Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A snippet view of historic Faribault from the viaduct January 5, 2016

The Minnesota Highway 60 viaduct stretches before me, looking to the west toward the heart of Faribault.

The Minnesota Highway 60 viaduct stretches before me, looking to the west toward the heart of Faribault.

EVERY TIME I VIEW Faribault from the Minnesota Highway 60 viaduct, I am mesmerized by this community I’ve called home for 32 years.

Before me, historic Faribault lies:

Old houses constructed of wood, brick and limestone populate residential areas near downtown.

Old houses constructed of wood, brick and limestone populate residential areas near downtown.

aged wood frame houses jutting from hillsides,


Carriage House Liquors is an example, according to the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission website, “one of Faribault’s best-preserved stone industrial structures.” Buggies, carriages, wagons and bobsleds were manufactured in this historic building, which later also served as a blacksmith shop.

solid brick and stone buildings anchored downtown,

Steeples of First English Lutheran Church and

Steeples of First English Lutheran Church and Congregational Church of Faribault, UCC, are seen in the background of this image.

church steeples poking the skyline,


Buckham Memorial Library, dedicated in 1930 in memory of Faribault lawyer and judge Thomas Buckham by his widow, Anna, sits to the left in this photo. A clock tower landmarks the building. Inside are beautiful stained glass windows designed by Charles Connick.

a signature clock tower marking the Kasota stone library.

Another snippet view of downtown from the viaduct.

Another snippet view of downtown Faribault from the viaduct.

This is a beautiful city of rivers and woods, hills and flatland. It is a place where the past is appreciated, where aged buildings still stand. Strong. Strong in history. Rooted in the past, but growing in the present.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Minnesota bait shop Norman Rockwell could appreciate April 26, 2013

White's Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota

White’s Bait Shop, Madison Lake, Minnesota, photographed while passing by.

FROM A PURE visual perspective, White’s Corner Bait in Madison Lake confuses the eye with a mishmash of angles and cluttered signage. Too many words to read while passing by on Minnesota Highway 60.

Pop, ice, bait...

Pop, ice, bait, batteries, tackle, rods, reels…

But from an artistic perspective, this long-time bait shop delights with a Norman Rockwell-like Americana charm.

I have, for decades, admired this barn red multi-layered building of angles and assorted jumbled rooflines defined by a pointed corner tower.

Not once, though, have I stopped to photograph it, to step inside, to check out the bait, to gather information on where the fish are biting.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

Oh, how I love that kitschy fish.

White’s Bait, open since 2011 in a building that has been a bait shop for more than 50 years, prides itself on providing “good quality bait and great customer service.” Says so, right there on the business website.

Seems quintessential Norman Rockwellish to me. That good quality, that great customer service.

Next time I’ll stop.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A note about distracted drivers April 2, 2013

Red means STOP, people.

Red means STOP.


My apologies for the delay in sending this thank you note. But sometimes it takes awhile for these things to sink in, to understand the gravity of the situation and what may have been.

For me, it was my husband stating, “He could have taken any one of us out.”

That comment slapped me like a sub-zero January morning. Rarely does Randy express such a strong opinion.

But he was right to assess just how bad this could have been—had I not glimpsed the white pick-up truck from the corner of my eye and yelled for my husband to stop, just as our 1995 Chrysler Concorde entered the intersection.

They always say it happens in an instant. How true. The glimpse of white. The realization that the truck was not slowing to stop for the red light on the four-lane. The thought formulating into words. The warning spewed from my lips. The foot to brake. The truck whizzing past, never slowing. The driver, totally clueless.

You, dearest angel, I am convinced, were hovering at Minnesota Highways 60 and 21, one of the busiest intersections in Faribault, around 10:30 p.m. Thursday. There is no other explanation. I could easily have been looking the other way, not spoken soon enough. My husband could have delayed his reaction.

Had Randy not stopped when he did, the truck would have t-boned our car, a direct hit to the driver’s side. I don’t even want to think about the serious injuries that would have been inflicted upon my loved ones, including our 19-year-old son sitting behind his dad and just home from Fargo for Easter.

I do not go through life unnecessarily pondering the “what ifs.” But sometimes particular events stick with you for a few days as reminders of how life truly can change, just like that. I suppose this incident lingers even more given my future son-in-law’s car was totaled by a red light runner in St. Paul several months ago.

My family’s near-collision Thursday evening was reinforced two days later by two drivers, both distracted by cell phones, who pulled out in front of us. One driver stopped just in time. The other, a woman in a van, head bent either texting or dialing, paused at a stop sign and drove straight into our path, not even noticing our approaching van.

To be honest, it scares the hell out of me sometimes how distracted and clueless many drivers are today.

My apologies, dear guardian angel, for referencing my concern with that overused phrase. But sometimes even writers struggle to define stupidity.


© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Life in a snow socked Minnesota town December 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:39 PM
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A snow pile divides traffic lanes along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 a block from Central Avenue in Faribault Sunday morning. Trucks would later haul away the snow.

FIFTH BIGGEST SNOWFALL of all time in Minnesota. Windchill advisories in the double digits below zero. Mall of America Field roof collapses at 5 a.m. Sunday. No church services. More snow for mid-week.

The list goes on and on.

But we’re tough Minnesotans. We can deal with all of this, right?

I guess so.

Right now my back muscles ache from all the bending and lifting and throwing of snow. Shovels and shovels and shovels full of white stuff tossed from the driveway, the sidewalk, the steps, even from around the garbage cans buried to their lids.

I’m calling it a day now after a run out to the farm store for boots for the 16-year-old. It just didn’t seem right that he was upstairs sleeping this morning when the parents were outside, working for hours to dig out. But we couldn’t find a size that fit him, so he’s still bootless.

All of that aside, conditions are looking better in Faribault today. The snow stopped overnight, replaced now by bitter cold. Streets have been plowed and folks are out and about, navigating around corners piled so high with snow that if I was a kid, I would be playing King of the Mountain.

Snow piled in the street between the Knights of Columbus Hall and the Faribault Post Office around 9 a.m.

Cars buried in snow in a public parking lot across from the American Legion.

Snow runs down the center of the street by the Rice County Sheriff's Department.

Division Street in Faribault by the Community Co-op Oil Association, the library and the community center. Looks like a for sure white Christmas in Faribault.

Motorists had to navigate around snow in the middle of First Avenue N.E. in the downtown area of Faribault Sunday morning before trucks cleared the snow mounds from streets.

Just more snow in the street, moved there from parking lots and from the traffic lanes. This is on First Avenue N.W. by the NAPA store, just a block off Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.

A wall of snow separates traffic lanes on Minnesota Highway 60/First Avenue N.E. by the post office early Sunday morning. I shot this through the car windshield. I took all of the photos from inside the cozy car.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A trip to view the fall colors detours in Zumbro Falls October 11, 2010


On Sunday afternoon my husband and I headed east on Minnesota Highway 60 to enjoy the fall colors. We intended to drive to Wabasha, then aim north toward Lake City and maybe Red Wing before returning home to Faribault.

Along the way, we stopped at Holden Lutheran Church near Kenyon so I could snap a few photos. We both appreciate old churches and would have lingered longer except the pastor was in the middle of his sermon and we didn’t want to enter the sanctuary and interrupt.



The Rev. Bernt Julius Muus, the founder of St. Olaf College in Northfield, was a pastor at Holden Lutheran Church near Kenyon. The congregation was organized in 1856 and this church was built in 1924.


From there, we drove to Zumbrota for a picnic lunch at the historic covered bridge.



The covered bridge in Zumbrota dates to 1869 and is promoted in Zumbrota as the only covered bridge in Minnesota. However, I am aware of another covered bridge, that one in Mantorville.


Then we resumed our Sunday afternoon drive, traveling briefly on U.S. Highway 52 before exiting onto Highway 60.

After passing through the town of Mazeppa, we reached Zumbro Falls, a community of less than 200 that was, just 2 ½ weeks ago, ravaged by the floodwaters of the Zumbro River.

We pulled our car a block off main street and parked. I grabbed my camera and notebook. And that was the beginning of the end of our planned afternoon to view the fall colors. Instead, we viewed homes and businesses extensively damaged by the flood. And we spoke to some of the people of Zumbro Falls before driving about five miles further to Hammond.

I am sharing their stories in a series of posts that I hope will help you better understand the devastation from a personal perspective. I could have spent many more hours talking to flood victims. I could have dug deeper. I could have taken more photos.

But I think my stories are emotional enough, deep enough, to convey the frustration, the anger, the resilience, the gratefulness of a community that is suffering.

Typically, I would publish these posts over a several-day span. However, these stories need to be told now. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. But today.

So, please, take time to walk with me through portions of Zumbro Falls and Hammond, where you’ll meet Tracy and Jackie and Susie and Katie. They are strong, opinionated women. I have no doubt they will overcome this present obstacle in their lives.

Yet, even though they are tough as nails, they still need our help, our prayers, our support.

Of all the questions I asked of them, I failed to ask the most important: “Is there anything I can do for you?”


PLEASE WATCH FOR these posts as I begin publishing them this afternoon. If you have thoughts to share, share them.

Although my Sunday afternoon did not go as I envisioned, I am thankful for the detour from the planned route. My eyes and heart were opened. I saw destruction and beauty—that beauty being the irrepressible strength of the human spirit.



Beautiful fall colors provided the backdrop for this pile of destroyed appliances and other debris in Hammond.


© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A message from an “Angry American Voter” August 23, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:37 AM
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WHAT’S THE STORY behind this billboard along Minnesota Highway 60 just northeast of Lake Crystal? Do you know? I photographed the sign about 10 days ago.

I doubt I’ve ever seen a more strongly-worded billboard.

Who is this “Angry American Voter”?

Is it you? Is it some of us? Most of us?

No matter the identity of the vocal voter, the opinionated message is clearly aimed at government.

And whether you agree or disagree, you have to agree that we are fortunate to live in a country where we can freely vote and freely express our opinions right there, along the busy highway, for all to read.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling