Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

International Festival showcases, celebrates the many cultures of Faribault September 28, 2018

The diversity of Faribault as photographed at a downtown car show several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


DIVERSE. MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT fits that label with a multi-cultural population. We are a place of European descendants, of Hispanics, of Somalis, of African Americans, of Asians and more. A place of peoples descended from immigrants and a place of peoples who are new immigrants.

The Faribault Diversity Coalition celebrates the cultures of our southeastern Minnesota city at the free 2018 International Festival from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday at the Washington Recreation Center, 117 Shumway Avenue.


Attendees mark a world map with their countries of origin at a past International Festival.


Through food, dance, music, art, games and more, our cultural differences will be highlighted, celebrated, embraced.


At a past International Festival, I sampled this spicy Somali food and loved it. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


While I can’t attend this year’s fest, I have in the past. It’s a great opportunity to meet others, to engage in conversation, to learn about other cultures. And to sample food. Vendors will serve ethnic foods like Somali sambusas, Cambodian egg rolls and culturally-themed cupcakes. Food lends itself to kickstarting conversations and connecting cultures.


A flag ceremony featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated at a previous fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


The Diversity Coalition’s Passport Project, funded with an Artists on Main Street grant, debuts at the fest. FDC Director Gordon Liu terms it a mini cultural museum—with quick facts, basic phrases and a brief history of selected countries—to be displayed in the FDC storefront window.


Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.


High School students Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman, who produce the 1855 history series for local public cable TV, will show their documentary “Peoples of Faribault” and then stick around for a Q & A. I’ve watched that show and recommend it to anyone who truly cares about understanding the cultures of my community.

There’s much to be gained from attending an event like the International Festival. It is an opportunity to learn, to break down walls built over differences in language, dress, culture, faith and more. When those barriers are broken, then we begin to see each other as simply people. People who happen to live in this place we call Faribault. Our home.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Happy spring from Minnesota & DQ March 20, 2017


The Dairy Queen along old U.S. Highway 14 in Janesville, Minnesota, in 2012. The sign is vintage late 1940s or early 1950s. Click here to read my story about the Janesville DQ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

HAPPY FIRST DAY of spring, dear readers!

If you live in a cold weather state like me, you welcome March 20, even if the weather and landscape feel and appear more winter than spring. It’s a mental thing for us Minnesotans, a reminder that the “real spring” is only months away. Spring, in my Minnesota mind, arrives in May.

Over at Dairy Queen, they’re going by the calendar, celebrating spring’s official arrival today with “Free Cone Day.” You can get one free small vanilla ice cream cone at any non-mall participating DQ in the U.S.

And, if you’re so inclined, you can donate to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, DQ’s March 20 fundraiser focus. Because, you know, you’re getting that freebie and you’re generous.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Free food & fellowship in Faribault on Fourth December 16, 2016

Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.

Diners at the 2012 Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I LOVE ALLITERATION, the repetition of sound that rolls off the tongue like a musical refrain: Free food and fellowship in Faribault on Fourth.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner.

The meal minus cranberries and bread. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This alliteration requires explanation: Fourth Avenue United Method Church in Faribault will host its 14th annual Community Christmas Dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 18. The meal of turkey, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, bread, cranberries and Christmas cake is free. However, donations are accepted with a portion of those gifts benefiting charities in Rice County.

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

Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. They feed several hundred. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Several years have passed since I attended this church basement dinner at 219 Fourth Avenue Northwest. I have only positive words for the delicious Christmas meal served by friendly folks. I enjoy the food as much as the conversation with volunteers and diners in a festive holiday setting.

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

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

The most memorable menu item for me is the dessert—poke cake. These Methodists call it Christmas Cake, perhaps because of the red and green sugar sprinkled atop the Cool Whip frosting. Poke cake traces to the 1970s; I remember my mom preparing this cake for special occasions like Christmas. It’s a white or yellow cake mix poked with a fork after baking with Jell-O poured atop. Red or green Jell-O filters through the holes and into the cake. I’m not big on cake. But I’m big on memories.

The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I'll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.

The congregation of the beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault hosts the Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m also big on gratitude to the good people at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church who give this gracious gift to my community each Christmas.

Thank you.

TELL ME: Does a free Community Christmas Dinner exist in your community? Or have you ever tried poke cake?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Hayfield, Part III: Free squash at The Legion November 17, 2016

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ONE OF MY PHOTOGRAPHIC passions involves small towns. I love to day-trip to Minnesota communities with my husband and then explore. By explore, I mean park our vehicle along Main Street and then walk around downtown before also perusing city streets. I always find something quirky, something interesting, something truly small townish.

A snippet of downtown Hayfield looking from The Flying Monkey Saloon toward the post office and grain elevator.

A snippet of downtown Hayfield looking from Flying Monkey Saloon toward the post office and grain elevator.


Take a recent Saturday morning stop in Hayfield. Here’s how this community promotes itself online:

Welcome to Hayfield, MN, a sprawling community of 1,300 residents nestled on the corner of Highway 30 and 56 and is almost equal distances from Austin and Rochester in south-east Minnesota.

Hayfield is “close enough to Rochester, but just far enough away” and prides itself with a booming local economy with over 40 local businesses.





Well-crafted words can make any place sound inviting. Only a visit can distinguish between polished PR and reality. I’m happy to report that Hayfield truly is small town neighborly as evidenced at Rothie American Legion Post 330. There, on the back patio, I spotted a sign, Squash Free For the takeing (sic).




As I photographed the sign, a Legion member pulled up in his van; he’d just finished erecting a flagpole. He invited me to help myself to the hybrid squash grown by Charlie Williams of Brownsdale.




And so I grabbed one of the smallest orbs—not just squash, but a symbol of rural Minnesota and the generosity of those who live there.


This concludes my series of stories, and earlier posts (click here and then click here and, finally, click here), from Hayfield.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Memories of all the pretty little horses September 15, 2016

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Free horse and baby stuff 002 - Copy


WHEN MY NEIGHBOR PLACED a pile of baby equipment on the boulevard recently along with an oversized plastic toy horse, memories rushed back of my dear second daughter and her love of all things horses.

As a preschooler, Miranda obsessed over equines, wanting to check out only books about horses from the library. She drew pastel horses with Magic Markers. And she played with toy horses. Endlessly.

Now a plastic tote heaped with her childhood horses rests on a shelf in the basement, in storage. Those equines represent memories, sweet and treasured of a daughter I love beyond words.

I was tempted to dash across Willow Street and pluck that horse from the grass. But I left it there for the young girl who opened the passenger side of her mom’s SUV and scooped the critter into her arms. Perhaps some day her mom will pack that horse away in a plastic container and remember when her little girl loved horses.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Land of the FREE July 30, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:28 AM
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Bridge graffiti along Minnesota Highway 28.

DO YOU EVER WONDER—because I do—how, when and why graffiti is spray painted onto bridges, buildings, boxcars and elsewhere?

Do these artists/vandals/rebels/criminals (choose the noun that fits) plot and then sneak, in the cover of darkness, to scrawl their messages and art upon these very public canvases?


Who are these defiers of rules?

Did they scribble with crayons on walls while growing up? Did they doodle in notebooks when they should have been doing homework? Are they reckless and wild or the girl/boy next door accepting a dare?

I’ve never known a graffiti artist, although I’d like to meet the one who block-letter-printed “FREE” on this train overpass along Minnesota State Highway 28 between Morris and Sauke Centre.

I’d ask him/her, “Why did you choose that word, ‘FREE?’”

Have you freed yourself from something? Have you set someone free? Or do you simply appreciate what it means to live in the land of the free?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling