Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering the day a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis August 1, 2018

This photo shows the opening spread of a feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the 35W bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett Ebling before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and and his then fiancee, before the collapse.

 

ELEVEN YEARS AGO TODAY, the unthinkable happened in Minnesota. The I-35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed at 6:05 p.m., killing 13 and injuring 145.

At the time I was a freelance writer for the now-defunct Minnesota Moments magazine. Just months after the collapse, I interviewed survivor Garrett Ebling and his then fiancee and a passerby who rushed in to help. I wrote a feature spread that included shared images of Garrett and of the devastation.

 

Garrett Ebling’s book.

 

All these years later, I remain impressed by Garrett’s strength and determination as he recovered from serious injuries. He would go on to pen a book about his experience. Garrett is a former Faribault Daily News editor, the reason I originally connected with him post bridge collapse.

 

This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. I shot this image several years ago at the Minnesota History Center. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today I remember this catastrophe that profoundly impacted Minnesotans and how we view bridges. I remember, too, those who died while simply traveling across a bridge over the Mississippi River. And I remember those who survived, their lives forever changed.

 

Crossing the “new” 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

August 1, 2007, remains forever a heartbreaking day in the history of our state.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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The visual delight of Layl McDill’s clay sculptures comes to Faribault March 23, 2018

Details in Layl McDill’s “Color Overload” sculpture.

 

AS A CHILD, I FOUND dime store kaleidoscopes particularly fascinating. I appreciated how a simple turn of the tube could change the colors, the shapes, the images I saw.

 

More details in McDill’s art.

 

A certain sense of magic and mystery and wonderment appeared through the eye hole. Art. Vivid. Fluid. And always beautiful.

 

An overview of some sculptures in McDill’s exhibit in Faribault.

 

Those memories flowed as I viewed Minneapolis artist Layl McDill’s polymer clay sculptures now on exhibit in the Carlander Gallery at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault.

 

“No one knew she was such a Deep Thinker” by Layl McDill.

 

McDill’s art is colorful and whimsical, a visual delight. I’ve never seen anything like it in a gallery. I couldn’t stop looking at the many pieces, wondering, How did she do that? And that must have taken her forever.

 

 

I thought of those kaleidoscopes. But I thought, too, of Play Doh and how much fun I had rolling, squashing and crafting that product as a child and mom. I expect McDill feels that same joy in creating her clay sculptures.

 

“Ape Thought he was in Control of the Trees” by Layl McDill.

 

There’s so much to study within each piece. It would take hours to truly see everything.

 

Layl McDill’s “Bird’s Little Library Teapot.”

 

I’d suggest you take the time to visit McDill’s exhibit, to escape into her fantasy world of art. Or take a class she is teaching on Thursday, April 26, at the Paradise. Or book a clay party.

 

“Wonderment Whale” by Layl McDill.

 

We all need the distraction of art to sidetrack our minds, to bring us joy, to stretch our creativity. McDill brings all of that in her art.

 

FYI: Layl McDill’s exhibit at the Paradise closes on April 21. Click here for more information.

Also read my previous post on the Student Exhibition currently showing at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue N., Faribault. Click here.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Post Super Bowl thoughts from southern Minnesota February 5, 2018

I started my Super Bowl Sunday (after attending worship services) by dining at the Faribault Lions Club Super Sunday Pancake & Sausage Feed with my husband, Randy, and his brother. Neil was on his way home to Missouri after visiting family in Minnesota for the weekend. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

FOR ME TO STAY UP past 11 p.m. rates as rare. But I did last night. Until nearly 12:30 a.m. Monday. I wanted to watch The Tonight Show from Minneapolis, ending way too much time for me in front of the TV on Super Bowl Sunday. But, you know, when the championship game plays out in your home state, you get caught up in the excitement—even if you don’t much care about sports, which I don’t. I finally have it down that a touchdown earns a team six points.

 

Not a ref from the Super Bowl…image used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

During past Super Bowls, I’ve focused primarily on the commercials and the half-time show. I still did this year. But, for the first time ever, I watched most of the game. Except for the 33 minutes and 35 seconds I missed when my Wisconsin daughter called during the third and fourth quarters. Family trumps football any day, even on Super Bowl Sunday.

 

Icy cold beer served up in a Minnesota Vikings mug chilled in the snow. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

It was an exciting game. I found myself rooting for the underdog Philadelphia Eagles, even if they kept the Vikings from the biggest game in football and even though I can’t stand those creepy dog masks worn by some Eagles fans. I did, though, feel, for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has a strong Minnesota connection via his mom, born and raised here. Up until a few weeks ago, I’d never heard of Brady. That just shows how much of a football fan I am not.

As for that half-time show…I’m not raving like most are about Justin Timberlake’s performance. But then I’m not a Timberlake, nor a Prince (gasp), fan. Unfamiliar with the songs performed, I couldn’t understand the lyrics. And when Minneapolis lit up in purple during half-time, I didn’t even notice the Prince symbol displayed.

 

Two weeks ago a major storm dumped 16 inches of snow on Faribault and other parts of Minnesota. Snow also fell on Super Bowl weekend. But it is the cold, below zero temps and minus double digit windchills that marked the weather. I was delighted with the weather, which played perfectly off Minnesota’s Super Bowl tag as the “Bold North.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2018.

 

I saw many, but not all, of the commercials. My favorites focused on the theme of bringing our country together in an especially divisive year. Strength. Unity. Togetherness. Diversity. I especially liked T-Mobile’s “Little Ones” spot featuring babies of multiple ethnicities paired with empowering words. Most, but not all, of these social cause ads worked for me. In the didn’t like/work would be the Dodge Ram Truck ad using the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t appreciate his inspiring words used for a commercial purpose.

TurboTax nailed the humor, at least for me, with ads themed on convincing viewers they have nothing to fear in doing their taxes. A monster creeping from under a bed, a ghost in an attic—both were memory relatable. I just hope no little kids got scared.

The Mucinex spot that zoned in on post Super Bowl Monday as a sick day also tickled my funnybone and, in a round-about way, connected to that daughter who called me during the game. Thirty years ago she also used boogers to illicit laughter. “How do you make a Kleenex dance?” she asked kids and parents during a family skate time at a (now closed) Faribault rollerskating rink. “You put a little boogie in it,” she delivered in her sweet preschool voice.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in Wild Rice Hotdish, another popular Minnesota dish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A year from now I likely will have forgotten who played in Super Bowl LII. I will have forgotten the record low game time kick-off temp of one degree above zero. (An effort is underway to collect cold weather gear for Minnesota homeless from Super Bowl attendees returning to warm weather destinations via “Pass Your Parkas.”)  I will have forgotten the Mucinex and other commercials. I will have forgotten who performed at half-time. I will have forgotten how Jimmy Fallon gushed about Minneapolis and the Tater Tot Hotdish (not casserole) served to him by a Champlin family. But that memory of my sweet preschooler—now a grown woman—telling that joke about boogers, that I still, and will always, remember.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota kids promote winter preparedness in hit Super Bowl LII music video January 31, 2018

Minnesota kids (and adults) need warm hats and mittens during these cold and snowy Minnesota winters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IF YOU GREW UP IN MINNESOTA or any similar cold climate place, you likely heard this directive from your mom whenever you left the house in winter: Remember your hat and mittens. And wear your boots.” I did.

 

The snow boots I wear today are warm, practical and fashionable. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

When I became a pre-teen, though, I thought I knew better and often didn’t listen. I couldn’t muss my hair by wearing, God forbid, a stocking hat or appear unfashionable in clunky, practical boots.

 

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. My home farm is located near Vesta in Redwood County.

 

But Mom’s warning imprinted upon me enough that I eventually recognized the wisdom of her words and passed the same advice along to my three children. Living on the windswept Minnesota prairie, Mom understood that brutal winter cold could cause frostbite and worse. Best keep safe and warm.

 

I grabbed this quick shot of the students and their teacher, right, on GMA.

 

So when I heard about the music video, “Coats, Hats & Gloves,” created by students at Franklin Middle School in Minneapolis, I thought of all those Minnesota moms (and dads) who have delivered the same message of preparedness through the generations. Except their words were more often than not dismissed.

But now kids from The Futureboys and Futuregirls program at Franklin have made keeping warm decidedly cool in their video gone viral. Tuesday morning the kids and their teacher appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the song that welcomes Super Bowl visitors to Minnesota. Temps here on game day are predicted to be around zero, if that, and even feels-like lower if wind factors in.

Their basic message—when you come to Minnesota, you better be ready…never leave your house without your coats, hats and gloves—is the same my mom delivered. Except they present it in a way that’s decidedly hip, decidedly cool and decidedly memorable. Well done, kids of the Bold North.

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Click here to watch the video.

Note: The Super Bowl LII Host Committee has branded Minnesota as Bold North in promoting our state. That applies to our climate and beyond.

 

Skirting downtown Minneapolis, an essay in words & images August 9, 2017

Minneapolis skyline, #9

 

I NEVER TIRE OF PHOTOGRAPHING the Minneapolis skyline from Interstate 35W. There’s something about the placement, height and shapes of the clustered buildings that appeals to me aesthetically. Add in the reflection of blue sky upon windows and the artistic allure increases substantially.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #10

 

My skyline images, for reasons I can’t explain, always appear to me more paintings than photos. Building edges are soft rather than harsh. That pleases me.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #11

 

If you were to place me in the middle of downtown Minneapolis, though, I wouldn’t be pleased. I’ve always felt boxed in by skyscrapers, by the vertical lines that block views. I am rooted in my native prairie, the broad vistas and wide open spaces an integral part of my being.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #12

 

Still, from a distance, I can appreciate downtown Minneapolis and the high-rises that ring it.

 

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 - 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Riverside Plaza, designed by architect Ralph Rapson and built between 1971 – 1973, is probably the most recognized apartment complex in downtown Minneapolis. Located in the Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood, the multiple buildings include 1,303 units and are home to more than 4,000 residents. The plaza is on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

Mixed with the apartments, housing for visitors to downtown Minneapolis.

 

More apartments...

More apartments…I think.

 

Border apartments pack a lot of people into vertical space. I couldn’t live here, though, even if offered a spectacular river view. But I expect neither could these city dwellers move to a rural area with horizontal lines.

 

Minneapolis skyline, #18 apartments

I find the exterior view of these apartments aesthetically pleasing.

 

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

Just another view of the same apartment complex.

 

Where we choose to live is shaped by many factors—jobs, family, economics, amenities and more. And for me, my rural upbringing keeps me rooted outside the city in a place of horizontal vistas.

TELL ME: Why do you live where you live?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A look back at the day the 35W bridge fell down in Minneapolis August 1, 2017

Crossing the new Interstate 35W bridge near downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

TEN YEARS AGO TODAY at 6:05 p.m. our perception of safety on bridges changed. The Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River near downtown Minneapolis collapsed during rush hour on August 1, 2007. Thirteen people died. One hundred and forty-five were injured.

 

Garrett with his mom, Joyce Resoft, about a month after the bridge collapse. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2007 courtesy of Garrett’s family.

 

As news broke of the bridge collapse, I expect many a Minnesotan (myself included) worried whether a loved one may have been on that bridge when it fell. None of my family were. But Garrett Ebling, who had recently worked as editor of the daily paper in my community, was driving on the bridge. Among the most seriously hurt, he suffered a traumatic brain injury and more.

 

This photo shows the opening spread of the feature article published in the November/December 2007 issue of Minnesota Moments. Casey McGovern of Minneapolis shot the bridge collapse scene. To the far left is Garrett before the collapse, to the right, his rescuer. The next photo shows his Ford Focus which plummeted into the Mississippi River. And to the right are Garrett and Sonja (his then fiancee), before the collapse.

 

At the time, I was writing for a Minnesota lifestyles magazine and, because of my Faribault connection to Garrett, interviewed him (via emailed questions) while he recovered. Garrett’s determination, tenacity, patience and faith impressed me. He showed incredible strength.

 

A section of the then now wow exhibit at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul features the 35W bridge collapse. This image shows the collapsed bridge and the emergency exit door from a school bus that was on the bridge when it collapsed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Since then Garrett has written a book, become a father and eventually also gone through a divorce. I can only imagine the toll a traumatic event like this takes on a relationship.

 

All the children and adults on the bus signed the door on display. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Today, on the ten-year anniversary of the 35W bridge collapse, I am thinking of Garrett and all the others who survived. I am thinking also of the 13 who died on a metropolitan roadway on a bridge that failed. I am thinking of the families. I am thinking of the bystanders and of the first responders who helped save lives.

 

Crossing the new 35W bridge. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And I am thinking how this tragedy forever changed us as Minnesotans. With the failure of that bridge, we lost a certain sense of security. But we also gained an appreciation for each other and for the strength of the human spirit. We were a united Minnesota, standing strong in the face of an unfathomable tragedy. There is something to be said for unifying moments like that in which we forget our differences and focus instead on caring for each other. On August 1, 2007, we experienced such a moment. We were one Minnesota.

 

FYI: Click here to read several poems published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the five-year anniversary of the bridge collapse in 2012. My poem, Quotes from a survivor, is among them.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling