Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The “real” Fergus Falls as viewed by a Minnesotan December 28, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A view of downtown Fergus Falls, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

IF YOU LIVE IN MINNESOTA, New York or Germany, you are likely familiar with the case of a now-fired Der Spiegel journalist who visited Fergus Falls and fabricated a magazine story about this west central Minnesota community and its people. If there’s one thing we Minnesotans don’t like, it’s lies about who we are. How this writer thought he could pen such a piece of fiction and get away with it is beyond my comprehension.

 

The iconic Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, click here to read a post on Bob Collins’ NewsCut blog at Minnesota Public Radio. He offers a good summary. Fergus Falls folks set the record straight with their own investigation of Claas Relotius’ claims in a particularly humorous piece. It’s worth your read.

 

Visitors to the Kaddatz Galleries in downtown Fergus Falls peruse the art of Charles Beck. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve been to Fergus Falls. Several times. And I’ve found it to be an artsy community with a lovely downtown and equally lovely people.

 

The most unusual place my poetry has been published, on billboards as part of the Roadside Poetry Project in Fergus Falls. This is the last of four billboards featuring my poem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

Heck, I even had a poem posted on billboards there back in 2011 as part of the (now-defunct) Roadside Poetry Project.

 

The iconic The Viking Cafe with its vintage booths and lunch counter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I visited several places that endear Fergus Falls to me—The Viking Cafe, Dairyland Drive In, Kaddatz Galleries, Otto the Otter statue and top of my list, Victor Lundeen & Company. Then third-generation print shop owner Paul Lundeen gave me a personal tour of his second floor print shop, showing me lots of vintage art and type. You can bet I was an appreciative visitor given my interest in all things print.

 

Victor Lundeen & Co. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This is the Fergus Falls I saw. Not some backward, gun-toting community of hicks, as portrayed by the German magazine writer.

 

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Take a look at my blog posts for my view of Fergus Falls. It’s nothing like Relotius’ fabricated version. And that’s a good thing.

 

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/30/a-photographic-tour-of-downtown-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/06/13/dairyland-an-old-fashioned-drive-in-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/23/touring-a-third-generation-family-print-shop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2013/05/22/up-on-the-rooftop-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/17/off-i-94-artsy-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/12/prairie-poetry-in-fergus-falls/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/18/my-visit-with-otto-the-otter/

https://mnprairieroots.com/2011/06/15/lunch-at-the-viking-cafe/

 

TELL ME: Are you familiar with this story and how would you react if a foreign writer negatively fictionalized your community? Have you been to Fergus Falls? If yes, what’s your perspective of this Minnesota community?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Plans underway to repurpose an historic treatment center in Fergus Falls June 19, 2013

Daylight was fading as I snapped this photo of the anchor building on the former Fergus Falls State Hospital campus.

Daylight was fading as I snapped this photo of the anchor building on the former Fergus Falls State Hospital/Regional Treatment Center campus in mid May.

FROM THE EXTERIOR, the sprawling former Fergus Falls State Hospital/Regional Treatment Center presents an impressive and serene presence.

The historic buildings feature some incredible architecture.

The historic buildings feature some incredible architecture.

That marked my initial reaction upon viewing the towering, turreted and massive buildings on this west central Minnesota campus in mid May.

But I expect that the historical use of this place would tell a different story. In 1885, the State of Minnesota commissioned this as the Third State Asylum for the Mentally Ill. The word “asylum,” for me, evokes negativity. Eventually, the complex would also be home to those with developmental disabilities, chemical dependency issues and psychiatric illnesses.

One can only imagine the personal struggles and challenges faced within these walls. In those early days, I imagine treatment was not always the best or the most informed. I do not know this specific to the Fergus Falls center, only from my general knowledge of such large-scale public facilities of decades past.

Eventually, those who lived here were moved into smaller community-based facilities.

Wings connect to the main building.

Wings connect to the main building. These buildings are labeled as Kirkbride buildings after Pennsylvania psychiatrist Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride who believed in the role of environment in promoting healing among mentally ill individuals.

Today the City of Fergus Falls still owns most of this campus, purchased in 2007. And just last week, according to draft city council minutes published on the city’s website, the Fergus Falls City Council passed a resolution “authorizing the city to enter into a Letter of Intent with Historic Kirkbride LLC as a developer for the Regional Treatment Center, subject to financial disclosure…”  Historic Kirkbride’s estimated $41 million proposal calls for a 120-room first class hotel, several restaurants and 60 market rate apartments.

The planned development is expected to bring temporary construction jobs and an estimated 190 full and part-time positions to Fergus Falls.

Even the individual brick buildings impress.

Even the individual brick buildings impress.

The Kirkbride proposal seems an ambitious undertaking, but one worthy of this beautiful complex of architecturally pleasing buildings and an equally pleasing natural environment. Principals of the Kirkbride team bring experience to the Fergus Falls project with more than two dozen historic renovation projects completed over 33 years, according to presenter Ray Wiley of Georgia-based Historic Properties Inc.

Of course, as in all such projects involving historic buildings and lots of money and government entities and private investors, this isn’t a done deal. If all progresses as planned, though, the 120-room hotel, restaurants, apartments and more are projected to open in December 2015.

From the exterior, I can envision these detailed brick buildings as dorm rooms or housing for a retreat center or even as apartment units.

The complex includes a cluster of two-story brick buildings.

I expect plenty of skepticism exists over whether the planned project presents the best use of the property, will succeed, or will even get off the ground.

The Kirkbride proposal was one of two presented to the council last week. The other, from Twin Cities-based Colonade Design Group, proposed a wellness center serving those dealing with diabetes and obesity (and included a food and nutrition program); a hotel for participants; artisan flats and studios; services for returning veterans; condos; event space; greenhouses; and more.

Click here to read details of the two proposals, public input and more from the June 12 special city council meeting.

Based on my two visits to Fergus Falls in recent years, the Historic Kirkbride project certainly has the potential to succeed. For one, this Otter Tail County seat city sits along Interstate 94, an ideal location to catch travelers in need of a respite. It’s the last sizable town westbound motorists pass before reaching Fargo an hour away. That, though, is not enough.

The community possesses an artsy vibe with galleries and a theatre and historic buildings and arts events in a charming downtown that hugs the Otter Tail River. It’s a college town with Minnesota State Community and Technical College and is also a regional center of commerce and of healthcare.

Developers will need to market those strengths, the historical aspect of the former treatment center, and the natural scenic beauty of this lake region. That’s a given.

Future guests will need to envision Kirkbride’s hotel as a get-away because, otherwise, this will be just one more hotel (albeit an historic one classified as “first class”) in one more town along the interstate.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on Historic Kirkbride’s plans for the former Fergus Falls State Hospital/Regional Treatment Center? Can something like this succeed in Fergus Falls?

The sun sets on this beautiful campus of trees and open space.

The sun sets on this beautiful campus.

FYI: The Fergus Falls complex is open for free public tours on Friday afternoons during the summer. Reservations are required. Phone Maxine and Gene Schmidt at (218) 736-5328. I was, unfortunately, not in Fergus Falls on a Friday afternoon and unaware then of the tours offered.

Click here to read Colliers International listing of the property.

Then click here to read information on the Minnesota Historical Society website.

And click here to find even more info.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Dairyland, an old-fashioned drive-in in Fergus Falls June 13, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:12 AM
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I’VE SEEN THIS PLACE BEFORE. I just know I have. On my vintage Candy Land board game. Or in a fairy tale perhaps.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955.

The seasonal Dairyland Drive In opened in 1955. Although I did not ask, I believe the area to the left is the original drive-in, now used for storage and patio dining.

But I haven’t really. Not until this glorious spring evening have I laid eyes on the Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls. Now, here I am, photographing this longtime fast food place in the photographer’s golden hour, thrilling in the pop of red against pink-tinged sky, the flash of headlights signaling the end of a Thursday in this west central Minnesota community.

As close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer's regrets...

This is as close as I got to going inside the drive in. I should have gone inside anyway, just to photograph the interior. Photographer’s regrets…

If I had even a smidgen of space in my tummy for an ice cream treat, I’d be waiting in line at Dairyland for a hot fudge sundae. But my husband and I have just finished a filling meal of sandwiches and fries at Mabel Murphy’s, across Interstate 94, before touring the town. We are not one bit hungry. Too bad.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

A vintage menu is propped outside the restaurant.

So on this visit to Fergus Falls, I must content myself with photographing that sweet gingerbread style building which houses Dairyland, established here in 1955 and now in its 58th year of business.

Pat Connelly

Pat Connelly

Soon co-owner Pat Connelly notices me and walks across the street. He first worked at Dairyland at age fourteen, when he started with slicing onions. He and his wife, Jean, bought the place in 1997 from his brother, Chuck, who bought the business in 1982 from Bert Skogmo.

Up until 2001, Dairyland still had car hops. Now it’s drive-through or dining inside or on the patio.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

Just another view of Dairyland, with the parking lot to the right.

The eatery is still known for its homemade onion rings and for broasted chicken, Pat tells me.

Sandwiches are named after locals and those who worked here. Like the K.C. Ham & Cheese after Kelly Chandler. Or the Borstad Burger.

Pat seems especially proud of all the local teens he’s employed—500-plus through the years. When an elementary-aged girl walks by Dairyland, he greets her, tells me she will be coming with Mrs. Johnson’s class on an end-of-the-year class outing for treats. That’s tradition for most Fergus Falls students.

I can’t help but wonder at the memories they’ll cherish of Dairyland… and pass along someday to the next generation.

HAVE YOU EATEN at Dairyland Drive In in Fergus Falls? If so, let’s hear your thoughts. If not, tell us about a similar old-fashioned drive-in you’d recommend. Note that my husband and I were in Fergus Falls in mid May, when these photos were taken and I met Pat Connelly.

© Copyright 2103 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photographic tour of downtown Fergus Falls May 30, 2013

A snippet of Fergus Falls' downtown.

A snippet of Fergus Falls’ historic and pedestrian friendly downtown.

I SINCERELY HOPE the fine people of Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota appreciate their historic downtown. It’s a gem.

A stroll through the downtown business district on a recent Thursday evening left me gaping at the detailed architecture, words imprinted in granite, sculpted eagles and sculpted otters, stately brick buildings, a lovely old theatre, quaint signage and art, yes, art.

This Otter Tail riverside community of nearly 14,000 along Interstate 94 an hour southeast of Fargo impresses me. Join me on a photographic tour and I expect you will feel likewise.

The Kaddatz Galleries features the work of noted Fergus Falls artist Charles Beck, known for his woodcut prints.

Kaddatz Galleries features, among other art, the work of noted Fergus Falls artist Charles Beck, known for his woodcut prints.

Examples of Charles Beck's woodcut prints in the Kaddatz Galleries.

Examples of Charles Beck’s woodcut prints in the Kaddatz Galleries.

Words chiseled in granite on the front of a building. I would love to know the story behind this.

Words chiseled in granite…I would love to know the story behind this. The inscriptions cover the bottom front of the building.

A Mexican restaurant adds a jolt of color to the downtown.

A Mexican restaurant adds a jolt of color to the downtown.

When I inquired at Kaddatz Galleries about the identity of this street corner statue, I didn't get an answer.

When I inquired at Kaddatz Galleries about the identity of this street corner statue, I didn’t get an answer. The gracious gallery tender says plans are in place to identify public art. Good idea.

I spotted The Fergus Falls Daily Journal tucked into a door handle downtown.

I spotted The Fergus Falls Daily Journal tucked into a door handle downtown.

Another stately corner building.

Another stately corner building.

I stared for awhile at this sculpture atop the historic River Inn before realizing these are otters. The inn sits along the banks of the Otter Tail River.

I stared for a while at this sculpture atop the historic River Inn before realizing these are otters. The inn sits along the Otter Tail River. I believe this building today houses only apartments and does not operate as an inn.

A downtown barbershop complete with a barber's pole charms visitors like me.

The Uptown Barber Shop, complete with a barber’s pole, charms visitors like me.

This hulking federal building houses courtrooms and the post office.

This hulking federal building houses courtrooms and the post office.

Stunning eagle sculptures span the entries into the federal building.

Stunning eagle sculptures span the front entries into the federal building.

Audience members filter into an historic theatre for a play presented at a Center for the Arts.

Audience members filter into an historic theatre for a play presented at A Center for the Arts.

Just another shot of businesses in downtown Fergus Falls.

Just another shot of businesses in downtown Fergus Falls.

FYI: To view previous posts from Fergus Falls, use my blog search engine to check my archives. I posted last week and during the week of June 12-18, 2011, on my first visit to Fergus Falls.  Also, watch for more posts from this community.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring a third-generation family print shop in Fergus Falls May 23, 2013

The Victor Lundeen Company, located in the 100 block of West Lincoln Avenue, downtown Fergus Falls.

The Victor Lundeen Company, located in the 100 block of West Lincoln Avenue, downtown Fergus Falls.

ON A RECENT IMPROMPTU TOUR of a third-generation family-owned print shop in Fergus Falls, I couldn’t contain my giddiness over drawers of aged logos/artwork, handcrafted stamps, stacks of paper, even the vintage cabinets and stools and carts.

I was just giddy over all this handcrafted vintage art tucked into drawers.

I was just giddy over all this handcrafted vintage art tucked into drawers.

The 99-year-old Victor Lundeen Company is the type of place that appeals to a writer like me, with ink flowing through my veins.

The 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, still used in the second floor print shop.

The 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, still used in the second floor print shop.

Ah, the ink. The smell of ink. I just stood there beside owner Paul Lundeen’s vintage 1960s Heidelberg offset presses, breathing in the distinct scent of ink imprinted upon my memory.

Cans of ink line shelves.

Cans of ink line shelves.

Decades ago, working at The Gaylord Hub as a young newspaper reporter and photographer fresh out of college, I first smelled that ink, heard the clack-clack-clack of ancient machines printing auction bills. I watched Frank “Chick” Deis set type on the old letterpress.

While digging through all that vintage art, we found this City of Fergus Falls Centennial Seal of an otter. The city is located  in Otter Tail County.

While digging through all that vintage art, we found this City of Fergus Falls Centennial Seal of an otter. The city is located in Otter Tail County. The Lundeens recently sold all but one letterpress.

Such memories endear me to places like Victor Lundeen Company, started in 1914 by Victor Lundeen, Sr., who bought out a Fargo print shop and moved the equipment to his hometown of Fergus Falls. Today the company is owned by Victor Lundeen, Jr., and his son, Paul Lundeen.

A portion of the print shop looking toward the bank of street-side windows.

A portion of the print shop looking toward the bank of street-side windows.

I find it especially impressive, in this advanced technological age, that printing businesses like the Lundeen Company can survive, even seemingly thrive. This Fergus Falls firm has apparently found its niche in focusing on agri-business needs primarily in Minnesota, the Dakotas and Montana, but also extending to grain elevator businesses nationwide.

That said, this family-owned print shop, which employs eight in production (30 total in all aspects of the company), also values the individual walk-in customer. Paul didn’t specifically tell me that during our tour. Rather, I surmised that when, for example, I noticed the corner area where employees engrave gold foil names onto bibles for Confirmation gifts. Just like my King James bible imprinted with my name and given to me by my parents on my Confirmation Day in 1970.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

And then there’s Paul himself, who welcomed my husband and me on a Thursday evening like we were long-time friends rather than out-of-towners checking out his store and other downtown businesses during an overnight stay in Fergus Falls. I mean, what businessman shows you the original safe of the former First National Bank of Fergus Falls shortly after meeting you? Paul did just that.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company on the first floor. Gifts and office supplies are also sold here.

The independent bookstore portion of Victor Lundeen Company on the first floor. Gifts and office supplies are also sold here. I even asked if the store carries Lake Region Review, a regional anthology in which I’ve been published. It does.

His office supply/bookstore/gift shop/printing business occupies two connected buildings, one of them the old bank, in the heart of this historic downtown.

History in the signage.

History in the signage.

Such hospitality reaffirms my belief that chain stores have nothing on businesses like Victor Lundeen Company, which clearly values the importance of outstanding customer service and friendliness.

You can bet, thanks to Paul Lundeen and to Pat Connelly, whom I met later that evening at Dairyland Drive In (that’s a forthcoming post), I left Fergus Falls the next morning with the warmest of feelings for this west central Minnesota community.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Paper packed near the presses.

Paper stacked near the presses.

A vintage stool caught my eye.

A vintage stool, between counters, caught my eye.

My husband noticed the wheels on a cart, made at the former Nutting Company in our community of Faribault.

My husband noticed the wheels on a cart made at the former Nutting Company in our community of Faribault.

I aimed my camera down to shoot this lovely old cabinet.

I aimed my camera down to shoot this lovely old cabinet.

The art of well-known Fergus Falls resident Charles Beck, noted for his woodcut prints, featured in two books printed by Victor Lundeen Company. The books are sold in the bookstore. Across the street, you can view Beck's art at the Kaddatz Galleries.

The art of well-known Fergus Falls resident Charles Beck, noted for his woodcut prints, featured in two books printed by Victor Lundeen Company. The books are sold in the bookstore. Across the street, you can view Beck’s art at the Kaddatz Galleries.

TO VIEW PREVIOUS posts from Fergus Falls, see yesterday’s post and check my mid-June 2011 archives. Watch for more stories from this delightful community.

© Copyright 2103 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up on the rooftop…in Fergus Falls May 22, 2013

I AM CONTINUALLY AMAZED by the access I am granted to interesting places because of my DSLR Canon camera, innate curiosity and friendliness.

A street level view of Victor Lundeen Company, left, and the Fergus Theatre on the right.

A street level view of Victor Lundeen Company, left, and A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls on the right.

Most recently I was invited onto the rooftop of Victor Lundeen Company and A Center for the Arts in Fergus Falls for a bird’s eye view of historic downtown Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota.

Can you believe I hesitated? I am afraid of heights and wasn’t sure I could handle being several stories above street level, separated from the roof’s edge by a facade or nothing at all.

Atop the roof and looking toward the door into the Lundeen Company.

Atop the roof and looking toward the door into the Lundeen Company.

So I leveled with Paul Lundeen before exiting a door onto the roof of his business. If I couldn’t tolerate the height, I’d turn around.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

Tour guide Paul Lundeen inside his print shop.

As we moved toward the front of the building, Paul advised me to watch the guide wires, not wanting me to trip and plummet over the edge onto the brick sidewalk below.

On the left, a low wall separates the printing business rooftop from the theatre roof.

On the left, a low wall separates the printing business rooftop, right, from the arts center roof.

Stepping over the rooftop boundary between his printing company and the next-door arts center, my worries eased. A portion of the old theatre facade rose high enough for me to feel comfortable leaning against it and angling my camera down toward the buildings and street below.

Positioned safely behind a high part in the theatre facade, forefront, I shot sections of the business district.

Positioned safely behind the theatre facade, forefront, I shot sections of the business district.

The rooftop is a perfect place to watch parades, Lundeen said.

Looking the other direction into Fergus Falls' historic downtown.

Looking the other direction into Fergus Falls’ historic downtown.

A slightly different view from the roof.

A slightly different view from the roof.

And it would have been better for photos had I been willing to move away from the theatre facade. But I just could not push myself that far. I managed several shots before retreating.

The block of downtown Fergus Falls in which Victor Lundeen Company and Fergus Theatre are located.

The block of downtown Fergus Falls in which Victor Lundeen Company and the arts center are located.

Lundeen offered the rooftop access after a tour of his print shop, an invitation extended when my husband and I walked into his bookstore/gift/office supply/commercial printing business on a recent Thursday evening. We were staying overnight in Fergus Falls en route to Fargo.

As is usual with me, my camera was slung around my neck, my notebook tucked inside my purse. Paul greeted us and we started chatting and one thing led to another, all the way up to the rooftop.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts from Fergus Falls, including a tour of Paul’s three-generation family print shop, images of downtown buildings and lots more. This community should own the motto: “Friendly Fergus Falls.”

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thanksgiving Eve goodness November 22, 2012

FIFTY MILES FROM FARGO, he called his dad. His words were garbled, cutting in and out.

So he hung up, dialed my cell. “Give me Dad,” he snarled.

I waited, listening to one side of a conversation that did not sound good.

After my husband clicked off my phone, he told me that Julie’s car had broken down near Fergus Falls. Our son’s friend had managed to steer the smoking vehicle off Interstate 94 at eastbound exit 50. There they sat, four North Dakota State University college students stranded along the interstate on Thanksgiving Eve with nearly 250 miles to go.

Interstate 94 sometimes seems to run right into the sky as you drive west toward Fargo. (File photo)

What to do? We offered to drive the four hours north and west to Fergus Falls. But Caleb told us to wait, that they were trying to figure things out, to find a tow truck and perhaps hitch a ride from another friend back home to Faribault.

At one point, in several exchanged phone calls, my son ordered, “Stop freaking out, Mom.”

Alright then.

I asked Caleb to keep me posted. And eventually they worked it out, securing a tow and ride, walking from the mechanic’s shop a short distance to a nearby convenience store, waiting for the friend to arrive from Fargo. By 9 p.m., they were back on the interstate, 2 ½ hours after that initial SOS to my automotive machinist husband who was trying to long-distance diagnose problems with an aged Honda.

Shortly after our son and three others left Fergus, Julie’s dad phoned saying her car had already been repaired. (Phil didn’t know the specific diagnosis.) Julie had insisted on staying with her vehicle, sending the others on their way home.

My husband doubted anyone would repair the Honda on Thanksgiving Eve, or anytime prior to Friday. He was, obviously, wrong.

So we waited, me reading, my husband nodding off as the television blared and the minutes crept into hours, past midnight and then 1 a.m.

Shortly after 1 a.m., our son arrived home and we embraced in fierce, tight hugs. I was so relieved to have my boy home early Thanksgiving morning.

But there is more to tell, for this is also a story of thankfulness.

Thank you to the good people, the many strangers, who stopped to check on the stranded travelers at eastbound exit 50 by Fergus Falls. There were many, our son said.

Thank you to the mechanic who repaired Julie’s car on Thanksgiving Eve.

And thank you to the young woman who was willing to drive three other college students 250 miles home.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am a grateful mother.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling