Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Aunt Elaine May 16, 2018

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That’s Elaine in the middle, between two of my other aunts. I took this photo at the 2014 Kletscher Family Reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY CHRISTMAS I COULD COUNT on a handwritten letter from my Aunt Elaine updating me on the latest news in her ever-growing family. At last count, 47 great grandchildren. But those missives will come no more. My godmother died Monday afternoon at the age of 95.

Now I have only memories of the second oldest daughter of my grandparents, of the woman who outlived her husband, two children and seven siblings (two of them infants). She was strong. Tough. Stubborn. Determined. Whatever word you want to use, my aunt held her own in life. Her love of family, her faith and her get-up-and-go defined her. Elaine still lived in her own home and as most recently as several weeks ago delivered food to her sister-in-law after the passing of Elaine’s brother Harold.

I grew up in a close-knit extended family that gathered often to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We all lived near each other, either in Redwood or Yellow Medicine counties on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I especially liked going to Aunt Elaine and Uncle Glenn’s house because then I could see Joyce, a favorite cousin born months after me. I also loved their house, a big old farmhouse of fine craftsmanship on a farm with a creaking windmill.

 

Homemade dill pickles (similar to the ones Elaine made) sold at the September 2015 Faribault Farmers’ Market and published here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Beyond that, I selfishly couldn’t wait for the lunch Aunt Elaine would serve at the end of an evening of visiting. She made the best dill pickles. There was talk that well water made all the difference. Maybe. Maybe not. But I believe it was the hands that nurtured and picked those cucumbers and dill and then crafted them into dill pickles that made them legendary within our extended family.

 

 

Elaine was also known for her chocolate mayonnaise cake. I found the recipe (under her oldest daughter’s name) for that moist cake in the Peace Lutheran Centennial Cookbook, 1896 – 1996, Echo, Minnesota. Elaine served as a co-chair of the Cookbook Committee. I’m not surprised. She was always doing something for her church, community, family and others in general, including work as a practical nurse at the start of WW II. It’s part of our family legacy—this care and compassion and service.

 

Not the same cake Elaine made, but similar. Used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Days before her death, Elaine sampled that chocolate cake one last time after a granddaughter baked the cake and brought it, still warm, to her dying grandmother at the hospital. Elaine ate a few bites and then reminded her family of just how much she loved sweets. I love that story. I love that story because it makes me laugh. In laughter I am reminded that death, though it brings sadness, also brings laughter in the memories. I will always hold sweet memories of my dear aunt, my dear godmother. She was a strong woman of faith, loving her family, her community and the prairie place she called home. And now she has reached her final home: heaven. That, too, gives me joy in the presence of grief.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From small town Minnesota: Comfort on a day of mourning April 28, 2018

This banner hung in the sanctuary at my Uncle Harold’s funeral.

 

COMFORT IN SONG. Comfort in words. Comfort in family. Comfort in food. Comfort in a sense of community.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta, Minnesota.

 

I felt comforted as I gathered with extended family and my hometown community on Thursday to mourn, and remember, my beloved Uncle Harold.

 

Floral arrangements, plants and other memorials filled the front of the church. These flowers, with an oil can incorporated, were given by my siblings and our families. The oil can recognizes Harold’s previous occupation as the owner of Harold’s Service (a gas station and garage).

 

I felt blessed, too, to congregate here in a small town church overflowing with people. It is the songs, always the songs, that touch my emotions, that bring me to tears. I struggled to sing the words to “How Great Thou Art” as row upon row upon row of extended family, including me, joined the immediate family in walking in together, behind the casket, to fill St. John’s Lutheran Church.

 

Many family photos, including one of Harold and his wife, Marilyn, graced the table as did Harold’s (presumably favorite) cap.

 

I observed that the undertakers seemed surprised at the sheer volume of Kletscher relatives. We are a large lot and we come together in times of need. Only a few of my 30-plus cousins were missing. Family is important to us. Always has been. Always will be.

 

Vesta is a close-knit farming community of about 330 in Redwood County, Minnesota.

 

As I sat in a folding chair at the end of a pew, pressed to the wall, I felt the closeness of this family and community that I love. Our voices swelled, loud, to sing “Amazing Grace” and, later, “Go My Children, With My Blessing.” In those moments of song, I felt especially moved by the legacy of my forefathers who helped found this congregation. There’s something about singing traditional hymns of old that comforts me and connects me to those who went before me—on this day my uncle.

 

A snippet of the life summary Harold wrote for his family.

 

Harold left a gift for his family in the form of his life’s story scrawled onto four pages of notepad paper. The notes were found in the barn/shed behind his home after his death. I didn’t have time to completely read the life summary given the crowd and busyness of funeral day. But Harold’s youngest son has promised to send me the stories, which also mention my dad.

 

The display table showcased some of the honors Harold has garnered through the years for his service to church and to community.

 

The two brothers now lie buried near each other on a cemetery just north of Vesta. The city fire truck led the long processional from the church to the burial grounds as an honor to Harold, a volunteer fireman of 45 years. On the hilltop cemetery, we said our final goodbyes, our final prayers, as the wind whipped and the sun shone. Standing there, I felt a sense of comfort not only in the closeness of family but in a sense of place. This is my land. These are my people. Even though I left Vesta decades ago, this still feels most like home.

When the graveside ceremony ended, I lingered with family, my heart heavy, yet my heart free. I paused at my father’s gravestone, too, and remembered him—dead 15 years now.

Back at the church, the celebration—and I intentionally choose to call this a celebration—continued with a lunch of scalloped potatoes and ham, coleslaw, slices of bread, homemade dill pickles and cupcakes served with lemonade and coffee. No Funeral Hotdish #1 or Funeral Hotdish #2, as I refer to the Reception Committee hotdishes published in the St. John’s Anniversary Cookbook of 1985. I scooped only small servings of food onto my paper plate, cognizant of the crowd to feed, and not necessarily expecting Jesus to multiply the scalloped potatoes like the fishes and loaves.

 

Harold worked as the city of Vesta maintenance engineer for many years before retiring at age 70.

 

Food and conversation comforted me on this Thursday, Harold’s burial day. He would have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love—by the vehicles overflowing onto the county road beside the church, by the lines waiting to comfort his wife and children, by the raised voices singing, Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to Thee. How great Thou art, how great Thou art.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The faith of our fathers still flourishes in a long-time Faribault radio ministry April 26, 2018

A temporary display in the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church celebrates the radio and video ministry.

 

FROM MINNESOTA to Sweden to Saudi Arabia, people are listening to worship services from Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

 

 

That may not seem remarkable in this technological age. But the longevity of this Minnesota-based ministry—seventy years—and its basic beginnings are remarkable. In April 1948, a group of men founded the Trinity Radio Council with the goal of broadcasting services on KDHL radio in Faribault. Just three months after that station formed and weeks after the Council initially met, the first Trinity worship service aired at 8 a.m. on April 25, 1948.

 

The original coverage area for KDHL radio.

 

With promised payments of 35 cents per broadcast per Council member, this ministry into the southern regions of Minnesota, western Wisconsin and northern Iowa launched. Today those live radio broadcasts cost $175, but reach a much wider audience. And well beyond radio.

 

 

Worship services (at 8 a.m. Sundays and on other special church days) are also live-streamed, available for online viewing, aired on the local community cable channel and shared with care center residents.

 

The original microphone used in 1948.

 

 

 

The transmitter.

 

From a simple RCA microphone, a basic switchboard and a transmitter, broadcasting has advanced to high tech with multiple cameras, computers and more.

 

Art suspended in the sanctuary denotes radio waves and the focus of the radio ministry.

 

 

Yet, the purpose of sharing these worship services remains unchanged. And that is to bring Christ to the nations, to spread the good news of salvation. In a recent sermon, Trinity Senior Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva, referenced Romans 10:17 as he noted the Trinity Faribault Radio Club’s 70th anniversary: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

 

A view inside the studio and overlooking the sanctuary through the studio window.

 

Vintage radio room art, currently in the historical display case.

 

 

 

That word of God centers worship at Trinity. And that’s visible in the radio room angled into a corner of the sanctuary. Todd Voge, who today leads the radio and video ministry, gave me a quick tour. While Todd showed me the brains of the operation condensed on a computer screen, pointed out the transmitter and more, I noticed two bibles sandwiched between a telephone directory, song books and devotionals. In a cramped room filled with all sorts of high tech stuff, the printed bible still holds a place of importance.

 

 

This ministry remains important to Trinity with generations of families involved and committed to its continuance. Within my family, my husband once a month takes a DVD of the morning’s worship service to a local care center and shows it to residents. And when my son was in high school, he volunteered in the radio room. While I’m not a volunteer—the computer aspect is enough to scare me—I’ve occasionally listened to worship services on KDHL when I couldn’t make it to church.

 

Original meeting minutes are currently displayed in the narthex history case.

 

I am grateful to the original Trinity Radio Council members for having the foresight and the faith to start this ministry. They saw the potential in radio, in a ministry which has endured for 70 years. And expanded well beyond what they ever imagined.

 

An overview of the historical display.

 

FYI: To learn more about the Trinity Faribault Radio Club and/or to listen to/watch worship services, click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Uncle Harold April 24, 2018

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Harold Kletscher

MY UNCLE HAROLD died on Saturday. Unexpectedly. He was eighty-four. Even though he lived a long life, the length of years never seems enough for loved ones. The loss is no less difficult.

Harold, like two other uncles, lived within a mile of the farm place where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota. He was just always around. At church on Sunday mornings. Visiting the farm. But most often, working at the gas station he owned and operated along Minnesota State Highway 19 in Vesta. The business long ago closed.

In January 2014, I interviewed my uncle and wrote about his memories and my memories of Harold’s Service. I am thankful I took the time to listen to my uncle’s stories of doing business in a community of some 350. These businesses, once the backbone of small town economies, are dwindling. It’s important that we document the stories of these entrepreneurs as much for historical reference as for examples of determination, hard work and service. Today I direct you to that post (click here), as I think of my beloved uncle—husband, father, grandfather, businessman, city employee, church janitor, small town city councilman, volunteer and man of faith.

I am fortunate to come from a large extended family of many aunts, uncles and cousins. Nearly all lived within close geographical proximity back in my growing up years in Redwood County, Minnesota. We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together. These days, with my generation of cousins and our families now spread well beyond the prairie, we see each other only once a year at the annual Kletscher Family Reunion. Or at funerals.

There is comfort in memories and in the closeness of extended family. We have a legacy of faith passed from our great grandparents. They were among founding members of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. Funerals for my grandparents, father, and other uncles were held there. This week we gather again at St. John’s, to remember Uncle Harold. Loved by many. And now in his eternal home.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting with comfort via greeting card verses April 17, 2018

Each of these boxed card collections from Warner Press includes a greeting card verse that I wrote. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS, I’ve walked into a Minnesota church basement or fellowship hall and noticed boxed greeting cards from Warner Press for sale. I write greeting card verses for that Indiana based Christian company and have done so for many years.

Typically, a half dozen or fewer of my submitted verses are selected for publication annually. It’s not a lot, but still an opportunity to challenge myself. Writing greeting card verses is difficult because you need to come up with something creative and new, something that hasn’t been published a million times already in a card. And you need to deliver those words in a succinct message.

 

My verses are published in these four recently-released cards, included in the Warner Press boxed card collections. Two are in the “Get Well, Comfort in God’s Care” collection, one in the “All Occasion, Peaceful Pastures” and the fourth in “Confirmed in Christ.” Because the verses are copyrighted, I can’t show you what I wrote.

 

I’ve found that I am most gifted at penning verses which encourage people, whether they are facing health issues, the loss of a loved one and/or other challenges.

I expect that ability to offer hope is rooted in my own experiences. When you’ve dealt with health issues—for me debilitating osteoarthritis followed by total hip replacement at a fairly young (50) age, three months of battling whooping cough, healing from a broken shoulder and more—you can empathize. And empathy translates into words of comfort and hope.

Likewise, I’ve lost enough loved ones and friends to pull sympathetic thoughts from the grief of my heart to offer comfort and hope.

 

One of the things I most appreciate about Warner Press is the company’s recognition of the writer and designer with their names listed on the back of each greeting card.

 

Comfort and hope. Those are powerful words. I hold the ability to offer healing to others through the ministry of greeting cards. More than ever today, we are a nation, a people, in need of healing. We each have the power within us to show empathy and care to others whether through our actions, written words, spoken words, prayer and, yes, even silence. Sometimes it’s better to remain quiet and to just listen, love and support.

In this day and age of instant communication, printed greeting cards still hold value. They connect us on a level that a screen can’t. When you give a card, you take the time to pause, to pick up a pen, to sign your name and perhaps add a personal note. For the person on the receiving end, that’s a gift—tangible evidence that you care. And that can make all the difference to someone in need of comfort and hope.

 

TELL ME: Do you see value in printed greeting cards? Do you still give and receive them?

Disclaimer: I am paid for the greeting card verses I write for Warner Press.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Easter joy in a song April 1, 2018

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THE WORDS IN THIS HYMN are my most cherished of Easter songs. For these verses I sang as a child each Easter in the balcony of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota.

Dressed in a new cotton Easter dress, feet strapped into shiny patent leather shoes, a hat streaming ribbons down my back, I sang with enthusiasm. I know that my Redeemer lives! Loud. Joyous. From the soul.

The imprint of this hymn remains with me decades later, far removed from the church of my youth. I can still sing the words from memory. I can still feel the stiff cotton of my new dress, hear the organ music rising and falling, smell the lingering scent of cows on myself and classmates, taste the sweetness of Easter candy upon my tongue, see the temporary Easter tattoos pressed upon my arm.

In this rural church, gathered with other farm families, I celebrated Easter. Today, decades later, in Trinity Lutheran Church 120 miles to the east, I know (still) that my Redeemer lives!

TO MY DEAR READERS, may you celebrate a joyous and blessed Easter!

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A mother’s sorrow March 30, 2018

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Mary holds Jesus. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

THROUGH THE YEARS, I’ve photographed many churches. And many works of art within those sanctuaries. Today it seems fitting that I share this image taken nearly a year ago inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

I see in this sculpture the profound grief of Jesus’ mother, Mary. I see it in her eyes, in every essence of her sorrowful face. I doubt there is any pain deeper than that of a parent losing a child.

In the darkness of Good Friday, I anticipate the light of Easter morning.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling