Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring the legacy of Burkhartzmeyer Shoes through film October 20, 2017

Burkhartzmeyer Shoes opened in 1949, starting first as a shoe and harness repair shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

ON A STREET CORNER in downtown Faribault, local icon Burkhartzmeyer Shoes still stands strong after nearly 70 years in business. That’s remarkable really considering the many chain and other shoe sources in today’s marketplace.

But the family members running this business through three generations also rate as remarkable, assuring its success. I know first-hand as I’ve shopped for foot wear at Burkhartzmeyer since moving to this community 35 years ago. I brought my kids here, too, leaving with shoes or boots tucked inside boxes tied with cotton string and an added bonus sucker.

 

Boots purchased at Burkhartzmeyer Shoes last year and ready for another Minnesota winter.

 

Burkhartzmeyer owners and employees understand the importance of great customer service—measuring feet, fitting shoes properly and always always treating each consumer with welcoming respect and kindness. Like a friend.

I know these shoe people—second-generation owner Buck; third-generation owners Bruce and Brian; and current and former employees Lanny, Dee, Sharon, Larry and Kaylyn. They greet me by name, ask about my family, form relationships that connect me to them and this place.

 

High school students and filmmakers Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Buck and cousins Bruce and Brian emphasize their warm relationships with customers and more in a recently-released film about the Burkhartzmeyer family legacy produced by area teens Samuel Temple and Logan Ledman. This also remarkable pair craft “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV.” Via research and interviews, they present insights into local businesses, people and places that broaden my appreciation for Faribault.

Samuel and Logan nailed it in their Burkhartzmeyer film, taking the viewer through the progression of the family business starting with original owners Ferdie and Martha Burkhartzmeyer to second-generation owners, brothers Al, Putz and Buck, to current owners, Bruce and Brian. While the longevity impresses, the stories impress even more.

 

I pulled this shoe box from my closet with the Burkhartzmeyer Shoes label attached.

 

A common thread of hard work, adaptability and outstanding customer service—the business also offers shoe repair and pedorthics services—weaves through the storyline. But so does the kindness. Brian, son of the only remaining third-generation owner, honors his father, Buck, with these words: “He has the gift of caregiving…and kindness.” Specifically, Brian references his dad’s visits to care center residents, including family matriarch Martha, who died weeks short of 108 years. Buck still makes these daily visits, now to friends.

My family, too, experienced Burkhartzmeyer kindness, in 2004. At the time, Buck’s Faribault High School class awarded a scholarship to a graduating high school senior. When my eldest daughter didn’t receive the scholarship, Buck felt so bad he asked her to stop by the store for a new pair of athletic shoes. He wanted her to have good shoes when she left for college. Buck was there waiting, fitting my daughter’s feet. I’ll always remember that kind and caring gift to my family.

 

Al Burkhartzmeyer, known locally as “Mr. Downtown” for his welcoming spirit in the community (especially downtown), was instrumental in getting this historic 1915 clock restored on the Security State Bank Building. Following Al’s 2012 death, significant memorial monies were directed toward the restoration in a project undertaken by the local Rotary.  A devoted Rotarian, Al was once honored for 50 years of never missing a Rotary meeting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I expect many others can share similar stories about the Burkhartzmeyers. They are a generous family, rooted in faith and hard work and a strong sense of community. They have swept floors, stocked shelves, put shoes away, measured feet. Through their care and compassion, they have made Faribault a better place and us, their customers, better people.

 

TELL ME: Do you have a similar long-standing business in your community that offers quality products and outstanding customer service?

FYI: Click here to watch the 1855 film on Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Oddities at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show, Part III September 8, 2017

Rows and rows of vintage tractors are a main attraction at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

 

WHEN I’M OUT and about with my camera whether at an event or simply exploring a small town or other setting, I often seek out the off-the-wall, the unusual, the humorous. The Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas offers all three. I appreciate the creativity and humor displayed there. In these troubling and difficult times, we need diversions. We need laughter.

So I targeted seven scenes that grabbed my photographic attention in the categories of odd, funny, weird and, most certainly, creative. Take a look.

 

 

At the flea market, I noticed a fake bloody hand positioned next to vintage saws. Randy suggested we buy the appendage to gift to my sister at her annual Halloween-themed autumn soup party. The hand, the vendor said, was not for sale. His sister staged it next to the saws as a marketing gimmick. I’d like to meet his sister and introduce her to mine.

 

 

 

 

Then there’s Mike, who brought his 1930 Model A to the show. Typically one expects shiny restored cars showcased by proud owners. The Northfield man’s vintage Ford, though, is riddled with bullet holes. On purpose. After paying $800 for the car, Mike was advised that the decrepit Ford was not worth the $30K he would spend to properly refurbish it. Not to be discouraged, Mike and a friend shot up the Model A then created a story about Jesse James III killing two bank tellers while robbing a southern Missouri bank in 1932. The car was his get-away vehicle. Now the bullet-riddled Ford and the accompanying legend garner more interest than if Mike had spent all that money restoring his car.

 

 

Parked next to the Model A was yet another original—a customized Ford Courier pick-up transformed into a double-headed car by the crafty Andy’s Auto Body of Webster. That turned a few heads, including mine. And made me laugh.

 

 

Not everyone was laughing at the toy John Deere tractor George Pinc placed inside a jar atop his Farmall tractor. He got a less than courteous comment from a show attendee. George didn’t care. He’s not a loyal-to-one-brand type of guy. But he assuredly is a man with a sense of humor.

 

 

I don’t know the story behind the horns clamped to the top of another tractor. But the add-on caused me to smile.

 

 

And then, as I walked between rows of tractors, I noticed a boy (I think Mike’s son) on a banana seat bike towing a cooler. Again, I just had to smile at the ingenuity. Got a problem? Solve it.

 

 

Finally, there’s the water bottle. By itself, tucked in the crook of a tree, it means nothing. But there’s a story. I watched a guy stretch and place the bottle in the vee. Before he entered a porta potty. How smart is that? Got a problem? Solve it.

Sometimes in life you have to think and act beyond the expected and laugh. Just laugh.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Minnesota’s agricultural heritage at a steam & gas engines show, Part I September 6, 2017

A steam engine tractor plows a field. The men standing on the plow guide the blades to the proper plowing depth via levers.

 

AS SEASONS SHIFT from the growing days of summer to the harvest days of autumn here in Minnesota, aged tractors, threshing machines and other vintage agricultural equipment roll out of storage for annual threshing and steam and gas engine shows.

 

The engineers at the helm of the steam engine tractor concentrate on guiding it along the field.

 

On display under plexiglass: a replica 1920s threshing scene crafted by David Terry.

 

It’s a common scene this clustering of folks around vintage tractors.

 

These events mark a celebration of the past, a preservation of history, the remembering of a way of life, a focus on the labor intensive efforts of long ago farming. Here retired farmers lean against tractor wheels, men guide massive steam engines, kids learn and an honoring of times past prevails.

 

After finishing a plowing pass in the field, the steam engine tractor heads back to the other end.

 

Sunday afternoon I embraced Minnesota’s agricultural history at the annual Labor Day weekend Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show in rural Dundas. I didn’t view every aspect of the event, but enough to once again feel a deep appreciation and respect for my rural heritage.

 

John Deeres were the featured tractor this year.

 

I love meeting friendly and photogenic vendors who are willing to be photographed.

 

Flea market vendors offer merchandise ranging from glassware to tools to clothing and lots more, including many agricultural related items.

 

With camera in hand, I roamed part of the grounds looking for photo ops that would present a personal and unique perspective of the show. From the flea market to the music shed to the rows of tractors and the vintage playground, I found my photos. There is so much heart and soul here and an obvious love of all things related to farming of bygone decades.

 

These girls rode their vintage banana seat bikes from Northfield. And, yes, there parents were at the show.

 

Carefree dancing and twirling as only kids will do.

 

Even the playground equipment is vintage.

 

I’m especially delighted that so many kids attend. Kids pedaling banana seat bikes. Kids twirling to the old-time music of the Czech Area Concertina Club. Kids steering tractors. Kids swinging on heavy horse swings now banned from most playgrounds.

 

Some families, like the Pinc family, bring multiple tractors in multiple brands.

 

Generations spanning infants to elders come to this show ground along Minnesota State Highway 3 under a sky that holds the haze of autumn, of a sun that still blazes heat in the afternoon, of a land that yields its bounty to the harvesters. Here on these acres, memories rise like a prayer of thanksgiving as summer eases into autumn.

TELL ME: Do you attend these types of historic farming shows? If yes, I’d like to hear more.

PLEASE CHECK back for additional photo rich posts as I continue my series from the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Park art August 8, 2017

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THE POSTCARD STYLE MURAL pops color in to the mini shelterhouse at Lions Park in Waterville.

But it’s more than that. The painting by Kimberly Baerg also provides a snapshot glimpse of this southeastern Minnesota resort and farming community.

 

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Examine the details and you will see a tractor, a canoe, a buggy, a train. All important in the history of this town.

 

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This mini mural is an example of how a little artistic ingenuity, effort and paint can transform an otherwise plain cement block wall in to a canvas that promotes a place, shares history and pops with community pride.

Well done, Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The power of a train August 6, 2017

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TEN FEET AWAY, the train roared down the tracks next to The Depot Bar & Grill in Faribault. I could feel its immense power as the cars zipped by in a blur, rails rising and falling.

 

 

For a moment I considered my vulnerability with only a wrought iron fence and a slip of stones separating me from this mammoth machine.

 

 

Despite my flash of fear, I thrilled in the rush of sitting so near a train as I waited for my brisket sandwich and fries on the outdoor patio. I grabbed my beer, took another swig and felt the rhythm of the fast-moving cars.

 

 

What is it about trains that holds such fascination? The power certainly impresses. But I think it’s the history, too, associated with trains that appeals to us. Travel by rail opened this country to further settlement.

 

 

My paternal great grandfather, Rudolph, rode the train to Henderson, Minnesota, in 1890, four years after he arrived by steamship in Baltimore. And four years after that, he moved farther west and bought a farm from the Great Western Railroad just outside my hometown of Vesta.

 

 

I expect most of you could tell similar stories of your ancestors and their travel by rail. Trains link us to our past, to those who came before us to this land, this America.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

“Peoples of Faribault,” an enlightening must-see video August 4, 2017

High school students Logan Ledman, left, and Samuel Temple produce “1855: A Faribault History Series on FCTV” in Faribault. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

THEIR APPRECIATION FOR LOCAL HISTORY shines in the videos they produce. But it’s more than a passion for Faribault history that drives Samuel Temple of Faribault and Logan Ledman of Northfield. The 16-year-olds strive to make viewers think via the videos they create for Faribault Community Television.

 

Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Nearly two years after their first of 11 history episodes aired, the teens tackled their most extensive project yet—a 40-some minute video titled “Peoples of Faribault.” I watched the show this week and am impressed by the research, the content and the clincher ending that challenges viewers to consider how their choices affect Faribault’s identity as a community.

Negative local perceptions of his hometown prompted Samuel to co-produce a video that counters that negativity. He and Logan do that through the art of entertaining, informative and thought-provoking storytelling. Their work is top-notch professional as they address issues of ethnicity in their latest and most lengthy film.

 

This prize-winning photo which I shot at the International Festival Faribault in 2012 reflects the cultural diversity of our community.

 

It’s no secret that Faribault has struggled with accepting newcomers. And newcomers have struggled to adapt. But Samuel and Logan put it all in perspective by tracing back to the town’s 1850s beginning and progressing from there. They cover the ethnic groups of the Dakota, French-Canadians, Swedes, Norwegians, Czech, Germans, Irish, Latinos, Cambodians, Chinese and Faribault’s newest immigrants, Somalis. Each group faced issues of assimilation and rejection, the two discovered through extensive research and interviews.

 

This sculptor of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Samuel summarizes the reason each group came to Faribault in one simple statement: “Everyone was looking for a home, for a wide array of reasons, and each found it in Faribault.”

Looking for a home. It doesn’t get more basic than that. But behind those four words are specifics such as war, famine, pursuing the American dream and more. It’s all covered in the film, for each of the featured ethnic groups.

 

Many Somalis now call Faribault home. I took this photo at a 2015 car show in historic downtown Faribault.

 

While researching for the video, the producers began to see a pattern. Says Logan in an email response to my questions:

“Issues of racism, cultural conflict, and discrimination came up in our work for this video. It ended up being a consistent pattern; the town’s response to newcomers was, initially, consistently negative. Over time, though, as new Faribault townsfolk left a multi-generational mark on the community, there was a parallel, consistently positive final acceptance of those newcomers by the town. This was a pattern that repeated itself across every group we looked at, and it’s a pattern we see repeating itself today.”

 

Bashir Omar. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Bashir Omar, a 10-year Faribault resident who serves on the Faribault Diversity Coalition and who works as a cultural liaison in the public school system, offers primarily praise for Faribault in comments aired in the “Peoples of Faribault” video. Although he says people fear the Somali culture, he’s always felt welcomed here and has not been targeted because of his Muslim faith. “Faribault has been a great town,” Bashir says.

 

Samuel and Logan narrate from the front porch of the Alexander Faribault house, home to town founder Alexander Faribault. Photo courtesy of Samuel Temple.

 

Not all newcomers have received the same warm welcome, an issue Samuel and Logan sensitively address through narrative and interviews. They also spoke with a local historian/author, city official and author/English as a second language educator and collaborated with sixth graders from the Cannon River STEM School to create family trees. Town founder Alexander Faribault, son of a part Dakota woman and a French trader, for example, faced discrimination when he befriended the Dakota, according to historian Larry Richie. He reveals in the video that Alexander died a despised and broken man. “We gotta learn to accept others,” Larry says.

 

A flag ceremony during a past International Festival featured national anthems and information about the countries from which Faribault residents have originated. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In their research, the filmmakers learned a few things about Faribault that surprised and unsettled them. I asked. For Samuel, the strong presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Faribault, including a mass gathering at the Rice County Fairgrounds for a state convention in 1924, left him feeling queasy. He noted, too, the Klan’s strong anti-Catholic (in addition to anti-black and anti-Jew) sentiment. For Logan, discrimination against Germans especially during the world wars came as a surprise. In the video, the term “enemy aliens” is linked to Germans.

 

I photographed this sign on the front desk of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

“Faribault is not immune to hate,” Samuel says in the film and then adds this in an email to me:

“Gathering information about the adversity that quite literally every group has faced put in perspective a single truth: accusing any one nationality or ethnicity or religion or group of people of having evil values, or being the root cause of problems in a community is wrong across the board; if we want history to look back on us favorably, we must live by that without exception.”

 

We learn from our past, looking back. This photo shows the back of the Alexander Faribault-Dakota sculpture at Faribault’s Heritage Park.

 

To read those words written by a 16-year-old inspires me and gives me hope. He and Logan are right. We can preserve our heritage while moving forward. We can learn from history. We can choose to focus on the positive, knowing that our choices affect our identity as a community. The choice is ours.

 

FYI: Joining Samuel and Logan in creating “Peoples of Faribault” are friends/musicians Sam Dwyer and Chase Ingraham of Northfield. Sam has also created original music for past episodes of “1855: A Faribault History Series.”

To view the “Peoples of Faribault” video, click here.

You can also see past episodes of “1855” that cover everything from the Fleckenstein Brewery to the Tilt-A-Whirl to local WASP Elizabeth Wall Strohfus at this same link.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“Peoples of Faribault” images are courtesy of Samuel Temple

 

Two Minnesota towns July 27, 2017

Fields and sky envelope a farm building just west of Wabasso in my native Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

I GREW UP ON THE PRAIRIE, a place of earth and sky and wind. Land and sky stretch into forever there, broken only by farm sites and the grain elevators and water towers that define small towns.

 

Along Minnesota Highway 19, this sign once marked my hometown. That sign has since been replaced. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

My hometown of Vesta in Redwood County once bustled with businesses—a lumberyard, feed mill, hardware stores, grocers, cafes, a blacksmith… Now the one-block center of town is mostly empty, vacant lots replacing wood-frame buildings that once housed local shops. Time, economics and abandonment rotted the structures into decay and eventual collapse or demolition.

 

One of the few businesses remaining downtown, the Vesta Cafe. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Why do I tell you all of this? The back story of my prairie hometown, where buildings were built mostly of wood rather than brick or stone, led me to a deep respect and appreciation for communities that have retained buildings of yesteryear. Cities like Cannon Falls, founded in 1854. By comparison, Vesta was founded in 1900.

 

The rear of an historic stone building in the heart of downtown Cannon Falls. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Cannon Falls still has a thriving downtown landmarked by 29 properties in a Commercial Historic District. It’s population of around 4,000 and location between Rochester and the metro contrast sharply with Vesta’s population of 300 in the much more rural southwestern corner of Minnesota.

 

This sign marks the aged former Firemen’s Hall, now the Cannon Falls Museum, pictured below. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

The Cannon Falls Museum. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Drive through Cannon Falls neighborhoods and you will see history still standing. In Vesta, history comes in photos and memories. It’s sad really. But that is reality.

 

The Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal congregation founded in Cannon Falls in 1866. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Because I grew up without solid stone buildings in a place that unsettles many for its breadth of sky and land, I am drawn to stone structures. They portray a strength and permanency that defies time and change. Yet I expect both masons and carpenters shared the same dreams of a better life, of prosperity and success.

 

Another lovely stone building photographed behind downtown Cannon Falls buildings. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

That’s the underlying truth. Even if the buildings and businesses in my hometown have mostly vanished, the ground upon which they stood represents something. The land remains—the same earth upon which early settlers planted their boots and stood with hope in their hearts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling