Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At the library: Making Faribault a better place June 14, 2017

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This poster at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault promotes the theme of the summer reading program.




This sign rests on the check-out desk at the library for all to read.


Hate has no business in our community.


I picked up this bookmark at the library several days ago.


One world, many stories.

I appreciate these three messages, shared on a poster, on a sign and on a bookmark at my local library.


Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


In this public place along Division Street in Faribault, local residents of all ages, all colors, all backgrounds, gather. While there are certainly divisions and differences, there is also a coming together here facilitated by library staff.


These signs were previously (and may still be) posted in the library restrooms. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Words matter. When I read words that encourage building up rather than tearing down, choosing love over hatred and fostering of unity instead of division, I am hopeful. I am hopeful that we can learn to get along, to appreciate the individual stories we each bring to our community. Once we begin to see each other as individuals, the building begins, the love flows, our world widens.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Food art at the library April 4, 2017

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WHAT COULD YOU CREATE with an orange, pretzels, sweet potatoes, marshmallows, coconut, cake and frosting, lots and lots of frosting? Or with other food?


Winner of the People’s Choice Award and also winner of the Most Humorous in the Families division.


Contestants in the Edible Books Festival & Competition at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault proved they could craft some impressive edible representations of books.



Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault, Minnesota.


The display generated lots of interest, which is precisely what Public Services Librarian Allyn McColley hoped to get people into the library. The contest showcased the artistic side of books while also promoting reading, she said.



Based on the 14 entries and the estimated 80 people who perused the 90-minute April Fool’s Day exhibit, the Edible Books Fest was a success.


The book, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired the entry below.


This interpretation of Girl with a Pearl Earring won Best Literary Theme in the staff competition.


I was impressed by the creativity.


Medals were awarded to winners in various categories and divisions.


Go ahead and scroll through selected photos and decide for yourself which is your favorite. I expect favorites will be as diverse as reading lists.


The artistic entry for How Are You Peeling? Foods with Moods. We all have days when we feel rotten.


On the Families table, I spotted this book label. Great creativity in printing, I say.


The Needle’s Eye, Passing Through Youth, won Best Literary Theme in the Adults Category.


Orange is the New Black, My Year in a Women’s Prison, inspired the entry below.


A singular food item becomes book art.


The Hat entry up close. Look at the work that went into creating this hedgehog.


Pooh’s Hunny Pot, chosen as Most Visually Appealing.


Heaven Is Paved with Oreos earned Most Visually Appealing among City of Faribault staff entries.


Two books, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie and Bob the Builder, inspired this Most Visually Appealing entry in the Adults Category.


This cake was inspired by the classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, awarded Best Literary Theme.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


You matter February 27, 2017

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THE IDEA SEEMS simple enough. Post a sign that will uplift and encourage others. Yet it was so unexpected, which pleased me even more.

I love discovering sweet surprises that make my day or shift my mood or restore my faith in the goodness of others.

Of all places, I spotted this sign in the women’s restroom at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. The pointing finger and the bold words, YOU MATTER, grabbed my attention as I stood drying my hands under a blower.

And although I didn’t tear off a slip of paper, I read the messages:




You are LOVED.


You are AMAZING.

I noticed several messages missing. And I considered how those words of encouragement, of validation, of praise may have affected those who took those slips.

We need more of this in today’s crazy world. We need to shift the focus away from ourselves to caring for others. Genuinely caring. It doesn’t take much effort. Just a few words posted on a sign in a public restroom, a few kind words spoken or encouraging words written can change a person’s day. We all need to hear sometimes that we matter, that we are loved and valued.

TELL ME: What easy ideas do you have (or have you seen) to uplift others? I would love to hear.

Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


At the Faribault library: When a knock-knock joke is more than just a knock-knock joke February 7, 2017

What did one plate say to the other?
Lunch is on me.

What do you give a sick pig?

How do you count cows?
With a cowculator.

NOW YOU MIGHT EXPECT a third grader shared those knock-knock jokes with me or perhaps I read them in a joke book?




But you would be wrong. I read them on new furniture placed several days ago in Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. You read that right. The jokes are printed on easy chairs and loveseats. But this isn’t just any furniture. Minnesota prisoners crafted this furniture.

So what’s the story with the construction and the upholstery design? For the answers, I turned to Library Director Delane James.




In the market for the first new furniture since a library remodeling project in 1996, James looked to the state vendor approved MINNCOR Industries, a Minnesota Department of Corrections prison industry. Inmate labor is utilized for manufacturing products and for services. She likes the idea, James says, of prisoners learning marketable skills that may prevent recidivism.




James also knew that the quality, durable furniture will last. For the past 21 years, MINNCOR furniture endured in her library that today sees 500-700 daily users.

With specific goals, the library director started poking around on the MINNCOR website for fabric options. “I wanted something that was attention-getting and to promote literacy,” she says. “I wanted the unexpected, to get them (library users) to read.”




She found that in the Funnybone Collection, in a print labeled KNOCK KNOCK in a color tagged Class Clown.

Already, James has seen the positive results of her fabric choice. She observed two high school students reading knock-knock jokes to one another during a library Homework Help session.




Among jokes printed on the fabric is this one:

How do prisoners make phone calls?
With cell phones.

That joke is the favorite of prisoners and is the talk of the prison, James learned when $40,000 in lounge chairs, loveseats, computer chairs and 90 stackable chairs were delivered to the library late last week. Only the loveseats and three of the easy chairs are imprinted with jokes.




The KNOCK KNOCK design chosen by James is also putting Buckham Library in the spotlight. A MINNCOR marketing staffer photographed the furniture in the Faribault library on Friday to promote usage in other libraries. Perhaps more Minnesota library directors will take a cue from James and select prison-built Funnybone furniture that grabs attentions, promotes literacy and prompts conversation.

TELL ME: Have you seen this or similar inspiring furniture in a public place? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A rural Minnesota teacher takes action when her students need books May 12, 2016

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area.

This prairie chicken statue celebrates the real prairie chickens which reside in the Rothsay area. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

FORTY MILES EAST of Fargo, an 18-foot tall, 9,000-pound statue marks Rothsay as The Prairie Chicken Capital of Minnesota. Without the kitschy roadside attraction, travelers likely would consider this just another small town along Interstate 94.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

Downtown Rothsay is ag-oriented. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

A few years ago, I popped into Rothsay. It’s your typical Minnesota farming community with a farmers co-op, hardware store, a bank, automotive body and repair shop, and such. And, if it’s lucky, as Rothsay is, a still surviving public school.

From what I observed, this is an historic blacksmith shop, not a working one. Note the bikes in the background parked outside the public school.

When I visited Rothsay three years ago, the school sat behind this historic blacksmith shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo, May 2013.

In the three years since I visited this Wilkin County community, a new school has been built. But there’s a problem, specifically in the Media Center. A shortage of books exists for high school students.

This graphic comes from the gofundme page.

This graphic of book covers comes from the gofundme page.

Now Kristie Sullivan, an English Language Arts teacher who returned to her hometown to teach, has established a gofundme page to fund the purchase of books for high schoolers. She’s seeking $5,000 for titles ranging from classics like The Catcher in the Rye to the current-day popular The Hunger Games.

I can’t think of anything in education more important than books. They are the foundation tool of learning. If you can read, you can learn.

I understand the situation Ms. Sullivan faces. Years ago, when my children were attending a Christian day school in Faribault, I volunteered in the library. There was no funding for library books. So I had to get creative. New books came through cash gifts, a birthday book program, rewards from an annual book sale and from a used book drive. I also purchased many books at garage sales. I’d like to think I made a difference in getting books to students.

Kudos to this young teacher for caring so much about her students that she set up this gofundme page. Such action shows me she is passionate about teaching. And when a teacher is passionate, kids learn. Really learn.

FYI: If you are interested in supporting this gofundme project to buy books for Rothsay High School students, click here.

(h/t Fargo Forum)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An innovative plan to promote literacy at a rural Minnesota library August 19, 2015

This shows plans for the custom-designed Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

This shows plans for the Outdoor Early Literacy Area planned for the Redwood Falls Public Library. The playground equipment will be custom made and themed to agriculture and camping. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

IN MY HOME COUNTY OF REDWOOD on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, the Redwood Falls Public Library is planning to construct an Outdoor Early Literacy Area themed to agriculture and camping.

The elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, just to the south of my brother's place.

A soybean field and the grain elevator in Lamberton, Minnesota, in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2015.

I love this idea of combining literacy and outdoor play. And the themes are perfect for this community. Even though kids in Redwood County live in the heart of Minnesota farm country, that doesn’t mean they are familiar with farming. This is just one more way to keep Minnesota’s farm heritage strong, by teaching youngsters the importance of agriculture in a way that’s hands-on creative.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ramsey Falls in Alexander Ramsey Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Redwood Falls is also a camping oasis of sorts with Alexander Ramsey Park, known as the “Little Yellowstone of Minnesota.” The park is a surprise of woods, hills, river valley and waterfalls in this county of small towns and cropland. The camping aspect will instill an appreciation of the outdoors and recreation in this place of prairie and sky.

Geared for children up to age seven, the outdoor literary area aims to achieve seven goals, Library Director Teri Smith shares in an email:

  • Encourage a love of literacy in a developmentally appropriate environment.
  • Incorporate a love of reading, print awareness, letter knowledge, sound awareness, vocabulary, and narrative skills and comprehension in joyful play.
  • Cultivate literacy in a relevant way (using known objects and activities relevant to southwestern Minnesota).
  • Encourage families and young children to spend more time at the library.
  • Encourage play in learning.
  • Encourage play in nature.
  • Encourage a love of learning at an early age and throughout a lifetime.
Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

Just another view of the planned literacy area. Image courtesy of the Redwood Falls Public Library.

So how, exactly, will that happen? Young families can check out pretend produce, eggs, fishing equipment and even numbered and lettered fish from the library to use outdoors. And, as they play, the kids will learn about healthy living and agriculture and acquire literacy skills. The children’s librarian will model play and interactions in the outdoor space, Smith says. The library also hopes to tap into Reading Corps volunteers.

A place like this is needed, says Smith, because few areas exist in this rural community for young families to gather and enjoy one another’s company while learning valuable literacy and social skills.

Already, the library has raised some two-thirds of the $100,000 needed for the outdoor literacy area. An astounding nearly $51,000 has come in the form of 12 grants (one is a materials donation of fencing) ranging from $250 – $20,000, all sought by Smith. The largest of the grants came from the Otto Bremer Foundation. Two $10,000 grants also were awarded by the Schmidt Foundation and the Minnesota Legacy fund. Smith is awaiting word on several other grants and donations.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County.

A serene country scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

And, as I would expect in a rural area, local individuals, organizations and businesses have also given their generous financial support to the project.

Smith has also established an online fundraising site at YouCaring. About a month remains to meet that $10,000 fundraising goal.

The popularity of a Minnesota Children’s Museum traveling Storyland exhibit which came to Redwood Falls inspired library staff to consider a permanent outdoor literacy-based play space. If all goes as planned, the custom-designed farming and camping themed play area should be under construction in the spring of 2016.

FYI: If you missed my post yesterday on Sibley Farm inside Mankato’s Sibley Park, click here. It’s another great example of how southern Minnesota is connecting kids to the region’s strong agricultural heritage and base.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A watercolor photo of an historic Minnesota library August 12, 2013

HE’S PULLED INTO the 15-minute parking spot in front of the library on a rainy Saturday afternoon. I wait in the front passenger seat as my husband dashes inside to return a DVD and pick up a book for me.

I am grateful for his consideration, that I am not the one racing up the sidewalk in the rain.

As I watch the rain glide in sheets across the windshield, I notice how the old stone library, with its signature stained glass windows, appears distorted. The colored windows, in soft shades of rose and wheat, seem undefined, as if brushed in watercolor.

In that moment I stretch downward, reaching for the camera bag at my feet, considering that the dreamy scene unfolding before me might just make for an interesting image. Leaning slightly back, I aim my camera lens upward and snap several photos.

I don’t know what to expect. But later, when I upload the images into my computer, I am pleased to see the surreal first frame exactly as I had hoped. Dreamy. Like a painting.

This marks an epiphany for me as a photographer. When I am willing to think beyond the confines of a neat, orderly, precise photo, the unexpected happens. And it’s  magic.

An unedited image of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault as taken through the front windshield of our family car while rain was falling. The unusual hue of the sky is from the tint in the windshield.

FYI: The 1929 Thomas Scott Buckham Memorial Library, built of Kasota stone, was designed in the Art Deco style by Charles Buckham of Vermont and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anna Buckham gifted the library to the city of Faribault in memory of her husband, Thomas Buckham, a prominent local judge and avid Greek scholar with a special interest in the arts.

Anna Buckham chose a Greek theme for the library which includes a Greek window designed by world-renowned stained glass artist Charles Connick of Boston.

In the library’s Great Room, Alfred J. Hyslop, a former art professor at Carleton College in Northfield, painted four Greek murals depicting scenes from Olympia, Athens, Sparta and Delphi.

And, yes, I really should photograph the Connick window and murals to show you. I see this library, use this library, all the time. I’ve simply grown complacent to its artful beauty.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling