Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No air travel nightmares on Tuesday for this passenger January 5, 2022

The drive to Terminal 1 early Tuesday afternoon was easy, just like in December 2015, when this photo was taken. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2015)

HE EXITED JUST IN TIME, hours before snow moved into Minnesota on Tuesday evening. Followed by high winds and, then, returning arctic cold.

If you were to ask my 20-something son, he might say he didn’t leave soon enough. After moving to Indiana in late 2021 to pursue his PhD at Purdue University, he’s found the climate there warmer. And, for him, warm is good. The body acclimates quickly. He did not appreciate the cold snap of subzero temps in Minnesota during his two-week holiday visit or the overnight temperature of 62 degrees in our house. I handed him a stack of blankets.

My gratitude for his exit relates to air travel, which has been nightmarish with cancellations and delays seemingly unending. Some due to weather. Others due to staffing shortages attributed to COVID. When he booked his flight, I suggested a direct flight rather than a lay-over in Chicago. I figured there would be less chance of problems flying directly from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Indianapolis. That held true.

When we headed up to the airport at noon Tuesday, we fully expected congestion. Long lines of traffic creeping. A replay of the scene during his arrival several days before Christmas. Instead, we found minimal traffic, breezing to departures and even able to step outside the van for goodbye hugs. It was wonderful.

No snow. No waiting in traffic at the terminal. No delayed flight.

“Just landed in Indianapolis,” he texted at 5:11 pm Tuesday CST. All is good.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Christmas homecoming December 23, 2021

Nearing Terminal 1 at MSP on a quiet December day in 2015, a very different scene from Tuesday evening. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

NEARLY AN HOUR after picking him up outside Terminal 1 at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Tuesday evening, my son and I embraced.

I wanted to wrap him in my arms immediately. But vehicles jammed the pick-up area. The hug would have to wait 45 minutes until we arrived home in Faribault. I recognized that if everyone stopped to hold their loved ones close, the traffic delays would only worsen. So he shoved his suitcase inside the van and climbed into the front passenger seat while I skirted the bag and slid the side door shut.

Randy and I’d already spent too much time waiting, creeping along toward arrivals. Mostly unfamiliar with the roads and lay-out of this terminal, Randy took a wrong turn and we ended up looping back around, back into the gridlock. In the end, that error proved OK timing wise.

I felt gratitude for drivers who allowed us to nudge into line. We did the same. I felt not so much appreciation for the driver of the big black pick-up truck with Wisconsin license plates. I observed bullying moves. But I suppose when you’re piloting a bulky truck…

I felt thankfulness also for the airport traffic director, attempting to create order from a traffic mess. I didn’t envy his job of keeping motorists and pedestrians safe.

Flying into MSP. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo December 2015)

In the end, I got that long-awaited hug. Six months have passed since I’ve seen my son, who moved to Indiana in August to pursue his PhD at Purdue University. Oh, the joy in that first hug. The love that filled my mama’s heart. We held each other tight. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

In only days, that will repeat with my second daughter, whom I have not seen since mid-May. I’m anticipating the moment when she and her husband pull into the driveway after a 4 ½ hour drive from Madison, Wisconsin. I will wrap her in my arms. Lingering. Savoring the moment.

On Sunday, the eldest daughter, her husband and our two grandchildren will join us, completing the family circle. This will be our first Christmas together in five years. There will be more hugging and lingering. And joy filling this mother’s heart.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


He’s home from Boston for Christmas December 18, 2015

MSP Airport, 16 Delta 2


WAITING IN THE CELL PHONE LOT at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport late Thursday morning, I watched plane after plane after plane land and take-off.


MSP Airport, 22 low flying airliner


Mostly, though, I focused my eyes on planes flying in from the east. A United Airlines flight would bring my 21-year-old son home from Boston, via Washington D.C.


MSP Airport, 15 Southwest



He always takes connecting flights to save money. And he usually flies Southwest. But this time, for whatever reason (probably cost), he chose United.


MSP Airport, 14 Delta 1


More than five months have passed since I’ve seen my son, a senior at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Too long. Too many miles between us. I am grateful, though, for text messages, phone calls, emails and Skype.


MSP Airport, 17 Sun Country


On this bone-chilling December morning, I waited, with my husband scratching numbers into his Sudoku book, me photographing planes arriving and leaving MSP. I wondered a few times if security was watching me, questioning why the woman inside the white van was photographing planes.


MSP Airport, 12 United Express


Finally, I spotted a United Express flight that matched the son’s text message description from DC: “I’m on a tiny plane to Minneapolis. I had to walk out into the tarmac in order to board.”


MSP Airport, 29 almost to terminal 1


Soon my cell phone buzzed with the news that he had landed. And then we waited another 32 minutes for his message to drive to Terminal 1 for pick-up at Door 5.


Driving home from MSP Airport, 36


He is home now as I write this at 2:40 p.m. Thursday. He’s fed. Dirty clothes are in the wash. I am a happy mama.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault’s famous (formerly forgotten) flier May 4, 2011

LAST WEEK DALE “RED” JACKSON joined aviators Elizabeth Wall Strohfus, Charles Lindbergh and some 150 others in the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

If you’re like me, you are surprised to hear that our state has a hall of fame for aviators. I only recently learned that when Jackson was about to be inducted.

So who are Jackson and Strohfus and what qualifies them for an aviation honor?

They are two famous aviators with roots in my community of Faribault. Strohfus, who was inducted into the hall of fame in 2000, was a member of the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots during World War II. She taught instrument flying to male cadets and later ferried B-17 and AT-6 warbirds around the country, according to the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame website. Today she is a noted speaker.

As  for Jackson, he was a stunt pilot and barnstormer during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In July 1929, Jackson and St. Louis flyer Forrest O’Brine circled the city of St. Louis for some 420 hours, refueling 48 times in flight. That broke an aerial endurance record. Later they remained in flight for 647 hours (27 days), setting their second record.

On January 6, 1932, at the age of 25, Jackson was killed while stunt flying over Miami. Nicknamed the “Flying Fool,” Jackson had apparently been warned not to try stunts in the tiny Curtiss Teal amphibian he was piloting on that fateful day. As he tried to straighten the plane after a loop and dive, a wing tore off. Jackson died in the wreckage, reportedly with one hand hooked into the ripcord of his parachute.

When Jackson’s body arrived in Faribault by train from St. Louis, where an earlier memorial service had been held, an estimated 3,000 people gathered at the Rock Island Depot, according to a January 11, 1932, article in The Faribault Daily News.

Jackson is the single word on a tombstone marking the Jackson family graves in Section K, Lot 61, at Maple Lawn Cemetery in Faribault.

I nearly missed this in-ground marker for Dale Jackson, which lies about 12 feet from the family gravestone. I had to pull back the grass to reveal his first name and middle initial.

Dale Jackson's marker lies flush to the ground about a dozen feet from the Jackson family marker, between two cedar trees. I had expected a more opulent and noticeable gravesite.

Dale Jackson is buried here along with his parents, Henry and Josephine, and his wife, Selma. The Jackson family headstone stands between the two cedar trees to the right in this photo.

Given Jackson’s national and international notoriety in the aviation world, I wondered why I had never heard of him before last week. He was born in Iowa, moved here with his family and graduated from Faribault High School.  Faribault has not, as far as I am aware, shone the spotlight on this daring stunt pilot since his barnstorming days and untimely, sudden death.


I think he would be worthy of more than a marker, half covered with grass, in Maple Lawn Cemetery. I’m thinking tourism possibilities here.

For now, his Minnesota remembrance comes via that Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame induction last weekend. That’s a good start.

I wondered where this museum of sorts is located. After substantial googling, I discovered that an actual museum doesn’t exist. Rather the hall of fame consists of plaques honoring the inductees. Those hang in a secure section of the Duluth International Airport in an area inaccessible to the general public. Huh?

But that’s not all. Once a terminal renovation is completed at the Duluth airport in 2012, the plaques will need to be moved.

The Albert Lea City Council, in a motion passed in late January, has expressed an interest in bringing the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame to its community. No commitment. Just an interest right now.

In the meantime, if you want to check out aviators like Faribault’s Flying Fool, Dale “Red” Jackson, who have made it into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame, you best do that online or visit Maple Lawn Cemetery.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling