Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting with nature at Carleton College August 19, 2019

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TO WALK HERE, among wildflowers lining water’s edge, is to find peace. And these days I crave peace, a short escape from the challenges of life. Nature offers that quiet, that solitude, that ability to forget reality for awhile.



On a recent Saturday, Randy and I followed a trail into a nature area at Carleton College in Northfield. I thought how lovely to attend college here, to have this natural space available on the edge of campus. A place for students to retreat, to recharge, to reboot.





On this day, I retreated, focusing my attention (and camera) on vivid and pastel petals,



reflections on water,




the arc of bridges



and then, the unexpected—a memorial to Carleton alum Ann N. Nelson who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. A second Carleton alum, Joe McDonald, also died there.



The memorial stone placed between benches next to a labyrinth drew my thoughts away momentarily to that awful day in our nation’s history. And I considered the pain and the horror of it all and how, even in this peaceful place, one cannot fully-escape the difficult realities of life.




© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering Barb Larson one year after her murder via an act of domestic violence December 21, 2017

Barb Larson, an employee of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, was murdered on December 23, 2016, at her workplace. A memorial mosaic on the building exterior honors her.


ON DECEMBER 23, 2016, Barb Larson was murdered inside the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism office. She was shot by her ex-husband, a former cop, who then turned his gun on himself.


This plaque fronts the artwork.


The murder of Barb Larson and the suicide of her killer, Richard Larson, just days before Christmas 2016 stunned my community. Both were well-known in Faribault. For Barb to die in an act of domestic violence in the workplace—in a place promoting our community—seemed unfathomable.


Caron Bell’s mosaic is titled “Love Remains” and was designed with input from Barb’s family and friends.


But it happened. Just like domestic abuse and violence still occur daily in my city. And in yours, too. Most often the violence does not result in death. Sometimes, tragically, it does.


I see grief, a swirling of emotions, in the grey tile.


A year out from Barb’s murder, I wonder if anything in my community has really changed. Reports of domestic-related calls continue to fill police reports published in the local newspaper. Domestic violence stories still cover too many column inches.


Even after Barb’s death, beauty and hope still bloom.


Are we more aware, educated, alert now than we were before Barb’s high profile death? And if we are, what are we doing to make a difference in the lives of those affected by domestic abuse and violence? I’m talking individuals here, not those who already serve victims/survivors/families through advocacy programs like those at HOPE Center and through Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women and their families.


Inspirational and honoring words are embedded in the mosaic tile.


Initially, some positive action followed—a Faribault church gave away battery-operated candles to shine the light of hope; the Chamber celebrated Happy Barb Day on what would have been Barb’s 60th birthday; public art exhibits honored Barb and spotlighted the darkness of her death and hope rising; a statewide It Happens Here awareness campaign highlighted the issue of domestic violence; and HOPE Center staffers attended a Domestic Violence Homicide Memorial event honoring Barb and other victims.



In addition to the art commission, the Chamber interior was refurbished by volunteers after Barb’s murder there. Inside the office, a word collage also honors Barb as does a fiber art piece by long-time friend and Northfield artist Judy Sayes-Willis.


As a Chamber employee, Barb was especially welcoming.


Additionally, the Chamber commissioned an art piece by Minneapolis artist Caron Bell. Titled “Love Remains,” the mosaic on the exterior of the Chamber office honors Barb through a peaceful landscape scene and six words describing her: friendly, passionate, hopeful, beautiful, strong and welcoming.


“Love Remains” needs to be viewed up close to see all the words celebrating Barb.




I didn’t know Barb personally. But I especially appreciate the words hopeful and strong. Strong and hopeful.



I’m thankful for these multiple efforts focusing public attention on the issues of domestic abuse and violence. I hope these efforts continue. Our awareness and concern must remain even when headlines vanish into the next day’s news.



In the year since Barb’s death, 21* known individuals have died in Minnesota due to domestic violence. That’s too many in 2017, or ever. We need to remember these victims and their families and friends. And we need to care about those who remain in abusive relationships. Whether sisters by blood, sisters by community connection, sisters by workplace, sisters by church or neighborhood or friendship, we must pledge to believe them, support them, help them. Stop blaming them.

We need also to question why men continue to abuse women. Beyond that, how can we prevent such abuse and change the negative ways in which some men and boys view women and girls?

We need to break the silence. We need to do something. And that starts with each of us.


Please click on the highlighted links within this post (especially in the final paragraphs) to view enlightening and informative stories and videos on the topics of domestic abuse and violence. These are important and worth your time. 




FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship, please seek help. Confide in someone you trust such as a family member, friend, co-worker, pastor, women’s advocate… You are not alone. There is hope and help. You deserve to be free of any type of abuse whether verbal, emotional, psychological, mental, financial, spiritual, technological and/or physical. Believe in yourself and in your strength.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The time period in which you try to leave (or after you’ve left) your abuser is the most dangerous time for you. Have a safety plan in place. In Barb’s case, a harassment restraining order had been served on her ex-husband the week he murdered her. Don’t rely on a piece of paper or “the system” to protect you.

If you know someone in an abusive relationship, offer your support, love and care. Educate yourself. Seek professional advice so you best know how to help a victim. That’s vital.


* This number may actually be higher, but is the most recent figure published on the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women Facebook page.

NOTE: Since most victims of domestic abuse and violence are women, I choose to use that gender when I write on this topic. I am aware that men can also be victims.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


At St. Olaf College: A Minnesota connection to the 1965 Civil Rights Movement May 12, 2015

The name Reeb holds special significance at a Minnesota college.

The name Reeb holds special significance in a memorial at a Minnesota college.

JAMES REEB. You may not recognize his name. Or you may remember an actor portraying the Rev. Reeb in a scene in the movie, Selma. Or heard/read his name in a recent news story.

The memorial honoring the Rev. James Reeb was dedicated in March, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The memorial honoring the Rev. James Reeb was dedicated in March, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Today, just outside the entrance to Rolvaag Library on the hilltop campus of St. Olaf College in the southern Minnesota community of Northfield, Reeb is honored with a memorial for his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.

Words play across a screen in a video next to the memorial.

Words play across a screen in a video next to the memorial.

His involvement cost him his life.

A portrait of Reeb printed on the memorial.

A portrait of Reeb printed on the memorial.

On March 9, 1965, Reeb and two friends were attacked after dining at a Selma restaurant run by local black citizens. The Massachusetts clergyman, an outspoken advocate for civil rights, desegregation and more, died two days later from his injuries.

Reeb, shown to the left in this photo, was among those who marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday.

Reeb, shown to the left in this photo, was among those who marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. This image is in a video at the St. Olaf memorial.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who’d called upon clergy to join a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, delivered Reeb’s eulogy.

Reeb’s death served as a catalyst for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to information published on the memorial to this 1950 St. Olaf graduate.

Visitors to the "Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail" exhibit at St. Olaf College let their voices be heard.

Visitors to the recent “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College let their voices be heard.

To view this recently-installed memorial, to read that Reeb possessed “a healing personality, but his convictions are like iron” is to understand that one voice can make a difference. Reeb considered taking a stand for justice more important than remaining in the safety of his home. He left his family in Massachusetts to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. While walking to a planning meeting for that march, Reeb was brutally attacked.

The "Selma to Montgomery" exhibit at the Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf, recently closed.

The “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit at the Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf, recently closed.

In Reeb’s eulogy, King noted that, “His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain.”

Those are words we would do well to remember today, 50 years after Reeb’s death and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

FYI: Click here to read my post about the recently-closed Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail exhibit at St. Olaf College.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Remembering Brittney at a rural Faribault cemetery May 5, 2015

HUNDREDS OF TIMES during the past 30 years, I’ve passed North Grove Cemetery along busy Minnesota Highway 3 between Faribault and Northfield.

The entrance to North Grove Cemetery, which sits along Minnesota Highway 3 north of Faribault. The building once housed a church.

The entrance to North Grove Cemetery, which sits along Minnesota Highway 3 north of Faribault. The building once housed a church.

Not once have I stopped to explore this final resting place sheltered by trees butting a small white church. You know how it is. If you pass something often enough, you fail to notice it after awhile.

The flash of red that caught my eye.

The flash of red that caught my eye.

That is until recently, when a flash of red in a corner of the cemetery caught my eye. My husband, whose vision is far superior to mine, managed to read the words—WE LOVE u BRittnEY—on the handcrafted sign cornered with four red hearts.

There was no time to tour the graveyard that day. But on a recent Saturday, we stopped.

The memorial to Brittney Landsverk.

The memorial to Brittney Landsverk.

In this small Norwegian cemetery, I found an abundance of markers for Oles and Sophias who died long ago. But my focus was on the corner memorial created for 20-year-old Brittney Rose Landsverk. Five years have passed already since her April 2, 2010, tragic death flooded my community of Faribault with grief.

Brittney drowned after the young man she was dating drove a car in which she was a passenger into the nearby Cannon River. Mitchell Bongers would later admit to drinking, plead guilty to criminal vehicular homicide and receive a four-year prison sentence.

A loving, permanent tribute to Brittney.

A loving, permanent tribute to Brittney.

I cannot fathom the agony Ron and Kelly Landsverk endured while searchers looked for their daughter’s body in the twisting Cannon River. Eighty-seven days of wondering and waiting. And then, a life-time of grief at the loss of their only child.

Words of love for Brittney expressed.

Words of love for Brittney expressed.

I don’t know the Landsverk family. But I am a mother and a part of the Faribault community. That is enough to connect me to them. When a child dies in such a senseless and tragic way, the impact is far-reaching. It touches all of us.

Visitors to Brittney's memorial can write a message on the bench.

Visitors to Brittney’s memorial can write a message on the bench.

Visiting Brittney’s memorial, I got a sense of who she was, what she loved, how much she was loved/is still loved and missed.

Items attached to a fence  reveal more about Brittney.

Items attached to a fence reveal more about Brittney.

She was a young woman who apparently liked Cheetos and Mountain Dew, Hello Kitty and butterflies.

Brittney's memorial is next to her grandparents' grave.

Brittney’s memorial is next to her grandparents’ grave.

Born in South Korea, Brittney Rose arrived in her parents’ arms on May 1, 1990. She is named after her paternal grandmother, Rose. Brittney’s memorial is located next to Rose and husband Kenneth’s gravesite.

Roses abound, including these on the fence.

Roses abound, including these on the fence.

Roses grace the memorial. The flowers seem symbolic beyond honoring Brittney Rose’s name. To me they also represent that adage, “Stop and smell the roses.” We never know when the roses may cease to bloom, when their sweet scent will merely linger in the memory of our days.


Click here to read my first post on North Grove Cemetery.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Boys of ’61 memorial May 9, 2011

ON AUGUST 21, 1862, he was mustered into the Seventh Regiment Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, Company K. He was 34 years old. He was my great great grandfather, John Dallmann.

More than two years later, he was among seven men from his company wounded in the Battle of Nashville. The battle represented one of the Union Army’s largest victories during the Civil War. Two soldiers from Company K were killed in that December 15-16, 1864, conflict.

Remarks written in the Company K roster, published in Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars 1861-1865, under the supervision of The Board of Commissioners appointed by the act of the Minnesota legislature in 1889, state that Dahlman (the roster spelling) was “Wounded at Nashville; discharged in hospital in ’65.”

Other than that basic information, I know nothing of my great great grandfather’s military service.

He was among some 24,000 Minnesotans who marched off to war 150 years (or so) ago. Some came home; many died on battlefields or of disease.

My great great grandfather, John Dallmann (seated in the front row) was wounded on December 16, 1864, at the Battle of Nashville. My great grandmother, Anna Dallmann Bode is standing in the center in the back row, between her siblings, Minna, left to right, Carl, Herman and Hulda.

On this the sesquicentennial of our nation’s bloodiest war, plans are in place to construct a memorial honoring “all Minnesota citizens who served and fought to preserve Minnesota and the Union between 1861 and 1866,” according to the Minnesota Boys of ’61 nonprofit corporation.

A one-acre site south of the State Capitol in Summit Park has been selected for the state-wide memorial, current location of a monument to Josiah King, the first Minnesotan to volunteer for the Union.

Design plans call for granite monuments recognizing each Minnesota regiment, battery, battalion or independent organization encircling a full-scale bronze infantryman, calvaryman and civilian volunteer. Artillery pieces will flank each side of the memorial.

Efforts are currently underway to raise $750,000 for the project, which will be funded entirely by private donations.

For Minnesotans, this monument offers an opportunity to honor a soldier-ancestor on a state-wide level. Contributions made payable to “Minnesota Boys of ’61 Memorial” should be sent to:

Minnesota Boys of ’61 Memorial

1524 East Cliff Road

Burnsville, MN. 55337

A “Wall of Honor” will recognize donors at various levels, beginning with patriot donors who give a minimum $150. Contributors may choose to be recognized by personal or business name or may honor an ancestor.

Those who donate over $1,000 in money or in-kind services will also receive a signed, limited edition print of Minnesota Iron, the official Boys of ’61 print by Minnesota artist David Geister.

My great great grandfather's name is listed on the Veterans Wall of Honor in Bella Vista, Arkansas, where my two maternal aunts and their husbands live.

FYI: Log on to boysof61.org for more information about the Minnesota memorial and how you can donate.

Click here to read about the Arkansas memorial.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Family photo courtesy of Dorothy Bowman