Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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.

 

 

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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).

 

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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.

 

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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

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In Hayfield, Part II: The Flying Monkey November 15, 2016

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IF FLYING MONKEYS terrify you, then stop reading this post. Unless you drink.

 

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I recently happened upon Flying Monkey Saloon in Hayfield. I didn’t set foot inside the small town bar. Not because I’m afraid of flying monkeys. But because the time had not yet reached noon. I wish I’d broken my self-imposed rule and at least poked my head inside a bar with a catchy name and equally appealing graphics.

 

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My sole source of info about this Main Street Hayfield bar comes from the internet. Hannah and Craig met and drank beer here. And now they’re engaged to be married in February 2017.

The burger baskets are endorsed as “awesome,” an overused word that I particularly dislike. But I’ll trust that Flying Monkey burgers really are delicious.

Flying Monkey apparently chooses a Customer of the Week. I have no idea the process or what the honor entails. But it sounds good to me. Maybe you get a free beer. Or burger.

Bikers and cruisers are drawn here. So Facebook shows me. That’s as good an endorsement as any for a small town bar.

 

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If I ever return to Hayfield, I promise to check out the Flying Monkey Saloon. Even if I’m there before noon.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Hayfield, Part I: Snapshots of a Minnesota farming community November 14, 2016

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I pulled this logo from The City of Hayfield, Minnesota, website.

I pulled this logo from The City of Hayfield, Minnesota, website.

 

HAYFIELD. EVEN THE NAME sounds rural. Hay. Field.

 

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This Dodge County farming community of around 1,300 reminds me of my hometown, Vesta, a much smaller town of around 330 on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

 

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Both are rooted in agriculture, most visually evident in the local grain elevators.

 

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But it was the discovery of seemingly abandoned vintage grain wagons in Hayfield that drew my primary personal interest. I remember such wagons brimming with corn and soybeans. I remember hiding inside these empty cavities as my siblings and I played out the 1960s TV westerns we watched. Such memories.

Today I am drawn to explore small towns because they connect me to my past, to the place and the people that shaped me.

 

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There’s something about a rural community that weaves people together through the commonality of living in the same intimate space. Lives crisscross in school hallways, in post offices, inside churches, at the bank, outside the grain elevator…in grocery stores (if a small town still has one, and Hayfield does).

 

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Most often, but not always, community pride runs strong. I see that in volunteer fire departments; in local Legions that, despite dwindling membership, remain open; in annual community festivals; and Friday night steak fries. Bingo, too.

 

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And, especially, in the schools, if a small town is still fortunate enough to have its own school. And Hayfield does.

TELL ME: How do you define a small town and do you have a favorite?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

You know you’re in rural Minnesota when… November 3, 2016

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rural-mn-52-no-horses-or-ponies-sign

 

…you discover a sign like this at a city park.

I photographed this at Earl B. Himle Memorial Park in Hayfield, Minnesota, population around 1,300. Credit goes to my husband for spotting the sign.

Check back as I bring you a three-part series of posts from Hayfield.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Happy Halloween, Minnesota style October 31, 2016

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I was working in the lab driving into Janesville late one night Friday afternoon, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…Frankenstein by the train tracks.

 

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I was working in the lab exploring Hayfield late one night one Saturday morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…a sign for Kuster’s Dead & Breakfast.

 

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I was working in the lab walking in Zumbrota late one night early one morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…a witch/ghost with an identity crisis.

 

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I was working in the lab visiting the House of Kuster in Hayfield late one night morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie sight…skulls staggered along a stairway.

 

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I was working in the lab checking my texts late one night early one morning, when my eyes beheld an eerie a crazy sight…my six-month-old granddaughter disguised as Poppy the troll. I laughed and laughed and laughed. Deep belly laughs. I’m still laughing.

 

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Happy Halloween!

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Troll image of my granddaughter, Izzy, is courtesy of her mom, Amber. Izzy’s paternal uncle works for DreamWorks Animation, which is releasing the movie, Trolls, in a few days. He shipped the Poppy hat from California to Minnesota for his niece.

 

Halloween in Hayfield October 27, 2016

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A doll's head lies next to a tombstone in a Hayfield, Minnesota, yard decorated for Halloween.

A doll’s head lies next to a tombstone in a Hayfield, Minnesota, yard decorated for Halloween.

 

YOU WON’T FIND A SINGLE Halloween decoration in my yard. It’s not that I’m anti-Halloween. It’s just that, without kids at home anymore, I don’t feel the need to decorate. And the trick-or-treaters who stop at my house typically number less than a dozen.

 

 

Looking from the Gargoyle suspended from the Kuster home toward Hayfield's Main Street.

Looking from the Gargoyle suspended from the Kuster home toward Hayfield’s Main Street.

 

But then there’s Brianna Kuster who lives in Hayfield, a Dodge County community of about 1,300. She loves Halloween. So much, in fact, that she and Ryan were married on October 31. Their first of two children, a son, was born on a Friday the 13th.

 

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Until last Saturday, I’d only been to Hayfield once previously and I’d never met Brianna. But as I was photographing her Halloween adorned home in the former The Herald newspaper office, Brianna opened her front door to let out the dog. I nearly toppled over in fright, not expecting a canine to bound out of a building.

 

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Along Main Street in Hayfield, Brianna and Ryan Kuster have decorated their property for Halloween.

Along Main Street in Hayfield, Brianna and Ryan Kuster have decorated their property for Halloween.

 

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Thus my introduction to this young mother who creatively staged her House of Kuster, est. October 31, 2009, property for Halloween. The décor is tastefully done with nothing particularly ghoulish.

 

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There’s a humorous bent and an obvious attention to details. This is kid-friendly.

 

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That said, Brianna shared how she recently scared a group of students walking by while on a field trip. She simply peered through the curtains. That was enough to get a rise.

 

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As we talked, Brianna carried totes of Halloween items to a vehicle for transport to the fire hall a few blocks away. The Hayfield Fire Department is sponsoring a Spook House & Carnival and this Halloween lover was on it.

 

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Before leaving, Brianna invited me into the former newspaper office. There’s no evidence this Main Street building once housed a community newspaper. The Kusters live upstairs and hope to some day finish the lower level, which holds great promise with worn wooden floors. As we stepped inside, a black cat (imagine that) walked through an open doorway. And then I noticed the mini green skulls lining the stairway.

 

On the Kusters' front door...

On the Kusters’ front door…

 

Yup, this is the home of a family (or at least a wife/mother) who loves Halloween. And I expect come October 31, the House of Kuster will draw lots of trick-or-treaters to the Main Street of this small southern Minnesota farming community.

 

When the Kusters purchased the former The Herald building, they also bought the property next door. They tore down the house there. The vacant lot is now the setting for the bulk of the Kusters' Halloween decorations.

When the Kusters purchased the former The Herald building, they also bought the property next door. They tore down the house there. The vacant lot is now the setting for the bulk of the Kusters’ outdoor Halloween decorations.

 

TELL ME: Do you decorate for Halloween or have a neighbor/friend/family member who loves Halloween as much as Brianna Kuster?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, check out this southeastern Minnesota small town July 27, 2013

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SMALL TOWNS INTRIGUE ME. Each possesses a unique character.

A snapshot of Hayfield's downtown business district.

A snapshot of Hayfield’s downtown business district.

For that reason, and because I favor rural more than urban, my husband and I purposely detour off highways, park our vehicle along Main Streets and explore.

This biker ran out of gas and pushed his motorcycle up to the pumps at Caseys in Hayfield, just off Minnesota Highway 56.

This biker ran out of gas and pushed his motorcycle up to the pumps at Casey’s General Store in Hayfield, just off Minnesota Highway 56.

Often we are the only ones walking about, especially since our stops are typically on Sunday afternoons.

However, even on a recent Monday morning visit to Hayfield, population 1,300, southwest of Rochester in Dodge County, the downtown was quiet enough that I didn’t have to worry about standing in the middle of the street to take photos.

Welcome to Hayfield. So...I'm wondering whether the town is named after a person or a hay field.

Welcome to Hayfield. So…I’m wondering whether the town is named after a person or a hay field.

And Hayfield offers plenty of photo ops, beginning with the welcome sign just off Minnesota State Highway 56. The “Where People Make Progress” slogan puzzled me, until I read this explanation on the city’s website:

Our community has had many projects which have been accomplished by grants, donations and countless volunteer hours.

Examples of that progress include the local pool, ball diamonds, the library, Meals on Wheels…

A sign in a window advertises the chicken dinner served during Hey Days.

A sign in a window advertises the chicken dinner served during Hey Days.

The annual community celebration of Hey Days, slated for July 26 – 28, also involves countless hours of volunteerism. That’s the thing about small towns. People don’t necessarily sit and wait for someone else to do something. They just do it.

Part of the impressive vets' memorial.

Part of the impressive vets’ memorial.

I bet volunteers planned, raised funds for and helped build the veterans’ memorial park next to First Presbyterian Church at the end of the business district. It’s one of the most impressive memorials we’ve seen.

First Presbyterian Church, next to the veterans' memorial.

First Presbyterian Church, next to the veterans’ memorial.

Inside that lovely old church.

Inside that lovely old church.

That memorial is definitely worth a trip into town as is the church. We found the door unlocked and so let ourselves into this beautiful sanctuary. I’m pretty certain the guy working on a school bus at the bus garage was watching us.

Font art at the former newspaper office.

Font art at the former newspaper office.

And more art on the former news office.

And more art on the former news office.

Across the street, the font and paintings on the former Herald newspaper office, now a home, caught my eye. The newspaper is now merged as the Star Herald based in nearby Dodge Center.

The library on the left, the former newspaper office on the right.

The library on the left, the former newspaper office on the right.

Next door I tried the door of the library, only to find it locked.

Like most small towns, you will find a Legion and a bar and grill in Hayfield.

Like most small towns, you will find a Legion and a bar and grill in Hayfield.

Yes, when I explore small towns, I’ll always try the doors. Always.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling