Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For the love of ice skating in Minnesota February 1, 2021

This mural of “Ice Skating on the Straight River” graces the side of 10,000 Drops in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

WAY BACK IN THE DAY, in the exuberant days of my youth, when I truly enjoyed winter, I loved to ice skate. I wore my Aunt Dorothy’s white figure skates, passed along to me. I was happy to have them.

And I was happy to find a patch of ice upon which to skate in my hometown of Vesta. Near the grain elevator. Nothing fancy. Just an open space flooded in the winter for skating.

Now my hometown is looking to offer youth more than simply a patch of ice. Local resident Jacob Kolander has started a gofundme page to raise $6,000 for a Community Outdoor Hockey Skating Rink. His goal is to erect boards and an entry gate around a rink to provide a safe place for kids to skate. So far, he’s raised $950. If you’re interested in contributing to the cause, click here.

Up in Warroad, in the northwest section of Minnesota right next to Canada, locals have created a 2.5-mile Riverbend Skate Path which has grabbed lots of media attention. It started with two families wanting to connect their ice rinks. Yes, hockey/skating is big in this part of Minnesota. Well, that initial connection expanded to include five more rinks linked via the Warroad River. And now locals are clearing and grooming the ice and looking to buy a Zamboni. Various fundraisers, like concession stands along the skating path, are aiming to generate the needed funds.

Much farther to the south in the small town of Pierz, the local library also embraces skating via lending out ice skates for a week at a time. Varied sizes, from kids to adult, are available for check out. I love this idea—just in case there are kids without an Aunt Dorothy.

TELL ME: Have you ice skated? Let’s hear your skating experiences.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Faribault’s connection to Sochi February 23, 2014

NO MATTER THE SEASON, no matter how many times I’ve viewed Shattuck-St. Mary’s School through its arched entry, I remain impressed by the incredible beauty and strength of this place.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary's School in Faribault, Minnesota.

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota.

Tucked into Faribault’s east side, Shattuck’s campus seems more Ivy League college or an American version of Hogworts than an historic private boarding school in Minnesota.

But it is here from whence eight 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics hockey players graduated: Brianna Decker, Amanda Kessel and Jocelyne and Monique Lamoureux playing for Team USA; Zach Parise and Derek Stepan on the men’s Team USA roster; and Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews competing for Team Canada.

Right here, in southeastern Minnesota, many a hockey great has skated…

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The $50K decision and what we can all learn September 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:15 AM
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ODDS ON PROMOTIONS made the right call Wednesday when it failed to award $50,000 to an 11-year-old Owatonna boy who sunk a hockey puck into a 1.5 by 3.5-inch hole during an August 11 charity hockey event in Faribault.

Nate Smith, who made the shot from 89 feet, wasn’t even supposed to be on the ice. It was his twin brother Nick’s name that was drawn to attempt the shot. But Nick had stepped outside the hockey arena, so Nate subbed for Nick.

Not until the next day did the Smith family reveal to officials that Nate, not Nick, sunk the puck.

That ignited a firestorm of controversy with the story going national. Should the Smiths get the $50,000?

The Reno, Nevada, group insuring the event ruled yesterday that because of legal and contractual issues, the Smiths will not get the $50,000.

That was the right decision, in my opinion, given Nate obviously is not Nick and, although the family told officials the truth the following day, they did not do so initially.

Yet, despite the decision, there are still winners in this story. Odds On Promotions is donating $20,000 in the brothers’ names to youth hockey programs in Owatonna—where the Smith boys play hockey—and in Faribault.

That’s a smart move on Odds On Promotions part. You can’t buy that kind of positive publicity for $20,000. Plus, the substantial gift will calm the ire of those who may disagree with the company’s decision.

The Smiths aren’t complete losers here either. Friday morning they’ll appear on “The Today Show,” according to an article in The Faribault Daily News. Shortly after Nate made the shot and the controversy started, the family was in New York making the talk show rounds.

In summary, we could all learn a lesson from this story about rules, honesty and compromise.

WHAT’S YOUR OPINION on the decision made by Odds On Promotions not to award the Smith family $50,000? Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not?


You call the $50,000 shot August 19, 2011

IF YOU ARE BITTEN by a bat that flies away, you should expect to undergo a series of rabies shots.

If you win $50,000 while assuming the identity of someone else, you should expect fall-out from your actions.

Right about now you’re likely wondering why I’m writing about bats and bills all in the same post. Well, both made the news in my community of Faribault this week. One has garnered national attention, the other not.

First, the bat bite, not because it’s less important than the $50,000, but because it’s easier to write about and no gray area exists. You get bitten by a bat that can’t be caught, like a 9-year-old Nerstrand boy did in his family’s barn recently, and you get rabies shots. Simple. Black-and-white.

But, if you potentially win $50,000 like 11-year-old Nick Nate Smith of Owatonna did last week by shooting a hockey puck from 89 feet into a 1.5-inch by 3.5 inch hole at a Faribault Hockey Association fundraiser, you’re talking an entirely different story.

On the surface, this would seem black-and-white. Accomplish the amazing feat, win the prize.

However, Nate isn’t Nick. And it was Nick, Nate’s identical twin, whose name was pulled for the chance to score the $50,000 by sinking the puck into that incredibly small space.

The problem, however, is that Nick wasn’t in the hockey arena when his name was drawn, so Nate stepped in for his brother, made the shot and supposedly won the $50,000.

That is until the Smith family admitted to event organizers that Nate had subbed for Nick.

Now a Reno, Nevada, insurance company for the puck-shot event is investigating, the $50,000 payment remains in limbo and the story of the amazing shot and the follow-up controversy has gone national.

In our house, we’ve discussed this whole $50,000 hockey puck debacle numerous times already. Opinions have varied from:

  • Just give the kid the $50,000.
  • Why did the Smiths tell them it was Nate?
  • He doesn’t deserve the $50,000. Nate isn’t Nick and the family wasn’t intially honest.
  • What if a friend had stepped in and taken the shot? Would they give him the money?

Can you guess which comment is mine?

You better believe that the second response, “Why did the Smiths tell them it was Nate?”, is not my statement and resulted in a lecture from me about honesty and how the family eventually would have gotten “caught.”

I don’t pretend to know every detail related to the hockey puck shot event. But I do know this much: Nate isn’t Nick.

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN to offer your opinion. Would you award the $50,000 to Nate Smith? Why or why not? Vote by submitting a comment.

IN A 24-HOUR unscientific online poll conducted by The Faribault Daily News, 63 percent of the 245 respondents said Nate Smith should get the $50,000. Thirty-two percent said he shouldn’t. And five percent checked “I don’t know.”

MEDIA FOCUS on the Smith story has been substantial. Click on the sources below to read some of the coverage.

CBS The Early Show

The Faribault Daily News:  the initial story published on August 12 and a follow-up story published on August 14

ABC News

National Public Radio

BY THE WAY, my comment is the third one: He doesn’t deserve the $50,000. Nate isn’t Nick and the family wasn’t intially honest. Choose to agree or disagree. It’s your shot.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling