Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Back in Faribault, Minnesota, from Japan March 23, 2011

FIVE DAYS HAD PASSED since a young Faribault woman posted on her blog from earthquake and tsunami stricken Japan.

And now I know why. She was on her way back from Fukushima to Minnesota for her brother’s wedding.

Haidee, a Christian outreach worker and English teacher, has been safely reunited with her family at their rural Faribault home.

But her decision to leave Japan did not come without struggle. Read Haidee’s insightful post by clicking here. She reveals, in a March 22 post, the emotional turmoil she experienced, being torn between wanting to stay in Japan and returning to the United States.

Her words are honest, poignant and touching. They also point to an unshakable faith and an undisputed belief that God directed her onto the path that would take her to the airport and then back to Minnesota.

God, clearly, was watching over and guiding her on this journey.

A snippet of Jesus' face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, where Haidee's father serves as the pastor. I'm certain that many times since the disaster in the Pacific, Haidee has been especially cognizant of God watching over her.

SHOULD I HAVE the opportunity to speak with Haidee, I’ll share that information with you. Click here to read my first post about Haidee, shortly after the disaster devastated Japan.


© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesotan, safe in Japan, for now March 12, 2011

EVER SINCE I HEARD yesterday of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I’ve prayed for the people of Japan and specifically for a young Minnesota woman living there.

I’ve known Haidee, a Christian outreach worker and English teacher there, since she was born in 1986. She grew up with my oldest daughter, came to my house for birthday parties. She’s the second eldest of my pastor’s children—strong, confident and on fire for the Lord.

So this morning, rather than call her parents lest they give me bad news, I phoned a friend to inquire about Haidee. Thankfully, in answer to my ongoing prayers, my friend shared that, for now, Haidee and her roommate are safe.

You can read about Haidee’s experience by clicking here.

Unfortunately, this native Minnesotan’s home of Fukushima, Japan, is also the site of a nuclear plant. An online news report I just read states that tens of thousands are being evacuated from the area because of the threat of a nuclear meltdown.

I cannot imagine living with such possibilities. But if anyone can remain strong through this epic disaster, it is Haidee with her unshakable faith.

She has managed to maintain her sense of humor. Haidee ends her Friday, March 11, 9:34 p.m. blog post with this: “And now I’m signing out…because we’re going to go walk around and look for bathrooms. People survived walking to outhouses for years, right? :)”

Photos of my 1970s Japanese pen pal, Etsuko Tamura, pasted in a photo album.

IN ADDITION TO HAIDEE, I’ve worried about Etsuko Tamura, whom I honestly have not thought about in decades.

Yesterday after I heard the news about the Japanese disaster, her name popped into my head just like that. She was my pen pal during the 1970s, when writing to someone overseas was a popular hobby for young girls. We stopped corresponding 35 – 40 years ago.

Through her letters, Etsuko showed me the world beyond rural southwestern Minnesota.

Now I am seeing her devastated world through the lens of a news camera and online from citizen-shot videos. And I wonder, all these decades later, whether she’s OK.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering Pearl Harbor from Minnesota December 7, 2010

MY MOM WAS ONLY nine years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 69 years ago today.

I asked her about this shortly after 9/11.

She shared how frightened she was because, in her small world and for all she knew, Hawaii was as close as a few towns away from her Minnesota home.

Imagine how terrifying the attack must have been for children, and adults, in a world where communication was not instantaneous.

Rhody Yule wearing his USS Arizona cap.

EVERY DAY THE NUMBER of WW II veterans dwindles. And with the deaths of these former soldiers, a bit of our living history dies too. Some of their stories will never be told for many cannot speak of the horrors of war. Others share their stories only with family members and/or their brothers in arms.

I am fortunate to have met one particular WW II veteran about a year ago. He is 92-year-old Rhody Yule, a truly remarkable man. Rhody, while small in stature, is big in heart. He possesses humbleness, strength of spirit, a sharp mind and gentleness of character that we should all emulate. I cannot say enough good things about my friend.


Rhody’s military experience included serving in Nagasaki, Japan, cleaning up after the atomic bomb. He won’t say much about his time there, calling the situation “a mess.” Clearly, he saw more than anyone should ever witness.

I asked Rhody once about the possibility of radiation exposure. He had to do what he had to do, he told me.

I’ve seen photos my soldier-friend brought home from Japan. The utter obliteration of the landscape can only be compared to the most powerful and devastating storm times 100 or maybe 1,000.

Rhody, who is a former sign painter and an artist, created a trio of sketches from his time in Japan. The public will have an opportunity to see those during an upcoming exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

One of Rhody's sketches from Japan during WW II. In the bottom right, you will see an opening into a cave, where Rhody said the Japanese worked on military machining projects.

Another one of the three sketches Rhody did while stationed in Japan during WW II.

I, along with many others, have been working for the past several months to make this show, “A Lifetime of Art, The Rhody Yule Collection,” a reality. The exhibit opens with a reception from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. on Friday, January 14, and closes on February 26.

In addition to the Nagasaki sketches and many other pieces of art, Rhody is showing a painting he did on a piece of old tent canvas while stationed in Nome, Alaska. He had no other material on which to paint the 1944 circa image of snowplows clearing snow from the military runway. Imagine the history on that piece of canvas, the stories held within the threads of that fabric.

WE ALL HAVE STORIES to tell. Today, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, let us hear the stories of those who remember this day that shall forever live in infamy. And more importantly, let us listen.

Text and photos © Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork © Copyright 2010 Rhody Yule