Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A bedtime story from the Kenyon Police Department January 9, 2017

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I’VE WRITTEN HERE before about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. It’s a feel-good innovative use of social media. Truly positive and refreshing.

Now there’s one more reason to love this Facebook page. Officer Goodman (a puppet) has joined the KPD family. He makes his debut this evening by reading a children’s picture book, My Daddy Snores written by Nancy Rothstein and illustrated by Stephen Gilpin.

This might just be a new bed-time routine for you and your kids. Or you. There’s something comforting about a police officer puppet reading a story as if he’s a schooled children’s librarian. Or simply a police chief who continues to care deeply for others. That would be Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

About those creepy clowns October 14, 2016

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POKING AROUND MS. MAC’S ANTIQUES in Janesville on a recent Friday afternoon, I came across clowns nestled in a basket. There was nothing frightening about them. They’re just dolls crafted from fabric—some homemade, others manufactured.

But seeing them on display got me thinking about the clown sightings around the country. Last Saturday evening a clown costumed 15-year-old boy was arrested in Crookston, Minnesota, for allegedly scaring people with a butcher knife. All across the U.S., creepy clowns are showing up in communities, creating fear and sometimes chaos.

Even McDonalds has been impacted. The fast food chain is limiting appearances by Ronald McDonald, apparently thinking he best keep a low profile until this whole clown thing blows over.

 

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In my southern Minnesota community, police are being proactive, issuing this statement last week on the Faribault Police Department Facebook page:

We have now gotten a couple of calls about clowns around town. These are actually young people dressed as scary / crazy / kooky clowns. We have no information to indicate they pose a threat to anyone locally, other than being creepy.

The clown craze is the latest attempt at social media influenced hysteria. There have been several arrests around the country in recent days for making terroristic threats and disrupting public school functions.

If you see, or are concerned about, clowns hanging around, please call us and we will gladly check them out.

 

Clown masks can be scary or fun, depending.

I photographed this clown Halloween mask last October at Antiques of the Midwest in Albert Lea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

In neighboring Kenyon, noted Police Chief Lee Sjolander isn’t taking things quite as seriously. If you follow his department’s Facebook page, you know that Sjolander thinks, writes and acts outside the box. Here’s the Chief’s take on the clown issue:

I was asked by a parent for my opinion on their young child dressing up as a clown this Halloween. I was told this has been planned for a while and I also know our Kenyon Park & Rec. are planning a clown theme for their Halloween event as well.

Here is my opinion. Dress as a clown if you like, and here is why…

We live in a small town, we know almost everyone, and I’m not one to fall into conspiracy theories, rumormongering, fear, or hoaxes. We have had no “clown sightings” and if we do, we will follow up on them just like we would any other call.

I’m also a huge supporter of common sense. Now a young child dressed as a clown walking with their parents or friends holding a bag of candy is way different than an adult dressed as a clown carrying a weapon and scaring people. That’s like someone dressing as a deer and walking through the woods during deer season… Not the best thought out plan and that can lead to someone getting hurt.

When you say “clown” in Kenyon, most people think of Frank and Bob, who are two of the most loved and respected shriner clowns you could ever meet, and they are local residents.

So there you have it. My opinion. I think I’ll dress as a small town cop again this year, like I do every year…

Please use good judgment, common sense, and if you have any questions or concerns this Halloween, please feel free to contact us.

 

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac's Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It's a 1940s balloon machine.

Ron, proprietor at Ms. Mac’s Antiques, showed me this clown tucked into a storage room. It’s a 1940s balloon machine.

 

I don’t understand this whole clown thing. I don’t understand why anyone considers it a good idea to dress as a clown for the purpose of scaring, threatening and/or harming people. There’s nothing funny about this. Nothing at all.

Clowns are supposed to make us smile, make us laugh, bring us joy. They are not meant to terrorize.

Legitimate clowns are, as Chief Sjolander writes, to be loved and respected.

Thoughts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In small town Minnesota: A public show of support for police officers July 30, 2016

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads "Every Life Matters."

Stopped at an intersection in Kenyon, I snapped this quick photo of the Kenyon Police Department office, right. The yellow sign in the KPD window reads “Every Life Matters.”

I’VE RAVED HERE SEVERAL TIMES about the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page. Police Chief Lee Sjolander’s become a bit of a celebrity for his honest, humorous and thoughtful writing. He cares. And people like him. Really like him.

A week ago Friday, the good folks of Kenyon, population around 1,800, honored Lee and his officers during an open house at the VFW in this small southeastern Minnesota community. Lines formed. Kind words were spoken and written. And the humble chief thanked his staff.

I love feel-good stories like this. With all the violence, chaos and unrest in today’s world, we need to be reminded of the positive. We need to thank those who care for us, whether personally or on a professional level. Life can be hard sometimes, really hard. But it’s easier when we are kind to one another, when we support and encourage. And express our gratitude.

This Sunday, July 31, my community of Faribault will thank local law enforcement and first responders during a candlelight vigil ceremony at 9:15 p.m. at the Rice County Courthouse.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling