Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Through a SoMinn Lens August 27, 2019



AS A CREATIVE, I always appreciate the opportunity to get my work out to a broader audience. I want to share my images and words. Not because I possess some big ego. But rather I want others to view the world around them through an artful perspective. With joy. With appreciation. Through the creative lens of a writer and photographer who seeks to notice the details within the wider picture, to engage all the senses. I strive for that in my art.

My newest creative endeavor landed me at Southern Minn Scene, a Southern Minnesota arts, entertainment and lifestyle magazine. The publication’s coverage area stretches from just south of the Twin Cities metro to the Minnesota/Iowa border and from the Mississippi River on the east to Mankato on the west (although I aim to stretch that western boundary farther west toward my native prairie).

Each month I’ll craft a photo essay, accompanied by several paragraphs of text, in a column titled Through a SoMinn Lens. If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you’ll see familiar images. And other photos I haven’t previously published here. All the copy, though, will be new with my column leaning toward poetic prose. As a published poet, I value that art form. Journalistic style writing is reserved for the occasional features I will also pen for Southern Minn Scene.



My column debuts in the just-published September issue, which you can read online by clicking here. I focus on Wabasha’s SeptOberfest, a two-month celebration of autumn. I love this Mississippi River town any time of year for its natural and historic beauty, but especially during this family-friendly event.



I also crafted a feature on the annual Germanfest at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township. That’s east of Faribault and near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. I’ve posted about that ethnic celebration several times here. I love the people of St. John’s. They are friendly, kind, and incredible cooks and bakers. The story proved an ideal fit for this food-themed issue of Southern Minn Scene. Be sure to read other writers’ food-focused stories about tasty desserts in the region to new foods at the Minnesota State Fair.

Beyond that, thank you for valuing art, whether literary, visual or performing. Today, more than ever, we need the arts. They enhance our lives, bring joy, broaden our worlds, our perspectives.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work published by Southern Minn Scene, but not for this post.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Wheeling Township, Part III: More images & words from Germanfest October 4, 2017

A farm site along Minnesota State Highway 60 near St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.


IN A RURAL SETTING not far from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, the members, families and friends of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, serve not only an incredible German dinner each September, but also incredible hospitality.



Shirley checks and refills food on the serving line.


Even the pickles are homemade.


Through my many years of attending dinners, luncheons and other events at this country church, I’ve gotten to know these friendly folks—Lynn, Kim, Doug, Craig, Shirley… I can’t come and go without stopping to greet and hug sweet Elsie, who now into her nineties still works in the kitchen stirring gravy or potato salad or cutting and plating pies (during the church ice cream socials). Truly, these dinners are labors of love.


Here two volunteers, in ethnic costumes, take a break at the root beer stand.


Petting zoo animals come from a nearby farm.


There’s always a well put together historical display.


I can only imagine the tremendous time, effort and energy involved in pulling off Germanfest, an event which features more than just the showcased ethnic meal which this year fed some 650. I appreciate the country store and market that offer home-baked and garden grown goods and more. I appreciate, too, the quilts stitched by talented hands and the music and petting zoo and historical displays and more.


On the church altar, a beautiful harvest display.


There’s something divinely wonderful about a Minnesota church festival that reconnects me to the land, that brings a sense of peace in a world brimming with too much discontent and chaos.



This gentleman arrived from four miles away in his Model T Ford.


Congregants make and sell crab apple jelly from trees growing on church property.


Dressed in lederhosen, a volunteer pauses to enjoy the music and check out the market under the tent.


Lucy, seven months, and her grandpa listen to the old-time music.


The Ray Sands Band plays tunes like “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie…”


I observed these guys kicked back and relaxing to the music of the Ray Sands Band.


A display of German items honors the congregation’s heritage.


I enjoyed this over-sized woodcarving of a fisherman.


Church festivals are made for visiting.


Ice cream cones of feed for animals in the petting zoo were popular with the kids.


These piglets were among animals in the petting zoo.


Even the church windowsills are adorned with harvest themed decor.


One final look at St. John’s UCC as we drive away.


NOTE: To all my readers who wish I would have told you about this church dinner in advance, I’m sorry. Please mark your 2018 calendars for next September. Germanfest is always held around the same time annually.

But I can tell you about another outstanding area church dinner set for 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, October 8, at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. With a homemade meal of turkey, ham and all the fixings, it’s one of the best (in my opinion) church dinners around. The event also includes a craft and bake sale in the church basement. Click here to read previous posts about Trinity’s fall dinner.

Please check back for one last post in my four-part series from Germanfest. You won’t want to miss this final, especially endearing, photo essay. Click here to read my first post and click here to read my second post, both published last week.

© 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


From Wheeling Township, Part II: The Little Drummer Boy September 27, 2017



INITIALLY I FAILED to notice him, so focused was I on photographing Tim Chlan & Friends under the tent at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township’s Germanfest.




But then I spotted the fluorescent yellow sole of a tennis shoe, the thatch of blonde hair and finally the little boy sitting behind the concertina player on the temporary stage floor. His stubby fingers laced drumsticks between splayed legs. He was totally oblivious to my presence. Perfect.

As a photographer, I thrill in moments like this when I have an opportunity to capture a scene that tells a story, that is fleeting and precious and I know will connect with those who see my work.




I fired off about a half-dozen frames before the boy turned his attention from the drummer and noticed me with my camera.





I motioned for him to tap his drumsticks on the floor. He hesitated, smiled and tapped, then turned toward his aunt behind him.





I saw the flash of communication—his face questioning whether he should mimic the real-life drummer for the unknown photographer. Sensing his aunt’s approval, he resumed tapping the sticks.




What a delight to witness The Little Drummer Boy’s unplanned performance. Moments like these are a reminder of life’s simple joys, if only we take time to see them.


Please check back for another photo essay featuring this little guy, this time during a family photo shoot that I happened upon during Germanfest. That will publish in Part IV of my stories from St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A photo essay: St. John’s Germanfest in rural Minnesota September 29, 2013

I AM 100 PERCENT German.

My plate, filled with German foods at St. John's annual Germanfest.

My plate, filled with German foods like sauerbraten, sauerkraut, German potato salad, sweet and sour beets and more at St. John’s annual Germanfest.

I like German food.

Today was a gorgeous autumn day here in southeastern Minnesota, as glorious as they get.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, was hosting its annual Germanfest at its historic stone church out in the country.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

I had to eat.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

And I couldn’t think of a better place to dine on this Sunday afternoon than at St. John’s. Great food in the company of wonderful folks. Out in the country. Perfect weather. Perfect day.

Some of the St. John's kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

Some of the St. John’s kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

That glorious quilt show.

That glorious quilt show. Here you are seeing only a snippet of the quilts draped over pews.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

Along with fresh produce and bakes goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with my verses)

Along with fresh produce and baked goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with verses I wrote) and apple jelly was this art (including these cute pooches).

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Hey, all you foodies and fun-loving folks… September 28, 2012

IT’S GOING TO BE ONE of those glorious fall weekends in Minnesota. Trees flaming with color. Crisp cobalt blue skies. A certain awareness that these sunny, warm days of autumn will soon morph into the gray weeks of winter.

But let’s not go there.

Instead, hop in the car and take a fall drive this weekend. Follow a meandering gravel road. Banish “hurry” from your vocabulary. Slow down. Park your vehicle and walk.

Then dine at a local community-centered activity like Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual auction at the Morristown Community Center beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Wait a minute, you say. What does that have to do with food?

Well, the CVLHS event includes a bake sale. I know the woman organizing the bake sale and, based on that, you can be assured of an excellent selection of home-baked goods.

You can’t beat the food served during the CVLHS auction, like this pork sandwich, potato salad and homemade apple pie.

Not only that, you can eat a little lunch at the CVLHS auction. Hot pork, beef and cheesy turkey sandwiches. Salads. Pies from the Trinity Pie Makers (of Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, my church) and assorted desserts. The food alone is well worth attending this event. Take that from someone—me—who has sampled this delicious food several times. (Click here to read a previous post about the CVLHS auction.)

One dozen of Kathy Hallanger’s fall-themed cookies sold for $40 at a previous auction.

Check out the silent auction items (auction runs from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.) and then stay for the live auction of items (beginning at 7 p.m.) like a week at an Iowa resort, theatre tickets, framed artwork, homemade cookies, a garden bench, 11 yards of clean gravel, a 2000 wheelchair accessible van and, ta-da, this just in from my friend Mike Young, volunteer development director at CVLHS:

Just to let you know…another example of how great people are…as I am standing in the office at CVLHS this morning…looking straight at the window…in pulls a pickup and trailer with an “M” 1944 Farmall Tractor for the auction!

So there, need a vintage tractor? Or how about a goat? Mike told me earlier this week about a game involving a real goat. Seems someone may be “stuck” with a goat, although you apparently can buy “goat insurance” to insure yourself from owning said goat.

The Ray Sands Band played at the 2011 Germanfest.

Then, on Sunday, head east of Faribault to St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, for the congregation’s annual Germanfest which includes a 10 a.m. worship service, a 3 p.m. polka praise service and a German buffet served from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and then again from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Deutsche food served in 2011: German potato salad, red cabbage, sauerbraten, rinderwurst, a brat, sauerkraut, beets and green beans on my plate.

And, yes, I ‘ve attended and can vouch for the deliciousness of the German meal and the enjoyment of the polka service. Additionally, you’ll find a bake shop (there’s that food thing again), Christmas store, quilt show, petting zoo, root beer stand, bingo and farmer’s market. (Click here to read a post I published last September about Germanfest.)

Will you be attending a community event this weekend? If so, feel free to share in a comment. Or are you organizing or participating in any such event this weekend in Minnesota? Here’s your chance to spread the word. Submit a brief comment with info. It’s all about community here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A closer look at St. John’s Germanfest October 2, 2011

Kassandra and the goat that would soon be hers.

IN MY OPINION, Kim Keller rates as a pretty easy-going mom. I mean, she let her 10-year-old daughter bring a goat home from Germanfest. Honestly, if you were a kid, wouldn’t you want Kim for your mom?

So here’s how I found out about this goat thing. I was wandering the church grounds at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, last Sunday afternoon during Germanfest searching for photo ops.

I followed a girl leading a wisp of a goat, a kid (not the girl) which seemed a bit stubborn and independent as goats are wont to be. This wasn’t Kim’s daughter and I wasn’t having any luck capturing a photo I liked.

Then along came Kassandra, Kim’s daughter, with a bottle of milk. The goat, which apparently wasn’t all that hungry, didn’t seem too interested in drinking. But Kassandra pursued the goat and I pursued the goat and Kassandra until we both got what we wanted: her the goat, me the photo.

Kim took it all in stride—said it was just another animal to add to the family’s menagerie.

Another goat in the Germanfest petting zoo.

A volunteer dressed in an ethnic German costume tends a petting zoo bunny.

Geese and other fowl were popular petting zoo attractions.

IF YOU’RE A REGULAR FOLLOWER of Minnesota Prairie Roots, you should have figured out by now that I pay attention to detail. You’ll read that in my writing, see it in my photography.

I don’t view situations and scenes like most folks. I’m constantly searching for a new angle from which to shoot a photo or tell a story.

I engage my senses, even though one of them, my hearing, is not what it once was due to sudden sensory hearing loss (and now near-deafness) in my right ear. But I did hear Craig Keller comment from the Germanfest dance floor, as I aimed my camera toward the dancers, that this would be on the internet.

So, Craig, just because you said that, here you are, on the internet.

That's Craig, dressed in his lederhosen, dancing with his partner on the right. On the left is Amy's mom, Annette. The Stuttgart Three is performing.

I saw these artsy music stands and thought, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like these.” They jogged my memory of old-time wedding dances in town halls, the chicken dance, dollar dance, polka until you can’t polka any more…

I’VE COORDINATED SOME major public events in my life, namely a school book festival and an art show at my church, several times, not to mention more youth group fundraisers than I care to remember.

But one thing I refuse to do is coordinate anything that involves food. Although I cook and bake, I do not particularly enjoy cooking. I love to bake, but seldom bake because then, you know, I eat the baked goods, which I don’t need.

Now, after that rambling paragraph, let’s get to the point. I am in awe of people like the volunteers at St. John’s United Church of Christ who prepare enough food to feed the multitudes, this year around 700.

One of the many volunteer worker lists I saw posted in the fellowship hall area.

Long-time church member and volunteer Elsie Keller prepares German potato salad.

ONE OF THE BEST PLACES to discover artistic talent, I’ve learned, is at silent auctions. Honestly, look what I found at Germanfest.

No words needed.

Woodcarvings for sale at the silent auction.

Inside St. John's sanctuary, homemade quilts blanketed the pews. They were not for sale. Each church family was asked to bring a quilt for display along with the story behind it. Up front, three women demonstrated stitching techniques.

I DON’T KNOW how many Germanfest attendees paused to examine the German books and documents displayed in the church narthex. But I’m always interested in such items because not only am I 100 percent German and interested in “old stuff,” but I once considered majoring in German in college (which means I would not have become a writer; I think I made the right choice).

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

A Deutsche document from St. John's.

FINALLY, BECAUSE I CAN, I wanted to show you this photo of pumpkins at the farmer’s market section of Germanfest.

To be truthful, though, it wasn’t the pumpkins that interested me as much as the antique table. Those legs caught my eye and I wanted to throw that checkered tablecloth right off the table top and slide my hand across the worn wood.

Country store pumpkins on that old table I noticed.

THE NEXT TIME you’re out and about, I challenge you to notice the details.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Praise, polkas and more at St. John’s Germanfest September 26, 2011

The Ray Sands Band played from 1 - 3 p.m. under the tent at Germanfest.

“APPLES, PEACHES, PUMPKIN PIE, who’s afraid to holler I…”

Above the plaintive baaing of a goat in the petting zoo, the old-time band pumped out the polka which isn’t about pie at all, but about love.

And so, under the tent, the bands played—Tim Chlan and Friends, The Ray Sands Band and The Stuttgart Three—at St. John’s United Church of Christ’s annual Germanfest in Wheeling Township near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

My husband and I arrived mid-afternoon Sunday to take in this annual celebration of the congregation’s German heritage during a polka praise service and more. As we sang the near-and-dear words of age-old hymns, the tangy scent of vinegar drifted into the sanctuary. “Just as I am, without one plea…Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee…”

The Stuttgart Three from Rochester led the polka praise service inside St. John's sanctuary.

A musical quartet presented "Cleanse Me" and "Reach Out to Jesus" during the praise service.

Afterward we broke bread in the fellowship hall over a German buffet. Sauerkraut and sauerbraten. Brats. Rinderwurst and beets and green beans with bacon. Vinegar-laced German potato salad and mashed potatoes and more foods than I can remember. Homemade. Three hundred pounds of potatoes peeled. Nearly 60 dozen brats boiled and grilled. Bread pudding made from grandma’s recipe. Good, hearty food that tasted of the Mother Land.

It didn’t matter whether you were Deutsch or Dutch, Lutheran or Catholic or a long-time church member, whether a first-time attendee from Centerville or Faribault or a faithful former member from Blooming Prairie, you enjoyed, simply enjoyed, the hospitality of this congregation.

Diners enjoyed a German buffet in the fellowship hall before and after the praise service.

Deutsche food: German potato salad, red cabbage, sauerbraten, rinderwurst, a brat, sauerkraut, beets and green beans on my plate.

Volunteers kept the buffet trays filled with delicious homemade German foods.

Bingo and a quilt show. Geese and ponies and goats and birds in a petting zoo. Woodcarvings at the silent auction. Homebaked goods in the country store. Jars of apple jelly, glistening like gems in the sun. All of it, together, creating a memorable afternoon at this country church set among the flat corn and soybean fields of eastern Rice County.

This is the season of church festivals and dinners—of lutefisk and Swedish meatballs and ham and of vegetables dug from the earth.

It is a time to gather close, to remember the homeland from whence we came, to celebrate our heritage, to rejoice in the harvest.

The sanctuary was decorated throughout with harvest vignettes, including this one on the altar.

St. John's members make apple jelly and apple butter from fruit growing on an apple tree in the churchyard. The jelly and butter are sold at the festival.

Juniper, 15 months, enjoyed the birds and animals at the petting zoo.

As is typical of most church festivals, attendees could play bingo outside under a tent.

Many of the volunteer workers dressed in German costumes.

Each member of St. John's was asked to bring a quilt for the quilt show in the sanctuary. Quilts were draped over pews with brief information attached to each.

The Bultman family poses for a photo outside the stone church.

The brat and root beer stand next to the music tent.

The festival grounds at St. John's U.C.C., Wheeling Township.

St. John's sits among the farm fields along Rice County Road 24

DO YOU ATTEND CHURCH dinners or festivals? If you have or know of an upcoming must-attend dinner, submit a comment. I’d like to hear about it.

ALSO, CHECK BACK for more photos from Germanfest.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling