Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke February 7, 2017

What did one plate say to the other?
Lunch is on me.

What do you give a sick pig?

How do you count cows?
With a cowculator.

NOW YOU MIGHT EXPECT a third grader shared those knock-knock jokes with me or perhaps I read them in a joke book?




But you would be wrong. I read them on new furniture placed several days ago in Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You read that right. The jokes are printed on easy chairs and loveseats. But this isn’t just any furniture. Minnesota prisoners crafted this furniture.

So what’s the story with the construction and the upholstery design? For the answers, I turned to Library Director Delane James.




In the market for the first new furniture since a library remodeling project in 1996, James looked to the state vendor approved MINNCOR Industries, a Minnesota Department of Corrections prison industry. Inmate labor is utilized for manufacturing products and for services. She likes the idea, James says, of prisoners learning marketable skills that may prevent recidivism.




James also knew that the quality, durable furniture will last. For the past 21 years, MINNCOR furniture endured in her library that today sees 500-700 daily users.

With specific goals, the library director started poking around on the MINNCOR website for fabric options. “I wanted something that was attention-getting and to promote literacy,” she says. “I wanted the unexpected, to get them (library users) to read.”




She found that in the Funnybone Collection, in a print labeled KNOCK KNOCK in a color tagged Class Clown.

Already, James has seen the positive results of her fabric choice. She observed two high school students reading knock-knock jokes to one another during a library Homework Help session.




Among jokes printed on the fabric is this one:

How do prisoners make phone calls?
With cell phones.

That joke is the favorite of prisoners and is the talk of the prison, James learned when $40,000 in lounge chairs, loveseats, computer chairs and 90 stackable chairs were delivered to the library late last week. Only the loveseats and three of the easy chairs are imprinted with jokes.




The KNOCK KNOCK design chosen by James is also putting Buckham Library in the spotlight. A MINNCOR marketing staffer photographed the furniture in the Faribault library on Friday to promote usage in other libraries. Perhaps more Minnesota library directors will take a cue from James and select prison-built Funnybone furniture that grabs attentions, promotes literacy and prompts conversation.

TELL ME: Have you seen this or similar inspiring furniture in a public place? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Going green in Luverne at ReBorn October 3, 2014

That's ReBorn, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street.

That’s ReBorn, photographed in July 2013, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street. ReBorn has since relocated to 113 E. Main Street.

TO THINK I ALMOST did not pop into ReBorn Home Furnishings in downtown Luverne because my husband mumbled something about “furniture store.”

But I should have known, given the name “ReBorn,” that this would be an extraordinary place.

Oh, my gosh, readers, to think that I could have missed this homegrown business which restores, recycles, reuses, refinishes, reincarnates, rebuilds and revives home furnishings.

On a July 2013 visit to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota, after gaping at the fantastic old Palace Theatre entry right next to ReBorn and after photographing other buildings along E. Main Street, I opted to check out the business that didn’t interest my spouse. Note that ReBorn, since my visit, has moved to a new location at 113 E. Main Street.


Sorry, readers, the table and chairs are sold as is the hand-painted blue grey Armoire.

Honestly, Randy’s male opinion aside, I loved this place. Loved it. It’s artsy and hip and purposeful and just one incredible source for one-of-a-kind recycled home furnishings.

The red dresser/buffet is priced at $295.

The red dresser/buffet was priced at $295.

I am all about reusing what we have. ReBorn transforms old furniture and furnishings in to incredible functional pieces that pop with color and personality. You won’t find anything cookie cutter here. The business even does custom work.

That magical Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

ReBorn sells furniture transforming Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

The secret to ReBorn’s look, so says Becky Feikema who was tending shop on the Saturday I stopped, is Annie Sloan Chalk Paint, a decorative paint that goes over most any surface without prep (such as sanding or priming) and leaves a velvety matte finish. ReBorn also protects the painted project with subtle sheen Annie Sloan Soft Wax.

I was a bit surprised that Becky, who has a degree in agriculture and not in interior design, shared so much, including two hand-outs on Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. But I suppose if you’re selling that paint, as ReBorn does, you push it.

This yellow table can be yours for $160. The chairs are $65/each.

This yellow table could be yours for $160. The chairs were $65/each.

I saw so many pieces of furniture and other merchandise in ReBorn that I loved. There’s that word again. Loved. I suspect, for that reason, Randy tried to steer me away from this incredible store. He knows me well. I resisted, I really did, and walked away (because I didn’t need anything) without a single purchase. Not that I wasn’t tempted…

The butterfly on the signage symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

The butterfly symbolizes the rebirth aspect of transforming old home furnishings in to something new and unique.

FYI: Click here to reach the ReBorn Home Furnishings website to see before and after transformations, pieces available for purchase and more. This is one talented crew running this business.


Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display.

Lots of merchandise to choose from in this corner display. The hutch on the left was priced at $475.  The black chest of drawers and vintage fainting couch were sold.

The yellow shelving unit can be yours for $88.

The yellow shelving unit could be yours for $88.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

This bench, repurposed from a bed, sells for $215.

The vanity/desk is marked at $135.

The vanity/desk, marked at $135.

FYI: ReBorn is open from noon to 7 p.m. on Thursdays and from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturdays. A Chalk Paint Class is set for this Saturday, October 4, and again on October 9. Click here for details.

Note that all of these photos were taken in July 2013 and therefore may not reflect current stock.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Up close with an Amish family in southeastern Minnesota October 15, 2013

HIS NAME SURPRISES ME. Dennis. “It is not,” I insist to my husband, “in The Book of Amish.”

Not that a Book of Amish exists. I have made that up. But in my mind, this trim Amish carpenter with the dark beard, suspenders criss-crossing his back and a tape measure hooked on his black pants, should bear a biblical name like Samuel, Jacob or Daniel.

Dennis sounds too Englisch.

His surname of Hershberger, however, seems appropriate although the German in me would like to insert a “c” and make that Herschberger.

Driving Fillmore County Road 21 north of Canton toward Henrytown then west to Dennis and Mary Hershberger’s farm in early October 2012. This is deep in Minnesota Amish country.

The photographer in me would also like very much to photograph this young Amish father who crafts the most beautiful, gleaming furniture you can imagine on his farm north of Canton and west of Henrytown in southeastern Minnesota. But I know that to photograph him would violate his trust and hinder my welcome to Countryside Furniture.

Inside Countryside Furniture, with furniture crafted by Dennis and crew.

So I keep my camera low, tugging it to my side as I watch the Hershberger children, 17-month-old Simon and his 3-year-old sister, whose name I never do learn, wheel a faded red wagon. I am mostly intrigued by Simon in the plain handcrafted blue dress that skims his ankles above pudgy bare feet hardened to the stones and rough grass underfoot. His face is still edged with the softness of a baby, but emerging into that of a little boy. Straight cut bangs ride high on his forehead with wisps of hair tickling his ears in a bowl cut hair style.

Jars of canned goods line the shelves in Mary’s shop.

When I amble next door, the siblings follow me into their mother’s shop, rattling round and round with the wagon like a car on a racetrack.

I admire the rows of canned produce (bright orange carrots, golden nuggets of corn, jade spears of dill pickles), the faceless Amish dolls snug in a cradle, the tight weave of cotton rag rugs…

Faceless handcrafted Amish dolls in a handcrafted cradle.

I lift bars of homemade soap and breathe in their perfumed scent.

A pathway in the crafts store where Simon and his sister circled their wagon.

Then my attention turns again toward little Simon and his sister as they drop marbles onto a colorful tower before darting outside. Clack, clack, clack.

The siblings dropped marbles down the colorful tower on the right.

Through the open shop door, I watch a horse and buggy wheel into the farmyard, steering toward the weathered red barn. A boy, perhaps 10 years old, strolls toward the farmhouse and I lift my right hand to wave. He hesitates, then returns my greeting.

I turn my attention back to Mary’s merchandise. We must choose something to purchase now. It is expected. So Randy picks two jars of Mary’s Preserves. We head back to the furniture showroom, a small outbuilding with white walls and a low ceiling, with two jars of strawberry and tripleberry jams.

We make small talk. Dennis asks where we’ve come from. “Faribault,” I tell him.

“Along Interstate 35,” he notes, then tells us of a good customer from our community.

A close-up of the furniture Dennis and his crew craft.

I ask Dennis’ permission to photograph his fine furniture and he gives his OK. Then we return, with Simon still tugging that wagon, to Mary’s shop. As we walk, Dennis lifts his son off the ground, snugs the boy against his right hip, then speaks to him in a language I can only assume is a German dialect. I expect Simon may be getting a gentle admonition about taking the wagon inside his mother’s shop.

Randy pays $4.50 for the jam. We thank Dennis for the gracious welcome to his farm.

My final shot of the Hershberger farmyard: the barn, the buggies, the stack of wood.

As we head to the car, I photograph the red barn, the two buggies parked next to it and the rough-hewn lengths of stacked wood which Dennis and his helpers will soon craft into fine furniture.

Even though I couldn’t photograph the Hershbergers, the visuals of this place, of this Amish family, of this experience, have imprinted upon my memory. And sometimes that is better than a photo.

A picturesque farm near the Hershberger place, rural Fillmore County, Minnesota, taken in early October 2012.

FYI: Dennis Hershberger also sells his furniture at Countryside Furniture, located at Old Crow Antiques in Canton, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 52 and Fillmore County Road 21. The Hershberger farm is about five miles northwest of that intersection.

Old Crow Antiques is a great place to stop for information on local Amish farms.

This story and these images are from an October 2012 visit to the Hershberger farm.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The price is right May 20, 2013

I LOVE A GOOD DEAL. Who doesn’t? Even more, I’m especially pleased when I can recycle an item which benefits charity.

Driven by the need to find the 19-year-old son an inexpensive piece of furniture for the living room in his first-ever apartment, we hit the thrift stores in Rochester Saturday afternoon, move-in day.

On the final stop, Caleb found a leather sofa tucked under a merchandise display shelf at the Goodwill store, 239 28th Street Southeast.

Total purchase price for these three items was just over $30, including tax.

Total purchase price for these three items was just over $30, including tax. Additionally, I bought the coasters (about 10 of them) on the table for 25 cents at a garage sale.

His dad and I discouraged shelling out $110 for a sofa he needs for only the three-month duration of his summer internship at IBM. So I suggested he approach a floor clerk and barter. Better a poor college student seek a discount than parents. We temporarily disappeared so he could negotiate.

He and the clerk talked for awhile and then she cut the price to $75. I don’t know what transpired, but in between the time Caleb grabbed the tag and walked up front to pay, she slashed the price even more—to $25.

Hallelujah. A comfortable couch to fit a college student’s budget.

Goodwill had originally priced the sofa at $150.

Scrubbed later with a leather cleaning product, purchased for under $4 on our way back to the apartment, the sofa really shines. Plans to return the couch to Goodwill in August have been scrapped; the son wants to keep this piece of furniture now that it looks so good. That will be open to negotiation.

Prior to the Rochester move, we also secured several other apartment items at thrift stores, including a free end table from All Seasons Thrift Store, 310 Central Avenue, Faribault. The freebie was a $10 reward for spending $50 in the store. I’ll reveal those $50 purchases in a future post.

All Seasons proceeds benefit food shelves in the nearby Kenyon and Wanamingo areas.

Finally, the $3 lamp which now rests on the freebie end table next to the $25 leather couch comes from a New Ulm thrift store, The Treasure Haus, 1209 South Broadway.  As a bonus, the lamp included a three-way light bulb. Sales from the Treasure shop go toward Christian schools, programs and missions.

There you go, readers. It is possible to partially furnish a living room for around $30.

Now, let’s hear about your thrift store bargains.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Sweet finds in downtown Montgomery, Part I April 10, 2013

Rani's Furniture @ Antiques housed in a former hardware store in downtown Montgomery.

Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques housed in a former hardware store in downtown Montgomery.

I LOVE A SWEET vintage find. However, I can’t always own what I covet, even if the price is right. That’s reality. My pockets are not deep nor my house large.

But that doesn’t keep me from shopping thrift and antique shops like those my husband and I perused on a recent visit to Montgomery, Minnesota. I suggested we take the van, just in case we found a piece of furniture for the son who is moving into his first apartment in six weeks.

Randy saw right through that smokescreen.

I purchased the white table on the right and had to keep myself from buying the $60 dining room set.

I purchased the white table on the right and had to keep myself from buying the $60 dining room set. Note the beautiful original wood floor in this former hardware store building.

At Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques, Montgomery’s newest business (opened on April 3), I found my furniture find, much to the spouse’s chagrin. He couldn’t quite understand why I just “had to have” a $15 shabby chic round table with peeling paint.

I practiced my persuasive speaking skills. Think al fresco dining or an indoor/outdoor plant stand or a guest bedroom bed-side table and/or a really cool table to use at the daughter’s upcoming wedding reception in an historic venue. Randy wasn’t exactly buying my arguments, but acquiesced and dutifully loaded the table into the back of our van.

This 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet had seven layers of paint on it before Mary Bowen refinished it. The cabinet is being sold in her son Dean Turnlund's store for $325.

This 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet had seven layers of paint on it before Mary Bowen refinished it. The cabinet is being sold in her son Dean Turnlund’s store for $325.

I wished I could have stuffed a round dining room table with the heaviest wood chairs I’ve ever lifted; a 100-plus-year-old Hoosier cabinet resplendent with tip-out bins; and two aged wardrobes into the van, too. But I wasn’t about to push my luck and purchase this furniture I neither needed nor have space for in our home.

Love these old wardrobes for sale at Rani's.

Love these old wardrobes for sale at Rani’s.

A girl can dream, though, can’t she?

The stone block steps leading into Rani's.

The stone block steps leading into Rani’s.

I tend to get all starry-eyed whenever I enter an antique or other shop featuring vintage furniture. Rani’s, housed in a hulking corner brick building labeled as “Lepeskas Block 1898,” had me in her clutch even before I stepped onto the substantial stone steps leading into the former hardware store.

Michelle McCrady owns Quilter's Dream and the adjacent music store, 116 First Street South in downtown Montgomery.

Michelle McCrady owns Quilter’s Dream and the adjacent Montgomery Music Studio.

Likewise, even though I’m not a quilter, Michelle McCrady’s Quilter’s Dream dreamy quilt shop, located two blocks north of Rani’s in the Old Ben Franklin store and complete with an impressive original tin ceiling, charmed me, too. I cannot resist the sweet touch of historic features.

Quilter's Dream features a beautiful original tin ceiling and a wonderful collection of quilts, fabrics, notions and more.

Quilter’s Dream features a beautiful original tin ceiling and a wonderful collection of quilts, fabrics, notions and more.

Plus, entering Michelle’s shop was like stepping into spring with vibrant hues splashing across quilts and bolts of fabric. This quilt shop reawakened the seamstress in me—the teen who, in the seventies, stitched clothing from hot pants to the shortest of short skirts to sensible simple dresses for Grandma.

Bolts of eye-catching fabrics in bright hues line shelves.

Bolts of eye-catching fabrics in bright hues line shelves.

I’ve never lost my appreciation for bolts and bolts and bolts of cotton fabric awaiting the pinning of straight pins, the snip of scissors, the stitch of thread. There’s something artfully satisfying about creating from fabric.

A sampling of the gorgeous quilts you'll find in Michelle's shop.

A sampling of the gorgeous quilts you’ll find in Michelle’s shop.

Fifteen minutes in Michelle’s shop will convince you that this mother of 11 is passionate about quilting and all things fabric. She teaches classes, leases out time on her long-arm quilting machine and stitches up plenty of cute gifts from aprons to bibs, not to mention the many fabulous quilts gracing her store walls.

This owl quilt centers a back nook.

This owl quilt centers a back nook.

Who knew such sweet finds await shoppers in Montgomery? Not me.

Another nook, this one at the front of the quilt shop.

Another nook, this one at the front of the quilt shop.

Michelle uses this long-arm sewing machine to quilt at the shop. Quilters can also pay to use the machine.

Michelle uses this long-arm sewing machine to quilt at the shop. Quilters can also pay to use the machine.

FYI: Quilter’s Dream, 116 First Street South, is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday and from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Saturday.  Click here to reach the Quilter’s Facebook page.

One of my other favorite finds at Rani's, a vintage 50s toy chest.

Two other favorite finds at Rani’s: a vintage 50s toy chest and Cabbage Patch dolls.

And just because I appreciate vintage graphics, here's the label inside the toy box lid.

And just because I appreciate vintage graphics, here’s the label inside the toy box lid.

Rani’s Furniture @ Antiques, 300 First Street South,  is open from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday.

CHECK BACK TOMORROW as I take you into more sweet shops in this southern Minnesota community. Click here to read my introductory post to this small town. And click here to view my photo essay on an old-fashioned Montgomery barbershop, Main Street Barber.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


More than a sewing cabinet August 26, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:22 AM
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My "new" sewing cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co., Huntington, Ind.

I REALLY, HONESTLY, did not need the sewing cabinet I purchased for $30 at a recent yard sale. Although I have a sewing machine and once stitched nearly everything I wore, I don’t sew much any more.

But the rows of old tables lined up on both sides of the cement driveway lured me to look.

Once I saw the shiny Perfect Sewing Cabinet up close, I couldn’t resist its quaint charm—a lid that opens to reveal thread compartments, a curving front, dove-tailed drawers and unique golden knobs accented with amber heads. I already had visually placed the table in a corner of my dining room. With two drawers, it would be so much more practical than the tiny open-shelved table currently occupying that spot.

The cabinet lid lifts to reveal a compartment for thread and notions.

Craftsmanship is detailed in the dovetail drawer construction.

The original drawer pulls simply gleam.

But for $37, should I buy it? Should I walk away? Pay. Walk. What about that promise to start down-sizing, de-cluttering? Hadn’t my husband and I just returned from the recycling center where we dropped off an old TV, a printer, and a computer monitor and tower?

“Will you take less for it?” I ask the old guy running the sale.

To my surprise, he’ll take $30.

Still, I ask him to “keep my name on it” as I walk further up the driveway, perusing the merchandise while struggling to justify my purchase.

Then I just do it. I open my purse and pull out a $20 bill and two fives and the table is mine.

But I don’t simply walk away. I need to know where this peddler of tables has gotten his goods.

He finds furniture at yard, garage and rummage sales and then refinishes the pieces, he explains. He does magnificent work. Every tabletop shines with a glossy, flawless finish.

Then I learn a bit more. This elderly man (whose name I never do ask), says he rummages all the way to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Minneapolis, where he’s been doctoring for years.

“World War II?” I ask.

His military time, he says, came between WW II and the Korean Conflict. He was stationed in Alaska, where he injured his back. He’s had numerous surgeries and has a leaky heart valve. But they won’t replace the valve, he says, because during his last heart bypass surgery, doctors had trouble restarting his heart.

And then he tells me that his wife has cancer.

“I’m sorry,” I say, amazed at what people will share because I take the time to genuinely listen. He assures me that she is doing OK.

Then I thank him, wish him well. Randy loads the cabinet from The Caswell-Runyan Co. of Huntington, Indiana, into the back of our van. Then we are on our way with a table that is now more than a piece of furniture. It is also a story of a veteran and a craftsman and a husband whose wife is battling cancer.

A label from The Caswell-Runyan Co. is inside the sewing cabinet lid.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling