Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

How you can help a Faribault family dealing with loss & cancer December 18, 2018

Nate and Jackie Howells and family of Faribault.

 

IT’S BAD ENOUGH when parents lose a young child. But to endure such a tragedy shortly before Christmas deepens the pain.

This is the reality for a Faribault couple whose almost 4-year-old son, Casimir, died on December 13. On his first birthday on December 27, 2015, Casi aspirated a small object and stopped breathing. According to a Facebook page entry, he lost consciousness and went into cardiac arrest. The object was removed surgically. He then suffered seizure-like convulsions and was placed on life support. About two months later, Casi left the hospital and has since needed 24/7 health care. Now he’s gone.

 

 

But there’s more. Nate and Jackie Howells’ 10-year-old son, Xavier (known as Iggy), is battling metastasized cancer (rhabdomyosarcoma) diagnosed a year ago. He’s undergone surgery and continues with chemo. He’ll likely need another eight months of treatment.

Nate quit his job teaching children with autism at Jefferson Elementary School in Faribault to better care for Iggy. The Howells have four other children.

As I consider all of that, I am overwhelmed by the immensity of the situation. How can one family possibly endure so much? Loss. Grief. Pain. Uncertainty. Worry. It’s a lot to handle.

 

Iggy’s soccer team wore these shirts honoring their goalie.

 

While none of us can remove the emotional pain the Howells feel, we can pray for, support, encourage, uplift, help and care for them. Nate’s friend and former co-worker Lisa (also my friend) has established a gofundme page, Iggy Strong. She’s set a $43,000 goal, meant to replace Nate’s lost paycheck and cover daily living (think gas, groceries, etc.) and other expenses. Thus far donors have contributed nearly $8,500.

The $43K is a lot of money to raise. But I know people, when they see a need, rise to meet it. I am grateful to Lisa for initiating this effort, for reaching out to others (including me) who in turn can share this need. If you can give, please do so by clicking here. You’ll also find more details on Iggy’s battle with cancer.

 

Iggy

 

There’s such sweetness in that freckled face. Such a signature boyish look that just makes me, as a mom, want to wrap my arms around Iggy. And his family.

 

Photos are courtesy of Lisa M. Bolt Simons, via the Howells family
© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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From Faribault: Lighting up the holidays with a Winterfest parade December 16, 2018

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Two weeks prior, city of Faribault snowplows were clearing eight inches of snow on the original date of the Parade of Lights. The rescheduled (due to the snowstorm) parade included the festive city snowplow.

 

WITH LIGHTS ALL AGLOW, from ground to sky, Faribault showcased its holiday spirit Friday evening during a festive Parade of Lights.

 

Across from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a crowd gathers outside Bernie’s Grill.

 

Warm temps hovering near 30 degrees brought out all ages to the second annual Winterfest. I was there, on the corner by third-generation family-owned Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, taking it all in.

 

Looking north on Central Avenue to the crowd waiting for the 5:30 p.m. fireworks and then the parade.

 

I sensed the anticipation as the crowd swelled, waiting for the fireworks followed by the parade.

 

 

Except for an inability to see only the highest fireworks over the tall buildings along Central Avenue, everything else went seemingly well.

 

Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer tops a Faribault police vehicle.

 

 

A Faribault fire truck.

 

The back of the fire truck is a colorful blur of lights as it moves down Central Avenue.

 

Another entry from the city of Faribault.

 

The murmur of conversation, the rock of familiar holiday tunes like Jingle Bells, the bobbing of Santa hats, the flash of holiday lights…all created a real sense of holiday joy. I felt it. I heard it. I saw it.

 

One of my favorite units: sheep and a “wool blanket” on a “bed” representing the iconic Faribault Woolen Mill.

 

There’s something about an event like this that makes us all pause and celebrate, as a community, the spirit of Christmas. Faribault needed this. I needed this.

 

No holiday parade is complete without Santa and Mrs. Claus, here on the Elks Lodge float.

 

Keeping everyone safe…

 

Loved the gingerbread house.

 

To Faribault Main Street and to all who participated in the parade—from the Boy Scouts to the firefighters to local businesses and many more—thank you. You gave us all a gift on Friday evening. You brought holiday joy to Central Avenue, to our Minnesota community.

 

After the parade, the crowd disperses.

 

Parade-goers absolutely embraced these 45 minutes of Winterfest, this opportunity to unite and celebrate the holiday season in Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.

 

Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. Neighbors.

Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.

 

Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.

 

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.

 

This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Faribault: #faribofrosty December 12, 2018

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BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME. The kids. The moms. The dads. The grandmas and grandpas. To see Faribault’s version of Frosty the Snowman.

 

 

Late Saturday afternoon, as day glided into the golden light of early evening, family after family pulled over at the corner of First Street Northwest and Third Avenue Northwest to take photos with a ginormous snowman created by the Hoisington family. It is their annual holiday gift to the community, a gift which brings lots of smiles and joy.

 

 

I witnessed that as kids and families posed for pictures with the towering snowman in the Hoisingtons’ front yard.

 

 

 

 

They came in their Paul Bunyan buffalo plaid and fur caps and hats, some with ear flappers, some not. They came in their boots and sneakers, their jeans, some ripped, some not. They came to see this towering snowman popular enough to now have his own hashtag, #faribofrosty.

 

 

I delighted in these families making memories on a cold December day in southern Minnesota.

 

 

Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of giving. Faribo Frosty embodies the spirit of joy. Faribo Frosty embodies a sense of togetherness, of family, of community.

 

 

For a moment or ten, a snowman focuses thoughts and vision and the world seems a magical and happy place.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“The Santa Diaries II” debuts in Faribault with humor & so much more December 11, 2018

From The Merlin Players Facebook page.

 

WHEN I ATTENDED The Merlin Players’ performance of The Santa Diaries four years ago at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I laughed. And I cried. Playwrights and performers brought a moving message coupled with comedy to the stage.

And now they’ve done it again in A Christmas Wedding—The Santa Diaries II. I attended Saturday evening, a day after the play debuted. Writers Laura Ambler and Mala Burt flew in from Maryland to watch as a talented cast—many of whom performed in the first Santa Diaries—took the stage.

The play focuses on a Hollywood couple returning to their hometown for their desired small town Christmas wedding. Except others have other ideas, including making the wedding a reality TV event. So the story evolves with humor aplenty, conflict and discerning what’s most important in life. Choose fame and fortune? Or love, happiness and contentment?

I realized part way into the play that I was smiling nearly non-stop. That says a lot for the writing and the performing. But when the script got serious, my thoughts turned introspective also. Like the characters in the play, we all have choices to make, especially this time of year. It’s easy to get caught up in finding the perfect gift, the material things that we think will make us, or our loved ones, happy. But really, it is the gift of time, of being with family and friends, that’s most important. I left the theater with that point reinforced.

I also left with awe at The Merlin Players’ performance, echoed by the playwrights with whom I chatted briefly. Laura Ambler praised the cast. I did, too, But I also praised her writing and that of co-writer Mala Burt. It takes a good, strong script to make a play successful as much as good, strong performers and production staff.

And there were many talented actors and actresses. Plus singers. Solos by Mandie Siems and Paige Pick held a quality of pureness. I could sense the raptness of the audience as the two sang.

I especially appreciated the ways in which the play became distinctly Minnesotan, even distinctly Faribault. Local radio personality Gordy Kosfeld voiced the radio announcer. Casseroles became hotdish, at least in one reference. Poinsettias set on stage came from Donahue’s Greenhouse, so said one of the performers. Details like that endear a performance to a local audience.

The playwrights also endeared themselves to me in their appreciation of Faribault, telling me how much they enjoyed the fresh snow and exploring my community. I loved hearing that. Locals don’t always appreciate Faribault’s historic setting and small town feel. This really is a special place.

And that includes the Paradise Center for the Arts. I am so grateful to have this arts center in the heart of our historic downtown with professional theater and so much more available locally.

FYI: Additional performances of A Christmas Wedding–The Santa Diaries II are set for 7:30 p.m. on December 13, 14, and 15 and at 2 p.m. December 16 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Winterfest, Take Two December 10, 2018

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page

 

Shattuck-St. Mary’s invites you to celebrate the holiday season December 7, 2018

An arch frames the entrance to the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School Upper Campus in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHEN SHATTUCK-ST. MARY’S SCHOOL opens its doors for an annual Campus Christmas Walk each December, you can bet I am typically there to take in the festivities. It’s an opportunity to get in the holiday spirit and to tour this historic college prep school that seems more old school East Coast than Midwest.

 

The decorated entry of Shumway Hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Set on Faribault’s east side, this school is known for its rigorous academics and its stellar hockey program. But I appreciate Shattuck also for its historic architecture. When decorated for the Christmas season, the setting is particularly stunning.

 

Skaters following a past holiday figure skating show. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Campus Christmas Walk activities, which are free, begin with a Holiday Figure Skating Show at noon on Saturday, December 8, in the J.P. Parise Arena. (Yes, that J.P. Parise, former NHL player and director of hockey/coach at Shattuck.) The skill of the young figure skaters always impresses. This year they will perform a “Chronicles of Narnia” theme.

 

Cookie decorating during a past Campus Christmas Walk. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Following that show, Walk guests can enjoy hot chocolate and cookies (decorate your own if you wish) and cookie ornament making in the Morgan Refectory from 1-3 p.m. Santa will be there at the same time in the Morgan Gallery. This is definitely a family-friendly event.

 

Shumway Hall on the Shattuck campus, decorated for the Campus Christmas Walk. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.

 

Horse-drawn sleigh rides are available from 1-3 p.m. outside Shumway Hall. That’s the hall with the signature clock tower.

Additionally, the school store is open from 1-2 p.m. and Beau Chant Choral rehearses in beautiful Newhall Auditorium at 2 p.m. Go ahead and listen.

 

Ornate stairway just outside the dining hall. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

If you’ve never been to this event on the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Upper School Campus, I’d encourage you to attend. Every time I step onto that campus, I feel like I’m in another place, in another time. And during the holiday season, this historic campus is even more enchanting.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling