Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Laura fans: Walnut Grove pageant needs financial help after flash flooding July 13, 2018

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of the pageant site along the banks of Plum Creek taken several years ago..

 

WALNUT GROVE AND LAURA INGALLS WILDER. The two are synonymous. Wilder brought notoriety to this small southwestern Minnesota prairie community with her Little House books. The town embraces the author in its summer-time productions of The Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant. Staged in an outdoor amphitheater along the banks of Plum Creek, the pageant brings Wilder’s prairie stories to life. It’s a top-notch show that I’ve seen twice.

 

Plum Creek floods the pageant grounds following torrential rain. Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

But now the Wilder Pageant Committee needs financial help to deal with damage caused by early July flash floods that ravaged southwestern Minnesota, including the creek-side performance site. Shows were canceled because of the flood. Volunteers worked hard to clean up the mess so the show could reopen on July 12 with added performances.

 

Native prairie plants, like black-eyed Susan and coneflowers, are featured on a mural in the heart of Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I love that about small towns—the coming together to get a job done. The people of Walnut Grove understand the value of Laura Ingalls Wilder to the local economy. And they are determined that the Big Flood on the Prairie will not stop the show despite damage to sets, costumes, sound and light equipment, and site access roads.

 

Flood clean-up. Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

A gofundme page has been set up to help pay for maintenance to aging and flood-damaged facilities. The goal is $30,000. Please consider donating and spread the word.

 

Photo source: Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant Facebook page.

 

I am a mega fan of Wilder’s descriptive writing. That she lived in a dugout on the banks of Plum Creek in my native Redwood County, on my beloved prairie, endears me even more to this author.

 

Laura Look-A-Like contestants gather for a group shot in the park several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

To all the wonderful folks in Walnut Grove and surrounding area, thank you for your tireless efforts to welcome Laura fans from around the world to your community. Even after a devastating flood.

 

Period attire is common among young Laura fans visiting Walnut Grove. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

CLICK HERE to reach the gofundme page and learn more.

NOTE: The Ingalls dugout site is temporarily closed due to flooding.

BUT the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove is open.

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Back in Redwood County after July flash floods July 9, 2018

Just six weeks ago, spring planting was underway in this same area of rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2018.

 

DURING MY LAST TRIP to southwestern Minnesota in mid May, farmers worked the land. Tilling. Planting crops. Rushing to get seeds into the soil after a late spring start.

Now, some six weeks later, acres and acres of that same cropland lie under water, corn and soybean fields flooded by torrential rains. Flash floods that turned farm land into lakes early last week.

On our route west of Redwood Falls then north to Belview then later east of Belview along county roads back to Redwood, Randy and I observed lots of standing water. Massive lakes where crops should now thrive. It was disheartening to see the efforts and hopes of so many farmers gone. Flash, just like that. Weather is always the gamble of farming. I would never have the mental fortitude to farm. I admire those who do.

As we drove, I noted the wash of debris along shoulders, evidence that floodwaters overtook the county road. We drove a narrow ribbon of asphalt, water edging both sides of the roadway. Orange cones and orange flags flagged danger. An orange snow fence blocked a gravel road.

I understood that, days after the flash flood, we had not seen the worst of this devastating storm. But it was enough for me to gauge the significant loss to the farmers of my native Redwood County.

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NOTE: My apologies for the lack of flood images. But I am under strict orders from my ortho surgeon not to use my left hand as I recover from surgery on my broken left wrist. “Use it,” he said, “and you will be back in the OR.” I’ll listen, thank you.

© copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Flood survivor January 30, 2015

Portrait #5: Tracy Yennie, after the flood

 

Tracey, Zumbro Falls flood 2010

 

She’s a young woman I will always remember. Tracy Yennie. Strong. Determined. Thankful. A redneck. Her word, not mine.

When I met this mother of four young boys in early October 2010, she was hanging out next to the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls, a small southeastern Minnesota community ravaged by a September 23/24 flash flood. Tracy’s family lost nearly everything, as did many others, and was camping in a shed on their riverside property.

When I interviewed Tracy, she was waiting on FEMA. She talked strong, invincible. But I could see the weariness in her eyes, edged by dark circles. I saw beneath her tough veneer. I saw a woman concerned about her future.

I wonder sometimes what happened to Tracy and her family. Do they still live in her hometown of Zumbro Falls? Or did the flood force them out?

Of all the portraits I’ve taken, Tracy’s ranks as perhaps my favorite. This photo tells the story of one woman dealing with disaster. And beyond Tracy, if you look at the details, you notice steps leading to the Salvation Army trailer. You notice the flowers behind her, still standing after the flood. You notice a business district seemingly unscathed. But if you were to walk the sidewalks, you would see the damage close-up.

This photo documents disaster in a personal way. It shows disaster as more than a number or an insurance claim. This image puts a face on disaster. And that is powerful.

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This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

After the flood: “A long way from normal” in Hammond September 22, 2011

HOW DOES A DEVASTATING flash flood change you and the place you call home?

I posed those and other questions to Tina Mann from Hammond, a southeastern Minnesota community ravaged last September by the overflowing waters of the Zumbro River. A year later, what is life like in Hammond for residents such as Tina, now a member of the Hammond City Council?

Here, in her words, are Tina’s reflections one day before the one-year anniversary of the flood which left her and her family living in three hotels and a rental house for three months before they could return to their Hammond home.

Tina, on her June 25 wedding day, in the bridal gown she saved when she had to evacuate her home last September. Photo by Sherwin Samaniego Photography.

How has Hammond/life in Hammond changed since the flood?

Hammond is a lot quieter now. A lot of our long time residents have left, and a lot of our regular crowd has been sporadic. But, they are slowly starting to trickle back in.

Hammond has made some new friends along the way, and we see some of them come back down from time to time, too. I predict, though, that as winter draws close, that it may taper off. I think we may be in for another very quiet Hammond winter. There are fewer children, too, which makes it hard for the few that are still here. I hope that sometime down the line, Hammond will start to see more families coming down here.

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

What still needs to be done in terms of recovery in your community? Be specific.

For the most part, weather permitting, the city should be done with the municipal repairs by the end of the month. We were able to get the park building repaired and fully restored.

On the residential end, however, things are different. FEMA and the State funded the programs to repair the Municipality of Hammond and, with some careful planning and negotiating, we were able to come very close to a pre-flood state.

But the residents did not get any FEMA aid at all. Some only qualified for a state grant, which just barely covered expenses to repair their homes. Some qualified for low-interest loans and depending on the amount of damage to the home, they may have been able to replace a few of their possessions. But without FEMA funding, most people were not compensated for their personal belongings and it may well be many years before they feel they are ‘recovered.’

Then there are those still waiting for their buy-outs. The residents on the state program have begun receiving their offers, but are still in the ‘red tape’ part of the process and have not received any funding yet, and those on the federal list (50 percent or more damage, in flood way and flood plain) have been put on hold by the federal government, and no one knows how long that is going to take.

After the flood, the gutted home of Dallas and Vicki Williamson, who relocated 35 miles away to an 1882 hilltop farmhouse in rural Cannon Falls. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Do you need additional funding for Hammond recovery projects? Volunteers still needed? I’m wondering how that park rebuilding is going.

The ‘city’ is pretty well rebuilt and I am happy to say that we no longer need volunteers unless we decide to start some new projects.

Financially, however, we are still trying to find ways to compensate for some shortfalls. There are city employees that have not been compensated for personal expenses, such as cell phone overages, incurred while working for the city during the immediate aftermath. Although it is realized that it is a responsibility of your position, we also feel that if we can find a way to do it, it really is the right thing to do.

We also have employees who worked well beyond the normal scope of their position and they really do deserve compensation for their time, services, and personal expenditures. Although most of them haven’t asked for it, it still would be nice if somehow we could work it out. These people did a phenomenal job taking care of our city!

And we have the future to look at, too. We are probably going to loose 6-8 residential properties to the 100 percent buy-outs. There are another 10 or so on the 50/50 buy-out list And those who choose the 50/50 but do not rebuild, of course their property value will decrease dramatically.

This is going to have financial consequences to our tax base, which is going to result in higher property tax and water and sewer bills for every business and property owner in Hammond.

And we need to take a look at what we are going to do with all of the new green space in town. When we lose the residents to the 100 percent buy-outs, those properties become ‘green space’ by law. That means that the lots become city property that cannot have permanent structures built on them. Many of these lots are centrally located in the middle of a residential area. The city is going to be moving into phase two of the recovery, which is the long-term aspect…and we do have a lot of things to think about and consider.

This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. Waters were receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010, by Jenny Hoffman.

Is there a sense of frustration about anything or are things going well?

Yes, there has been, and is, a lot of frustration. It has been a very long, hard process trying to filter through the red tape to realize what is the ‘city’s’ responsibility, what is the ‘residents’” responsibility, and what programs are responsible for what.

A lot of phone calls from residents, confused about who they should be speaking to. Frustration because the process is very slow. The city has very few answers for the residents who are working with the buy-out program and it’s been hard to convey the message that the city has nothing to do with that part of it and we really have no answers for them. All we can do is direct them back to the agencies they are working with.

We have lawns that are not being mowed, properties that have been abandoned since the flood. The residents that have rebuilt are frustrated because the ‘clean-up’ won’t be complete until these issues are resolved, and we don’t know how long it is going to take.

Our city is coming together, but we really are still a long way from being back to normal.

Floodwaters destroyed everything in the basement of the house where Tina, Micheal, Cassie and Christian and Bob and Cathy Mann live. Photo courtesy of Micheal & Tina Mann.

What was the biggest single impact of the flood on you emotionally? Did it change you in any way?

Watching the hurricanes and flooding in the east was really hard and I realized that my emotions are still very raw. I could not control my weeping as I watched the news and saw the devastation in the eyes of those people. I know how that feels, I’ve been there….. It still hurts very much. I doubt that feeling is ever going to go away.

Becoming involved with the city on the council has opened my eyes to a lot, and yes, it has changed me. This flood and the impact it is going to continue to have on this area for years to come is bigger than what the eye can see. We are going to be dealing with this for a long time.

On a personal level, I am dealing with the impact by being involved with the revolution of Hammond. I have been very busy planning the Anniversary Party (set for Saturday, September 24) and working on the council ‘learning the ropes’. I plan to be involved in finding the solutions to the challenges that are before us, and help guide Hammond into the future.

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2010.

THANK YOU, TINA, for sharing your thoughts. You have always been open and honest, never holding back, and I appreciate that. We can all learn a thing or 10 from you about the strength of the human spirit and the strength of community.

READERS, PLEASE CHECK BACK for another post featuring thoughts from Hammond resident Katie Shones.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI: The future for Hammond and Tina March 19, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post marks the final in a series of six stories that focus on a Hammond, Minnesota, family forced from their home during a September 2010 flash flood. Today we look at Hammond, its recovery and how you can help.

“WE HAVE A LONG ROAD ahead of us and none of it can really start until spring,” says Tina Marlowe, assessing the work that still needs to be done in Hammond. Her family returned to this town of (once) 230 residents shortly after Christmas.

This southeastern Minnesota community exists in limbo as residents await the arrival of warmer weather, and money, to begin rebuilding their community. Many homes must be gutted and rebuilt or torn down. Hammond needs a new city hall and new maintenance equipment. The river bank, river bed, parks and canoe landing need to be cleaned and rebuilt.

“Everything…everything is left to be done,” says Tina, who plans to help form a park committee that will raise $200,000 to update and rebuild the town’s parks. Tubing, canoeing, a horseshoe tournament, camping, fishing, motorcycling and more draw locals and visitors to this quiet river valley, “a beautiful gift of nature that we like to call ‘Our Valley’,” Tina says.

She and good friend Katie Shones will be setting up a Park Fund for donations to rebuild the parks.

 

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

HOW YOU CAN HELP?

“SINCE OCTOBER, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has been very involved in the long-term recovery efforts in the Pine Island – Oronoco area and in Wabasha County,” says Caitlin Hughes, LSS Disaster Services administrative specialist.  “LSSMN assisted in the development of two community supported long-term recovery committees. These committees are working with the LSSMN Southeast Minnesota Disaster Response Team to help families locate the precious resources to rebuild their homes and their lives.  Presently LSSMN has a local staff of three disaster case managers, a volunteer and resource coordinator and a reconstruction manager.

Currently, the disaster case managers are working with over 250 families/ individuals and the rebuild team is assisting 25 clients in using volunteers to make their homes habitable once again.”

St. John’s Lutheran Church is serving as a base for LSS relief operations in Hammond. Contact LSS caseworker Mary Walker at 507-753-3057 business days. St. John’s has served, among other functions, as a site for distribution of food, clothing and other essentials to flood survivors.

INDIVIDUALS INTERESTED in helping with Hammond’s recovery should contact LSS Volunteer Coordinator Dan Kalstabakken at 651-741-7234.

Go to this link for the most up-to-date information on LSS efforts in southeastern Minnesota: http://www.lssmn.org/disaster/

Also visit the Zumbro Valley Disaster Relief Fund.

Tina says flood survivors could use cash donations and that skilled laborers are still needed to help with the ongoing rebuilding efforts.

HELPING THE CHILDREN

LSS also provides support for children who have been through disasters like the Hammond flood.

Camp Noah is a day camp for children impacted by disaster that offers children a safe, caring and fun environment where they can heal and process their disaster experience, according to LSS. The five-day camp is based on a curriculum that celebrates each child’s unique gifts and talents and provides them with an opportunity to share their story.

For more information about Camp Noah, call 612-879-5312 or go to http://www.lssmn.org/camp_noah/

 

This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. A bar, bank, cafe, city hall and homes are located along this street. Waters are receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010. All of the businesses, city hall and most homes along this road were flooded.

THE FUTURE FOR TINA

Tina and her fiancé, Micheal Mann, are planning a June 25 wedding. The bride will wear the wedding dress she saved from the floodwaters.

“I don’t know how we will get the wedding paid for now…it certainly won’t be all that I planned it to be,” Tina says.

But, despite the financial hardship, the setbacks, the challenges, this determined woman wants to move forward. And that means proceeding with the wedding as planned. Her wedding will give people a break, a reason to “take one night to celebrate all that is real in this life: friends, family and love.”

THIS CONCLUDES my six-part series of stories told through the voice of Hammond flood survivor Tina Marlowe. Thank you, Tina, for the privilege of sharing your story. I admire your strength, your determination and your resiliency.

Thanks also to Katie Shones, who has been my main contact in Hammond since last October. She is one strong, kind woman.

Thanks, too, to Susie Buck for pulling together the many photos featured in this series and to those who allowed their images to be published here.

Sheri Ryan, I am grateful to you also for the use of your photos, but, more importantly, for a deeply personal look at how this flood affected your mom. All too often we view blurs of faces and piles of debris, but we fail to see beyond, to the real hurt that runs deep.

I appreciate every one of you who have so willingly worked with me to tell the story of the people of Hammond through words and photos.

I also appreciate volunteers like Gary Schmidt from the Twin Cities who worked with a Woodbury church to bring volunteers to Hammond in late January and then again one day in March. Gary learned of the need through this blog. I hope to share Gary’s experiences with you in a future post.

I am grateful also to the folks over at Minnesota Public Radio who have plugged my flood series online. In the “Minnesota Today” section, Michael Olson included a reference to my stories in his March 16 statewide blog round-up. My post, “She just wants to hug her house,” was also featured in MPR’S “Blog Box.”

MPR columnist Bob Collins summarized my series and linked to my blog in the “5×8” section of his March 18 “News Cut” column. Bob also publicized my first set of flood stories back in October 2010, when I toured Hammond and Zumbro Falls about two weeks after the flash flood. Thank you, MPR, for helping Hammond’s story reach an even wider audience.

It is my hope, Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, that the flood stories I’ve shared with you this week will touch you. I hope you will be moved to help the residents of Hammond recover from a flood that may have damaged their homes, but has not destroyed their spirits.

These are strong, strong people who continue to need our support, our prayers and our help even six months after the flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling