Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In New Ulm: George’s Ballroom, when the music stops April 19, 2021

The boarded entrance to the long-closed George’s Ballroom in New Ulm. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I CAN ALMOST HEAR the rhythmic oom-pah-pah of the polka, see the couples twirling across the scuffed wooden dance floor, smell the scent of whiskey poured from bottles hidden in brown paper bags.

George’s, on the corner of Center and German Streets, also housed a bar and, at one time, a bowling alley. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

Across Minnesota, ballrooms once centered Saturday evenings with wedding receptions, concerts and parties celebrating milestones. The Blue Moon Ballroom in Marshall. The Gibbon Ballroom, site of Polka Days, in Gibbon. The Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester. George’s Ballroom in New Ulm. And many others.

The historic marquee marks George’s Ballroom. What a beautiful piece of art. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

Now most of these entertainment venues are shuttered. Abandoned. Or gone. The places of memories shared in stories. The places of memories photographed. A bride tossing her bouquet. A couple wrapped in each other’s arms. A trio wildly whirling in The Chicken Dance. My parents met at a dance in a southwestern Minnesota ballroom in the early 1950s. So many Minnesotans hold ballroom memories.

The bar entrance is here, the ballroom entry to the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

Last summer while in New Ulm, I photographed the exterior of George’s Ballroom, an art deco style brick structure built in 1947 by George Neuwirth. The facility, which could hold up to 3,000 guests, once served as this community’s celebration and concert hub. Lawrence Welk, Glen Miller, The Six Fat Dutchmen and other big name bands played here.

George’s closed in 1991, reopened for awhile under new ownership and then shuttered again—permanently—in the early 2000s. Property taxes went unpaid. Options expired.

Now, nearly 20 years later, the former dance hall faces likely demolition, according to media reports. Cost to restore the ballroom is estimated at $5 million. Cost to demolish it, $1 million. That’s a lot of money. But when you’re dealing with mold from water damage, asbestos and other health and safety issues, costs climb quickly.

Here you can see some of the damage, underneath that BAR sign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

All of this saddens me. I love historic buildings. They’re often well-built and hold important historic, community and personal importance. But I am also a realist who recognizes that not everything can be saved.

The marquee first caught my photographic interest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2020.

I do hope, though, that the George’s marquee and signage—which drew me to photograph the building in the heart of downtown New Ulm—will be saved. It sounds like that’s the plan. I hope the historic art can be incorporated into an outdoor public space rather than tucked inside, mostly unseen and under appreciated. People need easy access to George’s memorabilia. To photograph. To reminisce. To remember the Saturday nights of Big Bands and polkas and partying with family and friends. With a little creative thinking, George’s can continue to draw locals and others, adding another attraction to a community that excels as a destination city.

TELL ME: What would you do with George’s Ballroom and/or the marquee and signage? I’d love to hear your creative ideas and/or your memories of George’s or other ballrooms.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections after a country drive April 1, 2021

Farmland dominates the landscape east of Faribault near Minnesota State Highway 60.

EAST OF FARIBAULT, the land stretches long and flat. Wide open. Fields punctuated by farm sites.

We followed this narrow, and muddy, gravel road.

Gravel and asphalt roads divide farmland into grids. Orderly. As if a ruler was laid across the earth and straight lines inked thereon.

Building sites break the monotony of fields.

Sunday afternoon, after a hike at Falls Creek County Park, Randy and I took a country drive. We are farm-raised, decades removed from the farm, but with an enduring connection to the land.

An old hayrack, so familiar to me, parked in a field east of Faribault.

On the cusp of spring planting time in Minnesota, the draw back to the land, to the familiarity of fields, calls. For me, there’s this deep yearning, this need to lay my eyes on the bare earth or the residue of last year’s crops.

I feel connected to all of this via my rural upbringing in southwestern Minnesota.

At times my heart aches for missing the land. I want to smell the scent of soil, to touch the cold earth, to remember all those springs back on the farm. The steady rhythm of the tractor, the corn kernels pouring into the planter and then the faint hint of green lining the black fields.

An aged abandoned outbuilding on a former farm site just outside Nerstrand.

Much about farming has changed since my leaving of the land in the early 1970s. But the basics remain. The planting, the growing and harvesting.

Power poles along a gravel road are such a strong rural visual.

And even though I’ve lived in town far more decades than on a farm, my rural upbringing roots me to the land and takes me back each season. To honor my hardworking farmer dad. To equally appreciate my mom who gardened and fed and raised six children on the land. My hardworking parents instilled in me a love of the land, a connection to place and the innate need to follow gravel roads into the countryside.

Dad farmed, in the early years with a John Deere and Farmall and IH tractors and later with a Ford. (Photo by Lanae Kletscher Feser)
A photo of my dad, Elvern Kletscher, taken in 1980.

This post is dedicated in loving memory of my farmer father, Elvern Kletscher, who died on April 7, 2003. Thank you, Dad, for raising me to appreciate the land, for teaching me the value of hard work. for instilling in me a love of God and of family. I am grateful. And I miss you.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In loving memory of my father-in-law February 9, 2021

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Tom and Betty Helbling, photographed in 1988.

HE DIED PEACEFULLY Friday morning, two of his daughters by his side.

He is my father-in-law, Tom. Age 90. His death came quickly after a short hospitalization, discharge, sudden change in health, admittance to hospice, then gone the next day.

Mass of Christian burial for my father-in-law will be celebrated in St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman.

Now we are preparing to say goodbye in the deep of a brutally cold stretch of weather here in Minnesota in the midst of a global pandemic. Both add to the challenges.

Today, though, I want to focus on Tom and my memories of the man I’ve known for nearly 40 years. A man with a large and loving family, whom he loved, even if he didn’t often openly show it.

Tom and Betty Helbling, circa early 1950s.

Tom has always been surrounded by a large family, beginning with his birth into a blended family in rural St. Anthony, North Dakota, in December 1930. After farming on the Helbling homestead, Tom and his wife, Betty, moved in 1963 with their young children to a central Minnesota farm. Their family grew to nine children, 18 grandchildren and 20 great grandchildren.

As a young child, Tom briefly attended Catholic boarding school, which leads to one of my favorite stories about him. Apparently oatmeal was often served for breakfast. And Tom disliked oatmeal. One morning he stuffed the cooked grain in his pocket rather than eat it, so the story goes. I expect it wasn’t long before the nuns discovered the oatmeal mess and meted out punishment.

Yes, Tom could be particular about the foods he ate. He liked, in my opinion, the strangest foods—Braunschweiger, summer sausage, pickled beets, herring… And, yes, his son, my husband Randy, also likes herring. Shortly before his health declined, Tom enjoyed a few of those favorites delivered to his care center room by a daughter.

Ripened corn field. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Visitor restrictions due to COVID-19 were hard on Tom, as they have been for most living in congregate care centers and their families. But my father-in-law has overcome much in his life, most notably the loss of his left hand and forearm following an October 1967 farming accident. The accident happened when Tom hopped off the tractor to hand-feed corn into a plugged corn chopper. The rollers sliced off his fingers and pulled in his hand, trapping it. As Tom screamed for help, Randy, only 11 years old, disengaged the power take-off, then raced across fields and swampland to a neighbor’s farm. It’s a harrowing story that could have easily turned tragic.

My father-in-law’s prosthetic hand. Tom put a band-aid on his hand after he burned a hole in it while frying potatoes in 2009. I laughed so hard. Prior to getting his hand, Tom wore a hook to replace his amputated limb. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Despite a missing limb, Tom managed to continue milking cows and, in later years, to run a small engine repair business. He also grew and sold strawberries and pumpkins. I remember harvesting pumpkins with him one cold October evening, rain slicking the field with mud. We were drenched and miserable by the time we’d plucked those pumpkins.

One of my favorite photos of Tom giving an impromptu concert on his Lowrey organ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

It is the creative side of Tom which I especially appreciated. He was a multi-talented life-long musician who played the piano, organ and accordion (until he lost his hand). He could play music by ear and had a piano tuning business. At age 81, he took refresher organ lessons and in 2012 gave an impromptu concert for Randy and me in the small St. Cloud apartment he shared with his second wife, Janice. His first wife, Betty, died in 1993. He treated us to Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “Somewhere My Love” from the movie Dr. Zhivago. What a gift to us.

Threshing on the home place in North Dakota, a painting by my father-in-law, Tom Helbling.

Tom also painted, a hobby he took up late in life. Randy and I have two of his original oil paintings and several prints. They are a reminder of my father-in-law, of his history, of his rural upbringing, of his creative side. I consider these a legacy gift. Valued now more than ever at his passing.


© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Minnesota: Reflecting on small towns January 29, 2021

Buckman, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

RURAL MINNESOTA. For Randy and me, that represents our upbringing, the place of our roots, the land that is part of our personal geography.

A road grader grades the gravel road near Randy’s childhood farm southeast of Buckman. We pulled off the narrow road to allow the grader to safely pass by our van. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A farm place between Buckman and Gilman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
In the small town of Gilman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

We both grew up on farms, in large families—his three kids larger than mine at nine. We both picked rock—he more than me as Morrison County in central Minnesota sprouts more rocks than Redwood County. We each labored in fields and barns and understood the value of hard work and our importance in the farming operation. Even at a young age. That carries through in our strong work ethics and our strong link to the land.

Pierz, a small town to the north of Buckman and bigger than Buckman, still has a hardware store. Randy attended junior and senior high school in Pierz. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
As we passed through Pierz, I photographed this updated community gathering spot. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Genola, just to the south of Pierz, is home to the Red Rooster. BINGO is big in this part of rural Minnesota as is weekly Bologna Day (as noted in the banner on the building). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

And, though we left our rural communities at age 17, we still hold dear the small towns—Buckman and Vesta—that were such an important part of our upbringing. Both have changed with familiar businesses long gone. Society changed and locals began driving farther for groceries and other necessities.

A nod to this area’s rich agricultural base outside Sev’s Food & Liquor in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

It’s easy to get caught in the memories, of the back then, of wishing nothing had changed. But it has and it does. And life goes on.

Housed in the old bank building, the Buckman Bank Tavern. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Signs on Sev’s in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Sev’s Food & Liquor along Buckman’s main street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Returning to our hometowns, our home areas, causes me to reflect while simultaneously appreciating that which remains. Cafes and churches and hardware stores. Post offices and bars and grain elevators. These are the community gathering spots that still mark many of Minnesota’s smallest communities, those towns that span only blocks from east to west, north to south.

I often see can collection sites in small towns, like this one in Buckman. They offer insights into a community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
On the door of a Buckman bar, a young man remembered. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A warning sign posted on a house in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

But more than buildings, people form community. Even in Faribault, where Randy and I have lived since 1982, we’ve found our small town in a city of around 25,000. That’s in our faith family at Trinity Lutheran Church, the “town” that centers our lives. An uncle and I discussed this recently. He lives in Minneapolis. His neighborhood is his community, his small town.

A place to gather outside Sev’s Food & Liquor in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

No matter where you live, whether in rural Minnesota or New York City, the mountains of Idaho or the plains of Nebraska, I hope you’ve found your community and place of joy.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: St. Michael’s in Buckman, place of faith, art & memories January 26, 2021

IMAGINE, AS A YOUNG BOY, moving nearly 400 miles across the plains of North Dakota east to Minnesota with your family to start a new life. You’ve left behind your grandparents and other extended family, and the comforting familiarity of farm home, church and school. For my husband, that was reality.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

As the Tom and Betty Helbling family settled onto a farm southeast of Buckman in central Minnesota in the early 1960s, Randy found himself adjusting from a one-room country schoolhouse with one teacher to a parochial school with multiple classrooms and teachers. He no longer faced cancellation of recess due to coyotes circling the playground at Chimney Butte School near St. Anthony. Rather, he faced nuns slapping his hands with a ruler or drilling thumbs into his skull, adding to his angst as the new boy in school. And then there was the matter of the frightening statue across the street inside the massive St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

In the center, St. Michael overpowering Satan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Some six months ago, I heard for the first time about Randy’s boyhood fear of the statue which centers the main altar at St. Michael’s, where he attended weekday and Sunday Mass. The statue features a triumphant St. Michael overpowering Satan with a spear. A horrid, crouching other-worldly creature with an open mouth of sharp teeth and equally sharp claws represents Satan. Enough to scare any child looking over adult heads to that altar art. Not even the chain and weapon would be enough to inspire confidence in the Evil One’s captivity.

St. Michael’s stretches long and high. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

All of that aside, St. Michael’s is a truly beautiful church. Massive in size and vast in art. I’ve come to know it only through marriage as I grew up 145 miles to the south of Buckman and in the Lutheran faith.

“The Nativity” stained glass, one of many similar windows inside St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A stunningly beautiful cross, one of many. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Statues on a side altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I don’t pretend to understand the meaning of all the art which graces this space. But one thing I do understand is that this house of worship excels in craftsmanship and artistry. Each piece of art holds meaning, significance, purpose. From the stained glass windows to the sculptures to the ornate altars.

Looking toward the back of the church and to the balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Years have passed since I stepped inside St. Michael’s. So when Randy and I visited his mother’s and brother’s gravesites at the church cemetery last September, we decided to also check out the recently-restored church. I expected locked doors, so often the case now in rural and small town churches. But the doors to an addition were open and we had the place to ourselves. Note that plenty of security cameras film visitors.

My favorite art in St. Michael’s are these angels painted on the ceiling above the altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

My reaction was one of awe as I stood inside the sanctuary with its soaring ceiling, art seemingly everywhere. It’s a photographer’s paradise. An art lover’s dream. A place of peace for the faithful.

A side altar up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Ornate ceiling details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
One of many detailed sculptures. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I felt overwhelmed as I moved from one area of the church to the next—attempting to take in all I saw. The whole picture. The details. Oh, the details.

The center altar, with that frightening statue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I stood for a moment, placing myself in Randy’s shoes as that young boy from North Dakota seeing this all for the first time. I locked eyes on the statue of St. Michael towering over Satan, the terrible, horrible creature with the sharp teeth and claws. And I understood Randy’s fear manifested there all those decades ago.

Please check back as I bring you more photos from inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Embracing winter in Minnesota January 6, 2021

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My two-year-old grandson with his new snow shovel.

WHEN YOU LIVE IN A NORTHERN state like Minnesota, where winter defines at least half the year, preparation for cold and snowy weather is a necessity, not an option.

It’s a lesson taught from early on. Snowsuit, waterproof mittens and snow boots for the kids. Check. Check. Check. Sled. Check. Snow shovel. Check.

No matter your age, dressing properly to protect from the elements and then having the right tools to deal with the snow are essentials. So we’ve equipped our grandchildren, Isabelle and Isaac, with snow shovels and sleds. Izzy got her mama’s childhood snow shovel and Lion King sled. Isaac got a new shovel purchased at the local hardware store. And we bought bright new sleds for both at a regional retailer.

Then it’s up to the parents, or the grandparents, to bundle the kids and get them outdoors. It’s a process. But important in teaching the little people that winter can be fun.

Our southwestern Minnesota farmyard is buried in snowdrifts in this March 1965 image. My mom is holding my youngest sister as she stands by the car parked next to the house. My other sister and two brothers and I race down the snowdrifts.

I loved winter as a child growing up on the wind-swept southwestern Minnesota prairie. There snow drifted into rock-hard mountains around the house and farm outbuildings. There Dad shoved snow with the John Deere tractor and loader into more mountains, where my siblings and I played for endless hours. We carved out snow caves and raced on a vintage runner sled. Such is the stuff of memories. And of winter in Minnesota.

This huge, hard-as-rock snowdrift blocked our farm driveway in this March 1965 photo, rural Vesta, Minnesota. My uncle drove over from a neighboring farm to help open the drive so the milk truck could reach the milkhouse.

While my grandchildren’s memories will be different—they live in a new housing development in the south metro—I hope they continue to embrace winter with joy and enthusiasm. Just as their mom (Dad grew up in warm and sunny California) and maternal grandparents did before them.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finding a Charlie Brown Christmas tree in Faribault December 10, 2020

Our family Christmas tree always sat on the end of the kitchen table, as shown in this Christmas 1964 photo. That’s me in the red jumper with four of my five siblings.

EACH DECEMBER, I FIND myself on a quest for a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. I like my tree small, shaped by nature and reminiscent of the Christmas trees of my youth. Those tinseled childhood trees sat on the end of the Formica kitchen table in our cramped southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.

Even though I live in a house with more room, although small by today’s standards, I still want a basic short-needled Charlie Brown tree. Such a tree brings back many happy holiday memories.

Some of the trees available at Ken’s Christmas Trees.

I’ve found a source for such a tree here in Faribault, my go-to spot for the past several Christmases, although last year I didn’t get a tree. It had been a challenging year and I just did not feel up to holiday decorating.

But this year is different. This year I want, need, the joy of Christmas decorations filling my house. With lights. Tinsel. Candle angels and Santas and a snowman that I’ve had for decades. A wooden stable handcrafted by my maternal grandpa along with figurines cast in plaster of Paris. Plastic nativities gifted to me by Sunday School teachers more than 50 years ago. The scent of pine.

Ken’s Christmas Trees, located behind Taco John’s.

This is the stuff of Christmas in my house. All of these are meaningful, connected to places, people, experiences. Joy. The Charlie Brown tree I found at Ken’s Christmas Trees (formerly Kuntze Christmas Tree Lot now at a new location and with a new name, but still operated by the Mueller family) makes my heart happy.

Randy and I bought our tree earlier than usual this year. I figured Ken’s would have a run on trees given three local businesses that once sold trees are either out of business or no longer selling them. It seems my decision to buy early was a smart one. As we pulled into Ken’s new location, sandwiched in a lot between Taco John’s and a house just off Minnesota State Highway 21/Rice County Road 48 near its intersection with Highway 60, others were arriving to purchase trees in a steady stream.

Ken’s features Charlie Brown trees.

“I need a Charlie Brown tree,” I announced to Ken’s son, TJ, upon greeting him. He assured me that’s all they had.

Tools of the Christmas tree trade and also the table for sawing the ends of trunks.

I’m not all that particular about our tree—although Randy may disagree—so we quickly chose a tree. I noticed that Ken’s inventory differed from previous years with long and lean trees. I prefer mine shorter rather than tall and pencil thin.

TJ fastens our tree for the short drive across town.

No matter, these trees are proving popular. Not only with the locals, but with folks from the Twin Cities metro who are driving to Faribault to buy these old-fashioned Charlie Brown style Christmas trees. I overheard TJ telling a customer that.

Our tree, cut and ready to take inside the house after Randy sawed the trunk.

He’s a friendly young man, just like his dad. TJ offered to saw the end of the trunk for optimal water uptake. Randy opted out. And then he secured the tree to the top of our van, asking how far we were traveling to assure the tree stayed put. With that done, TJ thanked us and added, “God bless you folks.”

The tree in a corner of our living room, awaiting a Christmas tree skirt and decorating.

I left feeling grateful for my Charlie Brown Christmas tree and for the wonderful experience of buying local from a family that exudes joy.

Signage and a rustic tree (which I love) mark the entrance to Ken’s Christmas Tree lot.

TELL ME: Do you buy a real Christmas tree? If so, what’s your source and what type of tree do you purchase?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating supper clubs, including Jerry’s in Owatonna December 4, 2020

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The once popular Jerry’s Supper Club, shuttered in downtown Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

SUPPER CLUBS. What visual comes to mind when you read those words?

I picture a dark, probably paneled, restaurant with red carpet. Low lights. Candles flickering on tables draped with heavy tablecloths. Fine cutlery and water goblets. Hefty china.

Menu printed on fine paper and placed inside a thick black leather folder. Salad and steak and mammoth baked potatoes. Or shrimp. Maybe a whiskey sour or a Tom Collins.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I am of the age that I still remember the hey day of supper clubs. Like the Cat N’ Fiddle in rural New Ulm, where my parents occasionally dined. I recall my mom bringing home packages of crackers lifted from baskets and stuffed into her purse. A rare treat for us kids. And I remember my dad talking about the tasty frog legs he ordered at a supper club in Granite Falls. I always wondered how anyone could eat frog legs. But Dad could enjoy steak—the supper club feature food—any time given he raised beef cattle.

As a teen, I gathered with my best friends at Club 59 in Marshall to celebrate our senior year of high school in 1974. Photos from that day show the five of us bundled in winter coats, wide smiles gracing our youthful faces. Oh, the memories.

Years later, after college and launching my career as a newspaper reporter and then eventually marrying and moving to Faribault, I rediscovered supper clubs. I dined a few times at The Lavender Inn and The Evergreen Knoll. Both closed years ago, as dining preferences changed, the economy tanked and the food scene evolved.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

In Owatonna, a 20-minute drive to the south along Interstate 35, Jerry’s Supper Club closed in 2009. An article published in the Owatonna People’s Press called Jerry’s, opened in 1960, “an Owatonna institution.” I expect people gathered here for business meetings, special occasions or simply supper (not dinner) out at a fancy restaurant on a Saturday night. Perhaps minus frog legs on the menu.

Signage and hours still remain on the door, long after Jerry’s closed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

Soon the building which housed this long-time popular supper club, this place of so many memories, will be gone, replaced by a Marriott Courtyard hotel. Before that happens, I hope someone—perhaps the Steele County Historical Society—salvages tangible pieces of Jerry’s. Like the exterior signage. And, if any restaurant-related memorabilia/furniture/whatever remains inside, that, too.

The building housing Jerry’s Supper Club has architecturally beautiful details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

I photographed Jerry’s in May while walking around downtown Owatonna. The alterations to the exterior of the building with the additions and covered windows and everything painted white are aesthetically unappealing. I don’t know when the changes were made to this once beautiful brick building. But I recognize it was once “a thing” to modernize. I am thankful that mindset has returned to an appreciation for historic structures.

The dated term, “lounge,” remains on the exterior of Jerry’s Supper Club. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2020.

And so progress happens. A much-desired hotel is coming to downtown Owatonna. That will include an in-house restaurant in the former Jerry’s Supper Club space, according to the People’s Press. Nothing can replace Jerry’s. While some supper clubs still exist, especially in Wisconsin, they seem mostly a thing of the past. A place of paneled walls, red carpet and low light. And memories.

TELL ME: Do you have memories of Jerry’s Supper Club? Or of any supper club? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring our veterans, including my dad November 11, 2020

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My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

Vesta—Pfc Elvern Kletscher, son of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Kletscher, was wounded in action on Heart Break Ridge in Korea on February 24th. He was engaged in mortar firing at the time. A burst of enemy schrapnel (sic) struck him in the face. He spent a few days in the hospital and was released, but has not returned to active duty. Elvern entered service on February 15, 1952 and has been on front line duty in Korea since November 7th.

The above short article about my father published in a rural Minnesota newspaper in the early winter of 1953. I can only imagine how my grandparents received the news about their son, wounded in action in Korea.

On the back of this photo from my father’s collection, my dad simply penned “a letter from home.” I appreciate this photo of my dad taken by an unknown buddy in Korea.

In a letter written to them just days after his February 26, not February 24, war injury, my dad mentioned nothing about the incident. Rather, he wrote of snow, called Korea a “hell hole” and advised his family not to worry. But how could they not worry, realizing that their son was in the thick of battle as a frontline infantryman with the US Army? According to an earlier newspaper article, he was training with the 24th infantry, the first American division to fight in Korea, from Pusan to the Yalu River in 19 months of combat.

U.S. Army Cpl. Elvern Kletscher, my father, in the trenches in Korea.

My dad shared only a few stories about his time in Korea. He talked about the events leading up to his shrapnel wound. Ordered to take out a sniper who, for days, had been picking off fellow platoon soldiers, Dad hunkered inside a trench. A bullet struck his trench. Dad studied the angle of the bullet, angled his rifle up and shot. He heard a “ka-pook,” understanding that he had hit his intended target.

Two days later, when 12 men were sent to retrieve the sniper’s body, Dad stood guard to assure the enemy was not circling behind. Suddenly, 10 small mortars lobbed toward them, one landing near him. Had it gone off, my father would have died. Instead, shrapnel struck his face. “I knew the blood was running,” he said in a 2000 interview with a Minnesota TV station at the time he was awarded a long overdue Purple Heart. He was shaking and scared, but couldn’t leave his post.

This photo, pulled from the shoebox which holds my dad’s military photos, is simply labeled “front line.” That would be “front line” as in Korea, where my soldier father fought.

Eventually, my dad would make it safely back to rural Minnesota, resume his life as a farmer, marry my mom and raise a family of six children. But he was a changed man, scarred by war, dealing with PTSD (unknown back then) and other issues resulting from his time on the frontline in Korea.

The Rice County, Minnesota, Veterans’ Memorial in Faribault stands in front of the courthouse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Today, Veterans Day, I honor my father (who died in 2003) and all others who have served and continue to serve our country, whether they have been in direct combat, served in support capacities or otherwise. I appreciate their efforts to secure our democracy, our freedom.

TELL ME: Who would you like to honor today? Or, if you’ve served, please share your thoughts on this important day.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts during this season of autumn in Minnesota October 20, 2020

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A cornfield fronts a farm site between Faribault and Dundas in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

LIVING IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, as I have for my entire life, I feel a strong connection to the land rooted in my rural upbringing.

A barn roof is barely visible over a cornfield, rural Rice County.

Each autumn, I reflect on this time of bringing in the crops. Of gathering the last of the garden produce. Of harvesting corn and soybeans from the acres of fields that define rural areas. I miss the sights and sounds and scents of farming this time of year. Once-green fields muting to shades of brown, Combines roaring down field rows. The air smelling of drying leaves and of earth.

A back country road north of Faribault, heading to Dundas.

For those reasons, I always appreciate a drive through the countryside, especially along gravel roads. The pace is decidedly slower than traveling on a paved surface.

A grain truck awaits the harvesting of corn in rural Dundas.

Although farming has changed considerably with bigger machinery and bigger farms and bigger yields, the basic connection to the land remains. At least for me. It’s part of my creative spirit, of my being.

Grain bins define a farm site along a back gravel road in rural Rice County, Minnesota.

Yes, it’s easy to get nostalgic about rural life. I offer no apologies for that because I shall always feel grateful for the 17 years I lived on a farm. I learned the value of hard work, of living with minimal material possessions, of working together, of recognizing that inner strength and fortitude and resilience are important as are honesty and good character.

Country roads intersect near Cannon City.

I am thankful I used an outhouse during my childhood, pitched manure, picked rocks, walked beans, fed cows and calves, pulled weeds, didn’t get birthday gifts… There’s something to be said for having grown up in such a setting, in a way of life that by necessity requires significant physical labor and living within your means.

Harvest finished in rural Rice County.
A grain truck parked in Northfield.
Corn stalk bales line a Rice County field.

In the winter, my hands cracked and bled from exposure to water and the elements. In the spring, when I picked rocks from fields, dirt sifted into holes in my canvas tennis shoes. In the summer, the hot sun blistered my skin as I pulled cockleburrs. (We didn’t have sunscreen.)

Pumpkins and squash for sale from a wagon parked at a farm site along Rice County Road 1 west of Dundas.
A house in Dundas decorated for Halloween.
A seasonal display anchors a corner of a downtown Northfield floral shop.

And so these are my thoughts as I immerse myself in the season of harvest via a country drive. A drive that takes me from the countryside into town, to seasonal displays and thoughts of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the winter ahead.

The road ahead may not be easy…

I fully recognize that the forthcoming winter will challenge all of us. I am determined to stay the course during this ongoing global pandemic. To mask up, to social distance, to wash my hands, to connect only with my small family circle, to try and stay as healthy as possible, to care about others…to tap into my can-do farm girl attitude of strength, common sense and resilience. For this is but a season of life, one which requires each of us to think beyond ourselves, understanding that our choices matter now, more than ever to the health and safety of all.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling