Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Five things to do this weekend in the Faribault area July 19, 2012

FROM TEA TO TRACTORS and plenty of in-between interesting attractions, you’ll find lots to do this weekend in my region of southeastern Minnesota.

I shot this image at the Rice County Free Fair several years ago.

Already underway and running through Sunday is the Rice County Free Fair in Faribault. Evening grandstand shows include Enduro Auto Races on Thursday, an All-Star Pro Rodeo on Friday, a National Truck & Tractor Pull on Saturday and a Demolition Derby on Sunday. Besides the entertainment, you’ll want to stroll through the barns, the midway and the exhibit buildings, plus sample some fair food.

John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. I have never attended the Credit River Antique Tractor Club Show near New Prague.

In nearby Scott County, tractors take center stage (or rather space) at the annual Credit River Antique Tractor Club Show which runs from 8:30 a.m. – 7 p.m. Friday, July 20, through Sunday, July 22. To get there, take Exit 76 on Interstate 35 and go west on Scott County Road 2 for about 11 miles.

From a tractor parade to flea market, entertainment and more, this promises to be a family-friendly event in a beautiful rural setting. My friend Nancy Fredrickson of Lakeville tipped me off to the tractor show. Says Nancy: “It’s set up at Cedar Lake Farm Regional Park outside of New Prague where the tractors and vendors are scattered under big beautiful trees on hillsides that lead past the old barn and down to Cedar Lake shore.”

Nancy and her husband, Gordon W. Fredrickson, will be there, near the entrance, selling their collector series Farm Country Tales and If I Were a Farmer books. Readers, Nancy and Gordon are two of the finest, down-to-earth people you will meet. Plus, their rural-themed picture books are about as real and honest and authentic as they come. I highly-recommend these books to anyone interested in farming from years past.

Hanging out along Central Avenue during Faribault Car Cruise Night in May.

If classic cars are your thing, then take in, or participate in, the Faribault Car Cruise Night from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Friday in the 400 and 500 blocks of Central Avenue in the heart of historic downtown Faribault. According to the group’s Facebook page, “…if you have a cool car or truck or motorcycle, bring it down.”

The Paradise Center for the Arts theater, this photo from several years ago and the set for “South Pacific.”

Also on Friday, but in the 300 block of Central Avenue, the fractured fairy tale, “Into the Woods,” opens at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. The Faribault theater and the Northfield Arts Guild are collaborating on the musical which continues on selected weekdays and weekends through August 5.

Betsy cuts Tacy’s hair in this snippet from a mural by artist Marian Anderson in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children’s Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato.

Finally, 40 miles away in Minneapolis and Mankato, the Betsy-Tacy Society is holding its annual convention. The organization focuses on celebrating the Betsy-Tacy children’s book series written by Mankato author Maud Hart Lovelace. I love, love, love these books about three friends growing up in Deep Valley (Mankato) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I read the series to my young daughters two decades ago and we, even to this day, occasionally call my second daughter Tib, after Tib from the books.

It’s probably too late to get into the convention, but you can still join in on some of the fun by attending the free Betsy-Tacy Storytime Tea from 10:30 a.m. – noon Saturday at the Barnes & Noble Bookstore, River Hills Mall, Mankato. A Maud Hart Lovelace interpreter will read from Betsy-Tacy and photos can be taken with Betsy and Tacy. Visitors can also shop at the Betsy-Tacy Bookfair at Barnes & Noble.

The childhood home of Maud Hart Lovelace (aka Betsy), author of the Betsy-Tacy series first published in 1940.

The houses where Lovelace (Betsy in the books) and her friend Frances “Bick” Kenney (Tacy) grew up are owned by the Betsy-Tacy Society and are open to the public. They are a must-see for any fan of Lovelace’s books, although this weekend may not be the best time to tour the homes if you prefer elbow room to crowds.

There you go. Five things you can do within 40 miles of Faribault this weekend.

What are your plans?

FYI: You probably already know this, but just in case you don’t…  By clicking on the highlighted phrases/sentences within the post, you will be directed to more detailed information about the featured events.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


For the love of reading: Little Library opens in Faribault November 10, 2011

Buckham Memorial Library, Faribault

GROWING UP on a farm in rural southwestern Minnesota, all I ever really desired in my hometown was a library, a place where I could check out books and then read to my heart’s content.

Today Vesta, population around 340, still doesn’t have a library, although the bookmobile stops along the one-block Main Street once a month.

Fortunately I have, for nearly 30 years, lived within blocks of Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. I go there often as did my three children, all of whom possess a deep passion for reading.

Just like Joan Smith of Faribault.

Joan, a member of the Rice County Library Board, loves reading and books so much—she can’t pass up a bookstore—that she and husband Dale have opened a library, in their front yard on Faribault’s south side.

As part of a growing world-wide “Little Free Library” movement, this retired couple decided, when encouraged by fellow book lover and library board member Pat Rice, to start a free library.

Dale, known for the log cabin style birdhouses he crafts and sells, had the skills to build the little library. The Smiths sized up books before deciding on the dimensions of 18 inches wide and 12 inches deep.

I counted 31 books in the Smiths' Little Library when I stopped to photograph it. "We all find ourselves with too many books," Joan says. "We need a place to share them." Her place is a Little Library.

That's the Smiths' house to the right at 825 Sixth Ave. SW. Feel free to knock on the door to drop off books, ask questions or thank them. Or simply drop by, open the library plexiglass door and take and/or leave a book.

Shortly before Halloween, the Little Library, situated atop a post at Joan’s eye level and within about a foot of the Fifth and Sixth Avenues Southwest sidewalk intersection, opened. (And, yes, folks, I got that right; two avenues do intersect by the Smiths’ house at 825 Sixth Avenue Southwest.)

Detailed with doors, windows and shutters, the Little Library stands at the intersection of Fifth Ave. S.W. and Sixth Ave. S.W. Here's a back view of the library Dale built.

Joan gushes over a project that shares her passion for reading and which she hopes will get others excited about reading and using the local public library.

“It’s (Little Library) another step toward reading and becoming a lover of books,” she enthuses.

Joan enjoys books, always has, ever since she was a young child living in Mankato, the childhood home of author Maud Hart Lovelace. Her mother read Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy series to Joan as well as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.

Later, when the family settled in the Faribault area, Joan attended a country school with less than two dozen old books on a library shelf. But her mother took her to Buckham Memorial Library, a place with plenty of books.

Joan understands the importance of reading to success in education. Although few children live in her neighborhood, Joan encourages her neighbors to grab a book from the Little Library when the grandchildren visit. She also wants the Faribault community to know: “This is for everybody and you’re welcome to come.” Already, those outside the neighborhood are stopping at the library.

It’s a library without rules or library cards. Take a book. Take a book and leave a book. Leave a book. Whatever works, Joan doesn’t care as long as people are reading.

You never know what books you'll find in the Little Library. Joan says she momentarily panicked after spotting a book with a library label. Turns out the donated book was a library discard.

She’s stocked the Little Library with books gathered from her home and from family members: mysteries and westerns, easy-reader children’s books and picture books, classics and the popular vampire series for teens and, well, whatever Joan collects, buys or no longer needs.

And, yes, the Smiths are accepting donations to their library. They’ve been asked, “What if everyone starts bringing you books?”

“That wouldn’t be a problem,” Joan responds. If she can’t use the books in their library, she’ll donate them wherever they are needed.

Dale Smith is open to considering requests to build little libraries. But the couple encourages interested individuals to construct their own libraries. (Dale’s pretty busy with that birdhouse building.)

Joan hopes their Little Library in southwest Faribault inspires others to open mini libraries and to read, yes, to read.

The Little Library is located right next to the sidewalk in the Smiths' front yard.

A front view of the Little Library looking toward Fifth Avenue Southwest.

FYI: Click here to visit littlefreelibrary.org for details on this library movement, including locations of existing libraries and how to start your own.

The website lists the following Little Free Library sites in Minnesota:

If you know of a Little Free Library in your neighborhood or plan to open one, submit a comment. I’d like to hear.

I’D LIKE TO CHALLENGE the residents of Vesta to start a Little Free Library. How about in or near the Vesta Cafe? Make my dream of a library in my hometown come true. I’ll even bring some books for the library the next time I’m “back home.”

Main Street Vesta and the Vesta Cafe, perhaps the perfect spot for a Little Free Library.

And I was thinking… maybe I should open a Little Free Library. I live along a well-traveled street in Faribault with lots of kids in the neighborhood. I love books, love to read…  Say, Dale, are you up to building another library?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A tale of two girls and a goat-napping August 30, 2011

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This goat is not to be confused with the heisted goat. Rather this goat was photographed at the Kasota Zoo and is used for illustration purposes only with this blog post.

IF YOU HAVE NOT yet heard the tale out of Mankato about the young stepsisters—we’re talking under age 10—who stole a goat from a zoo in the middle of the night and were caught walking down a street in their pajamas with the goat, then click here.

While this story could have ended not-so-happily, it did. The girls and the goat are fine, although the stepsisters could be in trouble with their parents, or the law.

After lying to the police about how they got the goat, the 6 and 7-year-olds eventually fessed-up and the truth was uncovered. They’d been to a birthday party at Sibley Park Zoo earlier in the day and apparently decided they just had to have a goat.

I heard this story on the 10 p.m. news Monday and laughed and laughed and then laughed some more.

I know, maybe I shouldn’t be laughing. Stealing is wrong. Lying is wrong. But in these days of news stories about natural disasters, war, murders, unemployment, a depressed economy, scandalous politics and more, you have to appreciate an imaginative caper like two kids stealing a goat from a zoo, in their p.j.s, in the middle of the night.

And sometimes you just have to view life with a Betsy-Tacy-Tib perspective.

Betsy, Tacy and Tib, for those of you unfamiliar with that trio, are characters in a series of children’s books written by Mankato author Maud Hart Lovelace and published between 1940–1955. The three, based on real-life friends growing up in Mankato (Deep Valley in the books), get into all sorts of mischief.

The fictional trio made quite a mess in the kitchen when they mixed up “Everything Pudding” combining ingredients like bacon grease, vinegar, onions, sugar, red pepper and more.

Another time they cut each other’s hair.

Betsy cuts Tacy's hair in this snippet from a mural by artist Marian Anderson in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children's Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato.

And once the three ventured into Little Syria for a picnic lunch. There they encountered a goat. They didn’t steal the goat. He stole from them, grabbing their picnic basket and scattering sandwiches, cookies and hard-boiled eggs in all directions.

Yup, sometimes you have to laugh, whether it’s at the antics of a goat in a book of fiction or the antics of real-life goat thieves who seem like they could have stepped right off the pages of a Betsy-Tacy book.

FYI: The girls with the Betsy-Tacy-Tib mischievous streak and the goat were apprehended along Carney Avenue. Coincidence or not, one of the books in Lovelace’s series is titled Carney’s House Party. And Carney’s surname is Sibley.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on this story about the stepsisters who stole the goat from Sibley Park Zoo in Mankato? Share your thoughts by submitting a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


For the love of reading April 20, 2011


And I’ve passed that love of reading on to my three children, two of whom are now adults and one who is 17. They are all readers.

Even before my girls started school, I read the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder to them.

Every summer, the folks of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, produce an outdoor pageant based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. Many pageant attendees arrive at the show site dressed in period attire and then climb aboard a covered wagon prop there.

Then I read the Betsy-Tacy book series by Maud Hart Lovelace to my girls. I even nicknamed my second daughter Tib, after the curly-haired, fun-loving Tib in Lovelace’s books. To this day, our family occasionally, fondly, calls her Tib.

A snippet of a mural by artist Marian Anderson in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children's Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato, Minnesota. The painting depicts the main characters in Lovelace's books, from left, friends Tib, Tacy and Betsy.

Now that I think back on those days of snuggling on the couch with my two girls and later with my son, I am impressed that these preschoolers would sit still for long chapter books. But they did. Of course, I also read picture books and easy-reader books to them.

Long after my trio stopped sitting on my lap or leaning into my shoulders, listening to the stories I read, they continued reading.

Even my boy, my teen. This surprises me. At 17, he still pops out the leg rest on the reclining couch, stretches out his lanky body, grabs a book and reads. For hours. He also reads in bed when he should be sleeping.

There was a time, during his elementary and middle school years, when I checked under his bed for a flashlight and books. He got smart to that and simply hid them elsewhere. So I stopped searching, not wanting to squelch his love of reading even if it meant he wasn’t getting enough sleep.

Today he still reads when he should be sleeping. While I encourage him not to read into the wee hours of the morning, I can’t exactly stop him.

Right now he has two dozen science fiction books stacked in the middle of his bedroom floor: I, Robot and Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov, The Invisible Man and The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, Ringworld by Larry Niven, 1984 by George Orwell, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein…

Science fiction books stacked on my teen's bedroom floor.

Some of the books have copyrights nearly as old as me.

My son found these books at a used book sale sponsored by the local branch of the American Association of University Women. The AAUW holds the sale annually to raise funds for local reading projects. It’s a worthy cause.

Well, Saturday, we “donated” $25 to the cause, dropping that amount for a box full of two dozen science fiction books, a Star Wars video, two Bach CDs, a nonfiction book about Iowa and a vintage elementary school textbook. The last two items on that list were my selections. I seldom buy books for myself, preferring to check them out from the library because I’ll read a book only once. My teen will read a volume multiple times.

I picked up a 1951 edition of this children's textbook at the used book sale. One of the women working the sale said she used it in her classroom and really liked the book. So did I. But I purchased it for the beautiful vintage art.

I found this brand new book for my niece, who will graduate from high school in about a month. She will attend an Iowa university. I thought she might enjoy this children's nonfiction book that will introduce her to her new home state. Either that or she'll think her aunt (me) is crazy for giving her such an unusual gift. If anyone else wants an Iowa book, you'll find a box full at the sale.

Typically I would not pay $25 for nearly 30 used books, some of them well-used. But how could I deny these books to my teen, who said he can’t even find some of the older books in the library system? Yes, he has a well-used library card.

The older women working the book sale seemed impressed with my gangly teen who managed to fill an entire cardboard box with books. They even offered him a several-dollar discount when I told him he would need to pay half the cost of the books. I only thought it fair. I’ve never been the type of mom to buy my kids something simply because they want it. The son didn’t argue.

I had to restrain myself from buying an armful of children’s picture books. For years I bought used books for the library at the Christian day school my children attended. After I stopped volunteering a dozen years later, breaking that buying habit took a bit of resolve.

Since I passed on the many fabulous children’s books, I did the next best thing. I e-mailed two friends with young children and encouraged them to shop at the sale.

HOW ABOUT YOU, do you buy books at used book sales, garage or rummage sales or elsewhere? Have you always loved to read? And, if you have children, do they also love being read to or reading on their own?

FOR ANYONE WHO lives in the Faribault area, today, April 20, is the final day of the book sale, which runs from 3 p.m. – 7 p.m. in the old Hallmark store at the Faribo West Mall. I’m pretty certain you’ll find plenty of deals on books as the AAUW will just want “to get rid of” their remaining inventory.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Santa Claus is coming to town on a John Deere tractor November 29, 2010

I HAVE FOND CHILDHOOD memories of Ham Day in my hometown of Vesta, a farming community of some 350 on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. When I was growing up, Vesta boasted a one-block main street lined with businesses. Today you’ll find a bank on one corner, the municipal liquor store on another, a café a stone’s throw away, the post office and that’s about it in the heart of town.

Back then, the Commercial Club sponsored an annual December Ham Day at the community hall. This offered an opportunity for local businesses to thank customers by giving away hams in a drawing.


The Vesta Community Hall, site of the annual Ham Day in December.

It also gave farm families an opportunity to socialize and, well, win a ham. You can bet my dad made sure his six kids signed up at as many businesses as possible for the ham give-away. Every year we went home with a ham.

But that’s not all. We kids also got goodie bags parceled out by Santa Claus, played by my Uncle Clarence. After the drawing, we would tromp outside and form a line into the Legion Hall. There Santa handed each kid a brown paper bag packed with peanuts, an apple, an orange, a marshmallow Santa and, best of all, a chocolate Hershey bar. Could life get any sweeter? Not for this farm girl.

With Ham Day forever a part of my cherished Christmas memories, I wondered what holiday happenings out there might hold special memories for today’s generation.

Here are a few upcoming events that seem suitable for memory-making:


John Deere tractors galore lined up at the 2009 Rice County Steam & Gas Engine Show. Santa will likely arrive on a newer model John Deere at this week's SEMA Equipment holiday open houses.

SANTAS ARRIVE IN JOHN DEERE tractors at SEMA Equipment, Inc. holiday open houses this week. From 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Thursday, December 2, Santa will be at the ag implement dealership in Wanamingo. From 9 a.m. – noon on Saturday, December 4, Santa will simultaneously appear at SEMA in LeRoy, Plainview, Spring Valley, St. Charles and Austin. Don’t ask me how. But Santa is magical and I suppose he can be in five places at once.

I expect a lot of happy kids sharing cookies with the Jolly Old Man, riding in John Deere tractors, and bringing home Silly Bands and John Deere suckers. Even I would like a John Deere sucker. (I have fond memories of attending John Deere Day each year in Redwood Falls.)

IF YOU WANT TO ATTEND A TORCHLIGHT parade and dislike big city traffic and crowds (like me), take the kiddos over to Montgomery for the annual Torchlight Parade & Fireworks beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, December 2. Post parade you’ll be treated to a beautiful computer-choreographed fireworks display set to holiday music.


Book characters Tib, left, Tacy and Betsy, in a mural in the Maud Hart Lovelace Children's Wing at the Blue Earth County Library in Mankato. Marian Anderson painted scenes from the 10 Betsy-Tacy books.

CHILDREN (AND ADULTS) who are fans of the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace can experience an old-fashioned Victorian Christmas from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, at the Betsy-Tacy houses in Mankato. Costumed characters will represent Betsy Ray and her family. Carolers will entertain. Refreshments will be served in the across-the-street houses decorated for the holidays.


Betsy Ray's (Maud Hart Lovelace) house along Center Street in Mankato, photographed this past summer.

UP NORTH IN HUBBARD, eight miles south of Park Rapids, you’ll find another interesting holiday happening which is likely more suited for adults than kids. The Long Lake Theater’s production of Ole & Lena’s It’s a Wonderful Life opens Thursday, December 2, for a two-week, eight-day run. The last show is December 12. Billed as a parody of the beloved Christmas classic with a Minnesota twist, the performance features those well-known Minnesota Scandinavians, Ole and Lena.


Santa stops at the beautifully-restored Bachrach Building in downtown Faribault on Saturday.

SANTA WILL POSE for pictures and visit with kids in Faribault during a Hometown Holidays event from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday, December 4, in the Bachrach Building, 318 N. Central Avenue.  (No mention of goodie bags.) Other activities include cookie decorating and ornament making.

Across the street at the Paradise Center for the Arts, holiday storytime begins at 3 p.m. The Faribault High School Band the local Girl Scouts will also provide musical entertainment.

Old Trondhjem Church, photographed in the summer.

A CONCERT OF CHRISTMAS favorites will surely get you in the holiday spirit at a Norwegian country church near Lonsdale. The historic church presents “Sounds of Christmas at Old Trondhjem: Janet White and Friends” at 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 12.

IF YOU KNOW of an interesting holiday activity in your Minnesota neighborhood, submit the information in a comment or an email. I’ll start a list and share the information in an upcoming post/posts.

Likewise, if you have wonderful memories of a childhood Christmas event like Ham Day in Vesta, I’d like to hear those stories too.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling