail fear and the bait of a bargain!

My brother and sister-in-law brought a stack of newspaper ads for us to peruse after dinner.

This photo shows Black Friday ads from a few years ago in a Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. This image is not indicative of businesses open on Thanksgiving Day and is used here for illustration purposes only. On the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” Facebook page, you will find a listing of retailers NOT open on Thanksgiving.

Now, choosing to endorse the “Thanksgiving The Real Deal” campaign was a no-brainer for me. I’ve never even shopped on Black Friday. I’ve heard, read and viewed the negative news stories about shoppers in pursuit of bargains. No, thank you. I’m not so driven to score a bargain that I would fight crowds or even arise early to shop on Black Friday.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family.

Thanksgiving Day dinner at my house with family. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And now that hysteria has edged into Thanksgiving Day, a holiday when we should be celebrating with family around the dining room table. I am very much a family-oriented person. I can’t imagine placing shopping before family or anyone wanting to work retail rather than gather with family or friends on Thanksgiving.

Some folks, like those with jobs in law enforcement, the medical field, firefighting and such, need to work, holiday or not. My second daughter, in fact, is on call on Thanksgiving Day as a Spanish medical interpreter. I won’t see her; she lives 300 miles away.

But if you are employed in retail, you shouldn’t have to work on Thanksgiving. These stores do not need to be open.

Like the organizers of “Thanksgiving The Real Deal,” I ask you to choose family instead of shopping. Show your public support for this cause on the campaign’s Facebook page (click here) and follow the suggestions to spread the word about this movement.

Focus, too, on giving thanks on Thanksgiving.

Stand strong against the societal pressures of consumerism. Choose not to shop on Thanksgiving.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Flat Ole wants my son to move to South Dakota April 14, 2011

ALMOST DAILY WHEN I pull open the mailbox, I reach inside to find another handful of letters for my son.

I dutifully toss them onto an end couch cushion, the one spot where he sits, with his laptop, and where he can’t miss his mail.

The stash of accumulating college information sent to my 17-year-old high school junior son.

Sometimes my high school junior opens the letters, but more often than not, he tosses them onto the middle couch cushion where they lie for a day or two or three before I scoop them up and jam them into a plastic shopping bag.

That bag bulges with letters and brochures from colleges across the country. Most arrive from the East Coast, including from some very prestigious colleges. But there are also letters from the West Coast and the in-between Midwest and down South.

I understand why my 17-year-old has stopped opening his mail, stopped reading the spiels about the best programs and students and campuses. After awhile, the pitches all begin to sound the same.

So what does it take for him to actually pause and open a piece of college mail?

For my computer geek teen, it’s all about grabbing his attention by presenting an eye-catching, out-of-the-ordinary, graphically well-designed mailing.

St. Olaf College in Northfield managed to attract the college-bound boy’s interest recently with a brochure that features little tabs to open. Who doesn’t like to see what’s hidden behind a closed door? An air of mystery sparks curiosity and…prompts us to investigate.

 

These five tabs each lift to reveal information about St. Olaf College in Northfield.

For each of five words—St. Olaf College Northfield Minnesota—the tabs lift to reveal a sentence. Behind the word door “St.,” for example, you’ll read this message: “You won’t literally find any saints here, but you will find students who ask big questions and take on big challenges.”

 

Under the word "Olaf," you'll learn that St. Olaf was founded by Norwegians.

And just in case the Minnesota winter may keep you from St. Olaf, think study abroad opportunities.

Honestly, this is, by far, my favorite college mailing that has arrived to date. So congratulations, St. Olaf marketing department, on some creative marketing that drew both my, and the teen’s, attention. Now, if you can show us some hefty scholarship money, we just may have a deal.

The second piece of noteworthy college literature didn’t exactly draw my eye initially. In fact, I almost threw Augustana College’s Go Viking magazine style publication into the recycling bin without a look. Its appearance suggested an alumni magazine rather than a college recruiting tool. But then, lucky for this Sioux Falls, South Dakota, college, I flipped through the pages and discovered—Flat Ole.

The folks at Augustana want potential students to cut out the picture of Flat Ole and take him on their travels. Photograph Flat Ole at famous landmarks, in exotic locales, in historic buildings, etc., and join his Facebook at facebook.com/flat.ole. This whole marketing gimmick, of course, plays off the Flat Stanley storybook character, with the Augie’s  irresistibly charming Viking mascot claiming to be Stanley’s Norwegian cousin.

 

You can clip Flat Ole out of the Go Viking magazine and take him on your travels. Or you can go to his website and download a Flat Ole cutout.

Except for that Flat Ole page, I didn’t read the rest of the magazine. So you judge whether Go Viking represents savvy college recruiting.

Finally, a third piece of college mail grabbed me primarily because of the word “geek,” which would certainly fit my computer brilliant teen. “Don’t be a geek out of water…dive into the G33KOSYSTEM.” I continued to read: “…at UAT, advancing technology will infuse every aspect of your education…the idea atmosphere developed by geeks for geeks…passionate about technology.”

 

Eye-catching words for any student who's in to technology.

And all the while I wondered, what is UAT? I flipped the brochure and read and reread, until I finally noticed the tiny logos in the corners with the miniscule writing, University of Advancing Technology. Still, that didn’t give me the location of the college. So, for that reason, even if this is a graphically-appealing mailing, I can’t give this brochure high marks. It’s important, really, really, really important, to make the college name pop.

 

Although the bright colors and graphic design grabbed my attention, I really had to look to find the name of the college on this UAT brochure.

By the way, my boy and I are not Norwegian. The fact that two “Ole” colleges scored well with me in the marketing area is pure coincidence.

HAVE YOU SEEN any college recruiting materials that stand out or fail in the marketing department? Why? Please share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling