Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating an enduring love of 50 years July 30, 2014

THE PHOTO FROM FIFTY YEARS ago is priceless. Six cousins, all nieces of the groom, step ladder lined up on the steep steps of Rock Dell Lutheran Church, rural Belview, Minnesota.

I'm third from the top.

I’m third from the top in this 50-year-old image tucked into a photo album.

I wish I remembered that moment when newlyweds, Merlin and Iylene Kletscher, descended the stairs. But I was only eight then, snugged between cousins, on that beautiful early November day in 1964. Or at least I assume the weather was unseasonably pleasant as we’re dressed like it’s summer.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Historic Odeon Hall in Belview.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m back in Belview, this time at Odeon Hall, an historic 1901 community center next to city hall and the fire department and within a block of my aunt and uncle’s home. They recently moved back to Iylene’s hometown.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close.

The crowd dwindles as the 50th anniversary party comes to a close. The honored couple are to the left front.

I am there with my husband and hundreds of others celebrating the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary several months early.

Merlin and Iylene's wedding photo served as a table decoration.

Merlin and Iylene’s wedding photo served as a table decoration.

And I wonder, as I reconnect with cousins and other aunts and uncles, how fifty years have passed.

Dyed bridesmaid's shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

Dyed bridesmaid’s shoes from the November 7, 1964, wedding.

It seems only yesterday I was an 8-year-old wearing cat eye glasses, hair pulled back with a barrette, dressed in my Sunday best button back green corduroy jumper and white blouse perched on those steps in my shiny black patent leather shoes.

Iylene's wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin's suit.

Iylene’s wedding dress (which she sewed) and veil and Merlin’s suit.


Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Cake to celebrate 50 years of marriage.

But yesterday was fifty years ago, when high school sweethearts Merlin, 19, and Iylene, 20, pledged their love to one another before family and friends in a small country church. Within six years, they had four children.

Merlin and Iylene today.

Merlin and Iylene today.

What a blessing to have a half century together.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

A little lunch was served at the anniversary party.

Fifty years are worth celebrating.

Guests linger as the party ends.

Guests linger as the party ends.

And I was delighted to be there, as I was on November 7, 1964, to congratulate my aunt and uncle, this time fully appreciating the depth of their love for one another.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Belview pulls together after destructive storm July 6, 2011

THREE MONTHS AGO Merlin and Iylene Kletscher closed on the purchase of a foreclosed house along Main Street in Belview. They plan to sell their lake home near New London and move back to Iylene’s hometown, also within 10 miles of Merlin’s hometown of Vesta.

My aunt and uncle want to be closer to family and friends and back in a small town like Belview with a population of 375.

They chose the Main Street fixer-upper, among other reasons, for all the beautiful trees on the property.

Today most of those trees are gone, toppled in a storm that swept through Belview and a wide-spread area of southwestern Minnesota late Friday afternoon. The storm ripped off roofs, took down power lines and trees, smashed grain bins and elevators and more as fierce winds roared across the flat prairie.

Merlin and Iylene Kletscher's home on the left, surrounded by downed trees.

Now Merlin and Iylene, like so many others in this area of Minnesota, are dealing with insurance companies and contractors as they clean up and repair their homes and businesses.

“The new chimney we had installed is leaning,” my uncle says. “The new shingles are missing ridge caps. We have broken windows and torn screens, etc.” The couple had just installed new windows in their home and made other major improvements.

Despite all of that damage to a house he and Iylene have worked so hard to restore, my uncle doesn’t seem at all discouraged. Rather, he praises Belview’s reaction to the storm: “Belview is amazing in that the people just pull together…I can’t say enough good things about the fire department and city employees and council. While we were there, trucks, tractors, 4-wheelers, payloaders, backhoes and pickups went by our house about one every 30 seconds pulling trees, debris or branches to the MPCA-approved burn site on the northeast edge of town.”

It seems the city was prepared for a natural disaster such as Friday’s storm. Log onto the city website and you’ll find a “CONSUMER ALERT: SUMMER STORM SEASON” posted by City Clerk Lori Ryer on May 24 encouraging residents to prepare for summer storms.

Entering Belview from Sacred Heart at 9 a.m. on July 2.

The city of Belview's water department building.

The ferocity of Friday’s storm is impressive. “Our neighbor across the street in Belview said that during the height of the storm, he couldn’t see his mother’s house right next door!” Merlin shares. “Chad Krinke (next door neighbor and relative) said two inches of rain fell in 20 minutes—he called us about a half hour after it hit, giving a report on our house damage. The city was blocked off, so no one could get in unless they had specific ties to someone in the city.”

Trees blocked the street north of the Belview City Park.

Jerry Hagen's house, across the street from Merlin and Iylene's home in a July 2 photo.

Residents of Parkview Home, next to the city park, were evacuated Friday night. This photo shows the nursing home and mini golf in the park. The rubber roof of the nursing home was peeled off during the storm.

Storm damage at the home of the Rev. Daniel Faugstad family.

Damage along South Main Street.

Another tree toppled onto a house.

More residential storm damage in Belview.

Merlin also reports that a farmer just west of nearby Vesta (my hometown) recorded a high wind speed of 110 mph on his wind velocity meter during the storm. I have not yet confirmed that information. Vesta was also hard hit by the storm. Click here to read that story and view photos of the damage.

The damaged bins and elevator at Meadowland Farmers Elevator in Vesta.

Neighboring Belview and Vesta are only two of the many, many small towns in southwestern Minnesota hit by Friday’s storms. I expect that hundreds of farm places were also ravaged. For the most part, the disaster has not been covered by metro media and that bothers me—a lot.

IF YOU LIVE in southwestern Minnesota and were impacted by the storm, please submit a comment telling me about your personal experiences (where were you/did you seek shelter/what was the storm like, etc.), damage to your property or town, and recovery progress. I am also looking for photos to publish, so contact me via a comment and I will follow-up by emailing you.

PHOTOS COURTESY of Merlin and Iylene Kletscher

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling