Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of the portrait by southern Minnesota students March 29, 2023

“Bisa Butler-Inspired Collage Portrait” by Ilwad, Lincoln Elementary School fourth grader. Bisa Butler is an award-winning African American textile artist. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

WHAT DO YOU NOTICE first in a human face? Perhaps it’s eyes or a smile, or the lack thereof. Or maybe you see the whole without attention to the details that comprise a face. However you view someone on the exterior, it is the interior which holds the essence of a person.

An assortment of student art lines hallways and a room. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

With that thought, I present selected photos of portraits from the All Area Student Art Show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. The second floor exhibit of art from eight schools continues until April 8.

Another Bisa Butler-inspired portrait collage, this one by Lincoln fourth grader Rain. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

If I could, I would sit down with these young artists and ask: “What do you notice first in a human face? Is the essence of this person in the portrait you created? What process did you use to make this portrait?” I am assuredly an inquisitive writer of many questions. I am a listener, an observer, a gatherer of information. I expect answers to my inquiries would vary.

Students from Bethlehem Academy drew these portraits. They are by Martin, left to right, Dania and Mera. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

But one thing is certain. The artists behind the portraits saw a face—whether in a mirror, a photo, his/her imagination, etc. Then their individual perspectives, interpretations, skills factored into creating these portraitures.

Dexk, a senior at Faribault Area Learning Center, painted this watercolor portrait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

If I study each work of art, I see personality traits emerging in the subjects. Reserved. Joyful. Tentative. Compassionate. Inquisitive. Even especially creative. I could be right. Or I could be wrong in my observations. Faces can reveal a lot, but can also hide a lot.

A portrait by Yarely, Roosevelt fifth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I recognize that for these young artists, such deep thoughts may not have presented themselves. And that’s OK. Perhaps just the challenge of creating a portrait was enough without the added distraction of introspection.

Roosevelt Elementary School kindergartner Ruweyda created this joyful portrait. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I admire the talent of these student artists ranging from kindergartners to seniors in high school. While I don’t hold any art training, portraits seem particularly difficult to create. They would be for me, unless I captured a portrait with my camera. And even then I don’t claim to be a portrait photographer, except in the journalistic style.

One in a series of developing portraits by Alaina, Faribault Middle School eighth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
Portraits anchor a corner, top row, in the student art exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
“Winter Self-Portrait Mixed Media” by Evelynn, Lincoln Elementary School first grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

When the youth artists in the Faribault art show look at their work and look in the mirror, I hope they see beautiful, creative faces. I hope they see the talent they hold. I hope they understand that they are unique and valued and supported. I hope, too, that creativity continues to be an important part of their lives, a lens through which they can see the world and then share it with others.

A soulful portrait by Grace, Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School eighth grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Art matters. And so do each and every one of these developing young artists. They are our future, wherever their talents take them in this world.

FYI: Paradise gallery hours are noon – 5 pm Wednesday – Friday and 10 am – 2 pm Saturday. This exhibit runs until April 8. Photos were taken with permission of the Paradise. Original copyrights to the art are owned by the individual artists.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A heartwarming story from Vesta, my prairie hometown March 28, 2023

Downtown Vesta, Minnesota, photographed in 2018. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

WHEN I READ A RECENT POST on the City of Vesta Facebook page, I knew I needed to share this story with you. It is a heartwarming story of kindness and gratitude that renews my faith in the goodness of humanity. And it is, too, a moment in which I feel overwhelming pride in my hometown.

Before I get to the referenced post, I expect many of you are wondering, “Where is Vesta?” I’ve found in my 41 years of living in southeastern Minnesota that most people have no clue. Vesta is west of Mankato, west of New Ulm, west of Redwood Falls. The small Redwood County farming community of around 320 sits along Minnesota State Highway 19 half way between Redwood and Marshall. It is the only town directly aside that highway for the 40 miles between the two larger cities.

A lone tree along a fence line on the southwestern Minnesota Prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2012)

Vesta is in the middle of the prairie, the windswept prairie. If a winter storm sweeps in with strong winds, then conditions quickly deteriorate to blizzard status. You don’t want to be caught on the road if that happens. It’s dangerous.

I shot this on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta in March 2012. The recently-stranded motorist was at about this point on the highway, but in far worse weather conditions. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2012)

Recently, a motorist found herself in such dire conditions while driving Highway 19 toward Watertown, South Dakota, to visit grandchildren. Forty mph winds, blowing snow and zero visibility—to the point where she had to stop to see if she was still on the road some two miles from Vesta—resulted in a life-saving decision. She got off the highway at Vesta.

And that’s where this story begins to unfold into a story of generosity and kindness in my hometown. The first person she encountered was Dave and his buddy, out on four-wheelers. I knew exactly who she meant. Dave owns an auto body and repair shop in Vesta. He also plows snow for locals. When my mom was alive and still living in Vesta, it was Dave who cleared her snow. It was Dave who answered Mom’s calls for help with car issues. I always felt reassured that he was, in some ways, looking after her and so many other seniors.

I digress. Dave directed the recently-diverted motorist two blocks east to the community center, a designated shelter for stranded travelers. Upon arrival at the former Vesta Elementary School, the grateful traveler found the doors locked. So off she went to find someone, anyone, to let her inside. She noticed two trucks parked outside the grain elevator, which led her inside and directly to Vesta’s emergency coordinator. Jeremy drove home and got the key to open the shelter.

A plate of spaghetti, photo used for illustration purposes only. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2013)

Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. The out-of-town guest got a tour of the community center and was also advised she could help herself to the spaghetti and chicken noodle soup in the fridge, watch TV in the work-out room and then sleep on a cot, pillows provided. She was also given the Wi-Fi password. Later the city clerk’s husband brought an extra blanket after the clerk stopped to ask if the shelter guest needed anything.

Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Soon town kids showed up, per a text sent by Jeremy that they could hang out in the community center during the blizzard. The way-laid motorist soon found herself in rousing games of dodge ball and kickball inside the gym where I played as a grade-schooler.

Road closed signs like this one near Springfield can be found along southwestern Minnesota highways, including highway 19. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2011)

Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Jeremy kept in touch, texting that the local bar was open if she wanted pizza. She was happy with the soup. The next morning the emergency coordinator texted again, notifying the overnight guest that roads had been plowed. He’d also reached out to the Marshall Police Department to assure that roads were open to motorists. Drive on a “closed” road and you risk a $750 fine. Jeremy went that extra mile to assure the woman could resume her journey to Watertown.

Her lengthy post to the City of Vesta Facebook page shows deep gratitude for all those who made her feel welcomed and safe in my hometown. She wrote: It was quite a night in the Vesta Community Center. Everyone’s kindness in this town was so timely and heartfelt that, rather than feeling like a stranded traveler, I felt like a VIP walking down a red carpet.

I am not surprised by the goodness of the folks in Vesta. This is small town southwestern Minnesota at its best. Caring, kind, compassionate, loving, welcoming. I’ve always felt embraced by the place of my roots, even decades after leaving. I understand this place. These will always be my people. My prairie people.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Source: City of Vesta Facebook page

Thank you to Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Bill for alerting me to this City of Vesta Facebook post.


Focusing on nature-inspired student art in Paradise exhibit March 27, 2023

Colorful fish art by Dallas, 3rd grader, Roosevelt Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2023)

I APPRECIATE ART. All of it. From performing to literary to visual, art inspires me, uplifts me, causes me to pause and think. Art makes me feel joyful. I am so thankful I live in a Minnesota community where art is valued.

The beautiful Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

The Paradise Center for the Arts centers the arts in Faribault. From theatrical performances to concerts to gallery shows and more, the opportunity to embrace the arts awaits me inside this historic venue. How grateful I am for that.

This poster posted inside the Paradise lists all the schools participating in the 2023 student art exhibit. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Recently I toured the All Area Student Art Show, an annual exhibit featuring the art of students from area schools—this year eight. From kindergartners to high school seniors, the talent of these students is beyond impressive. Even more, I love that they are given this opportunity to share their work with the public. I often think how this builds self-confidence and encourages these kids to perhaps pursue art, or, at the least, to value it.

Jocelyn, an 11th grader at the Faribault Area Learning Center, created this butterfly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
Lincoln kindergartner Reggie created this “Symmetry Butterfly Specimen in Mixed Media.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

As I slowly walked three hallways where student art lines walls and then entered a room exhibiting more artwork, I pondered what I would photograph. I knew I needed to choose samples from each school. I also wanted a range of ages and art mediums, and also to showcase what spoke to me. Art is, in many ways, deeply personal, whether in creating or viewing.

Mallard drake by Adeline, Cannon River STEM School, 7/8 grade. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Granted, this art was mostly guided by teacher assignments. But still, that leaves space for each artist to infuse his/her style into a piece. Copying art is different than creating art. These students create art.

A block print by Madison, 7th grader at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown Schools. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Showing you the art I photographed requires more than one post. I took an excess of images, which tells you something about how much I enjoyed this second floor exhibit. Like an editor edits an author’s writing, I had to go through my photos frame by frame and edit. And then I grouped the photos by theme to make this all manageable.

“Tri-Fold Cut Landscape in Crayon” by Addyson, Lincoln Elementary School 5th grader. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
A hawk by Jefferson Elementary School 5th grader Annalicia. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
A watercolor flower by Alaina, 8th grade, Faribault Middle School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Today’s post is nature-themed. From vivid butterfly to sun-splashed landscape to subdued bird of prey drawn in charcoal, these artistic renditions of our natural world create a sense of wonderment. What a beautiful world we live in, from garden flower to mountain grandeur. These student artists see that, imagine that, create it.

Faribault Area Learning Center 12th grader Josh created this treescape. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Being in nature takes me to a place that quiets my spirit, feeds my soul, calms me. It doesn’t take much—the rush of water, a vivid blue sky, the silhouette of a tree branch, a blazing sunset. This nature-themed art offers escape, restoration, a momentary respite from our busy lives. I hope these student artists realize the impact of their creativity.

A trio of nature-inspired art by Roosevelt Elementary School students Jeffry, left, Hadia and Steven. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I hope, too, that these teachers realize how much I value their work in guiding and inspiring their students. Art is as important as any subject in school. I think how art provides not only a way to express creativity but how it also factors into mental health. Just the physical act of using one’s hands can diminish anxiety, ground thoughts, perhaps even spark joy. The benefits are endless from both personal and educational perspectives.

A Ceramic “Squish” Bug with Shoe Impression by Leyton, kindergartner at Lincoln Elementary School. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

My appreciation for this student art show stretches across a spectrum of gratitude. How thankful I feel for these young artists, for the educators who guide them and for the arts center that values their artwork.

Colorful, patterned leaves fall around a bear created by Jefferson 1st grader Ellory. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

FYI: The All Area Student Art Show will run until April 8 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, 321 Central Avenue North, Faribault. Gallery hours are noon – 5pm Wednesday-Friday and 10 am-2 pm Saturday.

Art was photographed with permission from the Paradise. Individual artists hold original copyrights to their art. Please check back for more posts on this student art show.

© Copyrighted 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota prairie native Jim Brandenburg wins top photo honor March 25, 2023

A Brandenburg bison photo hangs to the left and the photographer talks about his work in a video, right, inside the Brandenburg Gallery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

OF ALL THE PHOTOGRAPHY—from general to portrait to sports to nature and wildlife—it is wildlife photography that most impresses me as particularly challenging. And now one of the best wildlife and nature photographers in the world, who happens to be a native of my beloved southwestern Minnesota prairie, has received National Geographic’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Luverne-born and raised Jim Brandenburg, today based in Ely in northern Minnesota, won that top honor. He’s so deserving. His photos are beyond any star rating.

Brandenburg’s published books include “Brother Wolf–A Forgotten Promise.” He is known for his wolf photos, including these displayed in the Luverne gallery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Brandenburg joins only five other National Geographic photographers who’ve received this award. That he hails from the prairie, my homeland, makes me especially proud.

The entry to the gallery, located in the Rock County Courthouse square. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Ten years ago, I toured the Brandenburg Gallery, owned and operated by the Luverne Area Chamber of Commerce. It was of special interest to me as a photographer. I wanted to study Brandenburg’s images—the light, the perspective, the techniques he uses to draw viewers into scenes.

Some of Brandenburg’s photo books displayed in the Luverne gallery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

I have no ambition to pursue wildlife photography. I don’t have the interest, talent, knowledge of the natural world or patience required for the craft. But I appreciate those who excel in this specialized photography and I can learn from them. Brandenburg has been honing his craft for some 50 years with National Geographic. He’s won countless awards, produced many books filled with his images.

Beautiful rocky landscape of Rock County. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

In all of this, this world travel, this move from southern to northern Minnesota, from prairie to northwoods, he’s remained rooted to his roots. He established the Luverne-based Brandenburg Prairie Foundation with a mission “to educate, preserve and expand native prairie in southwest Minnesota.” Brandenburg’s Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bought 800 acres of untilled prairie in Rock County some eight miles northwest of Luverne, where visitors can immerse themselves in tallgrass prairie. I regret not walking the Touch the Sky Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge during my 2013 visit to this area. I need to return.

Hiking the path up and through the prairie grass at Blue Mounds State Park. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

I recognize that to many, this region of Minnesota seems desolate, lacking in beauty, just a place to get through when traveling. But for prairie natives like me, beauty is everywhere. In the wide sky. In sunsets so profoundly beautiful that they almost defy description. In farm sites set like islands among endless fields. In small towns and acres of corn. In prairie grasses swaying in the breeze. I can forever sing the praises of the prairie in refrains of howling wind and songbird and the silence of quiet.

An impressive quarry wall of Sioux quartzite. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

Brandenburg, I expect, experienced all of these, even if his native Rock County differs from my home county of Redwood a bit farther to the north and east. Even on the prairie, landscapes vary. Near Luverne, at Blue Mounds State Park, cliffs of Sioux quartzite rise 100 feet above the plains. It’s amazing, unexpected in this place where prickly pear cacti also grow, where bison graze, where wildflowers bloom.

A gravel road around the state park passes a sheep pasture and country church. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2013)

I encourage you, if you’ve never spent time in southwestern Minnesota, to do so this spring or summer. View the landscape through an appreciative lens that takes in every nuance, every detail. Notice the light. Feel the wind. Hear the quiet. Settle into the simplicity of this place that renews the spirit, that a world-class photographer called home. That I, too, once called home.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Time to upgrade with new chairs at the Paradise March 24, 2023

Inside the Paradise Center for the Arts theater in 2009, two years after it opened. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2009)

THEY’VE HAD A 16-YEAR RUN, “they” being the recycled seats filling the Paradise Center for the Arts theater in historic downtown Faribault. Now it’s time for those seats to take a bow, exit and make way for new seating.

The aged chairs landed here as a donation from Albert Lea High School. The Merlin Players theatrical troupe then recovered and repaired the chairs before the PCA opened in 2007. It was the right decision at the time, financially and otherwise.

Watching the 2015 Kentucky Derby at the Paradise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2015)

Since then, thousands have settled into those orangish chairs, including me. I’ve enjoyed plays, musicals, concerts, comedy shows, speakers and even a viewing of the Kentucky Derby while sitting on those chairs. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried while seated here. After years of use, an upgrade to more comfortable seating for 278 is definitely needed.

In the lobby of the Paradise, you can try out a model of the new chairs, with the original ornate standards (ends) retained. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

When I stopped at the Paradise recently to see the current gallery exhibits, I noticed a model of the new seats in the lobby. Days later, I received a news release from the PCA with more info and then followed up with a few questions.

I like the plan to install chairs with more comfort, strength and durability, but also with an appreciation for the past. The current ornate ends and the numbered arm rests will be kept. That’s important to me given the historic charm of the auditorium and also as someone who believes strongly in reusing/recycling/upcycling.

One especially nice addition will be cup holders, placed between the two seats in front of each guest. That will certainly cut down on accidental spillage which can occur when drinks are set on the floor.

The lovely Paradise, 321 Central Avenue North, in the heart of historic downtown Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Now efforts are underway to fund this $460/chair or $128,000 project via donations. If you would like to donate, go to the Paradise website and click on “Donate,” then “Support,” then specify “chairs” in designating your donation. Or call 507-332-7372. Donors will be listed on a plaque.

I look forward to settling into one of these comfortable new maroon chairs to enjoy the performing arts in my community, inside the Paradise.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Not your grandma’s BINGO March 23, 2023

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We played with BINGO cards similar to these at Preschool BINGO Night. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2016)

I COLLECTED MY CARD, then settled onto a chair around the large round table, eldest daughter and son-in-law to my left, granddaughter, grandson and husband to the right. An instruction sheet and popcorn heaped in paper boats were already on the table. Centering the tabletop were orange, white and green tissue paper flowers, green beads and more, remnants from St. Patrick’s Day only days prior.

This was a much-anticipated evening for families packing a massive room at a Lutheran church in a south metro suburb. This was BINGO Night at Isaac’s preschool, an event Randy and I were delighted to attend. Isaac, 4, and his big sister, Isabelle, 6, like to play BINGO when they stay overnight with us.

But this preschool BINGO is not your grandma’s BINGO, I soon discovered. The game we play in our dining room involves balls rolling, rattling in a cage. The game we play in our home also involves placing physical markers on BINGO squares. And the BINGO we play on our dining room table offers coinage as prizes, not toys filling a prize table.

I could see the kids’ excitement when they eyed the loot laid out before them. Izzy focused on plastic dinosaurs. And Isaac, well, I expected he wanted something with which he could create. The desire to win ran strong. The pressure was on for two winning games, minimum, at our table.

The type of BINGO set-up we use at home. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

And then the games began, not with the rattling of balls spun in a metal cage, but rather with a teacher announcing numbers popping onto a computer and then projected onto overhead screens. This was high-tech BINGO. And this grandma was amazed. The game moved at a faster pace than rotating a cage and pulling balls.

I appreciated the absence of distracting noise that accompanies the manual way of playing BINGO. I still struggled to hear, though. I’m deaf in my right ear, the result of sudden sensory hearing loss in 2011. That affects my overall hearing and processing of speech and conversation. Thankfully, my daughter patiently repeated numbers when needed or I turned to the screen behind my back to view the too-small numbers. (And, no, a hearing aid will not help with this type of hearing loss; I would have one if it did.)

I won first place in a contest for this photo of BINGO callers at the July Fourth 2013 celebration in North Morristown, rural Minnesota through and through. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2013)

Two games in, Grandpa scored a BINGO on the cards with pull-across, see-through red squares to cover numbers. I joked initially that I needed corn kernels to play. When I attended the annual American Legion BINGO Night while growing up in rural southwestern Minnesota, I covered squares with kernels of corn. Totally appropriate and accessible in farm country. But we were not in rural Minnesota and this was six decades later. There was not a kernel of corn to be found.

Upon Grandpa’s BINGO win, he and Isaac scooted to the prize table. As I predicted, our grandson chose an art-related prize—a mini painting book. I could see Izzy coveting her brother’s prize, anxious to claim a dinosaur.

BINGO is popular in Minnesota, including at the Rice County Fair in Faribault. This photo was taken in the off-season. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2021)

Game after game after game we played with no winners at our table, but everywhere else. Isaac soon tired of playing and Grandpa grabbed his card. Yes, playing more than one card was allowed. At one point I joked that Isaac should have hacked into the computer while at preschool earlier that day and rigged the games.

Izzy won a dinosaur similar to this one from our basement toybox. Hers was new and not worn. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Finally, the dad won and Marc and Izzy raced to get a prize. All the while I was repeating silently, “Please let there be a dinosaur still on the table. Please, please, please.” The first grader returned clutching a dinosaur, broad smile lighting her face. I breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude that Izzy got a dinosaur, one of three still on that prize table.

About 1.5 hours in, we were down to the last game, a BINGO cover-all. As the game progressed, Izzy was getting more and more excited. She had one number left to cover. I could feel, see and hear her anticipation, her mind likely focused on grabbing a second dinosaur. But she didn’t win and then the tears came. And Grandma tried to work her grandma magic. “Look at how lucky you were to get that dinosaur!” And so on and so forth until her dad said, as we were walking across the parking lot, that he really won the dinosaur and he would be taking it to work. Marc roared and joked until all of us were laughing, even the previously-disappointed dinosaur-loving six-year-old.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Information sought in hit-and-run along Willow Street in Faribault March 22, 2023

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My neighbor’s totaled car, photographed Wednesday morning. That’s another neighbor’s house in the image. The car is exactly where it landed after being slammed into by a hit-and-run vehicle Tuesday evening. (Minnesota Prairie Rights copyrighted photo March 2023)

TUESDAY EVENING, MARCH 21, and we are kicked back, relaxing, watching “Will Trent.” And then it happens. BOOM! The undeniable sound of a crash. But we hear no screeching tires that would indicate slamming of brakes.

We pop from our comfy spots to peer out the windows. In the 9:30 pm dark of March, we see a vehicle parked in front of our house, then people walking down the middle of the street, busy Willow Street. Our eyes follow their path to a neighbor’s driveway and a smashed car. Demolished. We see no second vehicle near the crash scene.

Randy grabs his cellphone, steps outside in his slippers, phones the police. We have no idea what’s just happened, whether anyone has been injured. We know law enforcement needs to be summoned. Soon multiple squad cars arrive. We remain clueless and begin speculating as to what unfolded.

Wednesday morning I spoke with the owner of the totaled car. She was sleeping when an unknown vehicle slammed into her unoccupied car parked curbside by her house in the 400 block of Willow Street. I breathed a sigh of relief, told her how thankful I was that she was not in her car. Despite the loss of what she said was her “best” car, she also said she felt blessed.

My neighbor was remarkably calm. But also determined. She’d already begun phoning auto body repair shops and auto salvage yards in an attempt to locate the vehicle that destroyed her early 2000 Toyota Corolla. Yes, the driver left without stopping. How any vehicle managed to remain operable after totaling my neighbor’s car is beyond my comprehension. And how anyone in good conscience could leave the scene is also incomprehensible. But, hey, a driver drove away (never to be found) after striking my son as he crossed Willow Street to his bus stop in 2006.

On behalf of my neighbor, who asked if I am on Facebook (I’m not), I’m posting this information here in hopes that someone can help find the person responsible. State law requires drivers to stop following a crash. The person who parked her vehicle outside our house Tuesday evening was driving on Willow at the time of the incident and did the right thing by immediately stopping upon hearing the BOOM.

The hit-and-run vehicle is likely a large pick-up (or other) truck, probably with significant front end damage, my neighbor shared. Willow Street is a heavily-traveled arterial street in Faribault. I have to think that someone saw something that may be helpful. Perhaps a doorbell or surveillance camera will show a suspect vehicle.

Please, if you have any information, contact Faribault police at 507-334-4305. That plea goes to possible witnesses, garages, auto body repair shops, salvage yards, Willow Street residents. If someone you know is suddenly no longer driving their pick-up truck and your gut is telling you something, then do something.

My neighbor doesn’t seem the revengeful type. She just wants her losses covered. Then maybe she can sleep at night. It was disheartening to watch her Wednesday morning removing debris from the street, sweeping glass, emptying her car. She deserves justice.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Inside the Paradise galleries, an array of art

A side view of Amanda Webster’s “Just The Three of Us, A Triptych of Three” acrylic on canvas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

FROM WILD ANIMALS to wildly vivid abstracts, the art of creatives fills four first floor galleries at the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. What an array of artwork to infuse color, joy and more into these lingering, colorless days of winter in the season of spring here in southern Minnesota.

“Lion King” and “Zebra” by long-time wildlife and nature photographer Dave Angell of Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2020)

The incredible talent showcased in these galleries impresses me. Whether created with a camera, a brush, or with a pencil in a sketchbook, this art shows a passion for the craft.

The relatively new digital marquee at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault flashes gallery hours. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2023)

Only a few days remain to view the current exhibits, which close on Saturday, March 25.

Some of Amanda Webster’s bold abstract acrylic on canvas art showcased at the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

When I stepped inside the main gallery at the Paradise to view the bold acrylic paintings of Twin Cities artist Amanda Webster, I simply stopped. Wow! Her large-scale colorful abstracts jolted me into a happy place.

Amanda Webster’s artist statement reveals the story behind her abstract art. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

That I saw Webster’s nature-inspired work on a cold January-like afternoon with a strong, biting wind likely enhanced my reaction. I wanted to walk right into those magical settings and leave this Minnesota winter behind. For an artist’s work to inspire that type of immersive response says something.

The winding white path leads the eye right into Amanda Webster’s vivid acrylic on canvas abstract, “Keep Going Forward.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

I envisioned Webster’s work in a corporate space, filling a business with energy. I envisioned her art in a medical setting, creating a positive, healing energy. I envisioned her art in my home, if only I had higher ceilings and a more modern, than traditional, house.

This shows a section of Bill Nagel’s “Walk Around,” an oil on canvas. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Just off the Paradise’s lobby, abstract art also fills a small boardroom gallery. This space features the art of multi-talented, award-winning Minnesota artist Bill Nagel. He paints abstract art and also creates modern still-life and illustrations.

Bill Nagel’s oil on canvas, from left to right: “Work Around,” “Sombrillas Rojas” and “Sea Glass.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

His abstracts are decidedly different than Webster’s. While still colorful, they are more subdued, more geometric, more defined. At least to my eyes. Everyone views art differently. Nagel’s “Sea Glass” oil painting, especially, felt calming to me. Perhaps it was the mostly blue and green hues. Or maybe the very thought of being seaside was enough to carry me into a tranquil setting of warmth and water lapping against shoreline.

Barb Pendergast created this watercolor of a rooster. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
“Jes,” an oil portrait by Ivan Whillock. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)
“Haley,” an acrylic portrait by Cheryl Morris. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

Across the lobby in another smallish gallery, I perused the images of photographer Stephen Hadeen and of Paradise Center for the Arts members. I always enjoy seeing what locals create. From a nature and wildlife photographer of 40 years, to an internationally-acclaimed woodcarver (who also paints) to a watercolor artist, these creatives embrace a variety of ways to make art. It’s simply fun to take it all in, whether photos of zebras or a watercolor of a rooster or a portrait of a canine with soulful eyes.

Student artist Syra Romero’s untitled art from a sketch book scan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

It is the eyes which pulled me in close to view a mini gallery exhibit of art by students in the Paradise’s After School Art Club. The club meets a total of six hours in six sessions with local teaching artists. And what they create impresses. I know I never could have made art like this at their age. Not that I ever had the opportunity to learn. I didn’t.

“Wednesday,” a sketch book scan by student artist Aviella Young. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

But these students, oh, how fortunate they are to pursue their creativity alongside professionals. To learn technique, to be encouraged, to create art is such a gift.

Another gift awaits visitors to the Paradise Center for the Arts in the annual second floor All Area Student Art Show, which runs until April 8. That is one of my favorite exhibits because I love seeing what our young people are creating. Their work is remarkable. They inspire me. That show deserves a solo focus, which will be forthcoming.

“Keep Going Forward,” Amanda Webster’s acrylic, right, leads to more of her abstract paintings. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2023)

For now, head to the Paradise by Saturday, March 25, to take in the current art in the first floor galleries. The Paradise, 321 Central Avenue North, is open from noon to 5 pm Wednesday – Friday and from 10 am – 2 pm Saturday.

NOTE: All art was photographed with permission from the Paradise Center for the Arts. This post includes only a sampling of the art featured in the gallery exhibits.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Some encouraging mental health news & then… March 21, 2023

This message refers to the struggles associated with mental illness. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

WE’VE ALL SEEN THEM—fundraisers and GoFundMe campaigns to help individuals and families who are struggling. Perhaps you’ve even been in that spot of needing financial help following a devastating event or a major health crisis. You’ve likely attended many fundraisers and/or donated online. I am thankful for such generosity.

Typically, these pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, silent auctions,…crowdfunding efforts follow a diagnosis like cancer, a car accident or a major event like a house fire. Missed work and overwhelming medical and other bills all too often deplete finances. And if not for the assistance of caring family, friends and even strangers, many could not get through the challenges.

Yet, in the all of this, I’ve often wondered why individuals who’ve experienced a mental health crisis are not fundraising also. When they’ve been hospitalized and/or found themselves unable to work, the financial fall-out is no less.

I photographed these mental health themed buttons several years ago on a bulletin board at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


But I hold hope that is changing. I read an encouraging article, “Out from under: Crowdfunding is an option for people in mental health crisis,” by freelancer Andy Steiner. In her MinnPost article, Steiner shares the story of a 42-year-old artist and educator diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post traumatic stress disorder linked to childhood abuse and who suffers from debilitating migraines as a result. Unable to work sometimes for months at a time, the woman faced financial struggles. She was behind on her rent. A friend suggested she start a GoFundMe. Eventually, she reluctantly did so, getting enough donations to pay overdue bills and then some. It was just the boost she needed. Financially and mentally/emotionally.

Steiner’s article includes interviews with Mental Health Minnesota and with GoFundMe. I encourage you to read her story by clicking here. I feel such hope in reading that more people facing mental health crises are beginning to seek the outside financial support often elusive to them.

I recognize this doesn’t fix everything. We have a long ways to go in ending the stigma which continues to surround mental illness. I see improvements. But I don’t think we’re to the point where family and friends are delivering hotdishes (the Minnesota term for “casseroles”) to individuals and families in the throes of a mental health crisis. Financial and emotional support, encouragement and, yes, even compassionate greeting cards/calls/notes are needed just as much in these situations.

Reaching for help, this hand was part of a mental health-themed sculpture, “Waist Deep,” which once stood outside the Northfield Public Library as part of a changing art installation. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2019)


And we definitely need more mental healthcare professionals. That brings me to another recent bit of encouraging news. My county of Rice has been selected as the site for a new satellite office of the South Central Mobile Crisis Team, a team which responds (to homes, etc. and virtually) 24/7 in mental health crises in a 10-county area. Currently, it can take some 2 ½ hours for that team to arrive here from its home base 40 miles away. That’s too long. If you were experiencing a heart attack, for example, you wouldn’t be expected to wait two hours.

Yes, I hold hope. I hold hope for the many individuals and families who will benefit from additional, immediate mental healthcare resources. I hold hope that Crowdfunding and fundraising dinners and breakfasts will become more common for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and the financial fall-out. I hold hope that they will find, too, a more understanding community of emotional support. All of this is so long overdue. We each have the power within us to show compassion and care and thus help reduce the stigma of mental illness. Let’s do it.

I highly-recommend this book to learn more about mental illness from the perspective of parents. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


And then this happens: Irvo Otieno, 28, died March 6 in a Virginia psychiatric hospital days after initially experiencing mental health distress. Seven deputies have now been charged with second-degree murder in his death.

In a powerful statement to the media, Caroline Ouko said, “Mental illness should not be your ticket to death. There was a chance to rescue him. We have to do better.” The words of this grieving mother should cause every single one of us to pause and consider, what if this had been my loved one in a mental health crisis? Could this happen to someone I love? To any of us? Sadly, it could.

We can do better. We have to do better. Mental illness should not be a ticket to death.

Photographed along a recreational trail in the Atwood Neighbor of Madison, Wisconsin. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)


FYI: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis and/or is in need of mental health support, please seek help.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Minnesota Chapter and Operation: 23 to Zero (aims to prevent suicide among veterans and those in the military) are co-hosting a safeTALK Training from 8 a.m.- noon Saturday, March 25, at the Faribault American Legion. This event provides training in suicide alertness skills, connections to life-saving resources and more. To learn more and/or to register for this free-will donation half-day program, click here.

South Central Minnesota Crisis Line: 877-399-3040

National Suicide and Crisis Line: 988

National Alliance on Mental Illness, with state chapters, is a great resource for information and support, including virtual and in-person support groups. Click here to reach the national NAMI website.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Alright, winter, time to leave Minnesota as spring arrives March 20, 2023

Trees bud at Falls Creek Park, rural Faribault, in late May 2022. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2022)

TODAY, THE FIRST DAY of spring, hope springs that this long winter of too much snow will soon exit Minnesota. Most Minnesotans, including me, are weary of days marked by new snowfall that has accumulated, pushing this 2022-2023 winter season into top 10 records in our state.

Asparagus, one of my favorite spring vegetables. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

But now, with the official start of a new season on March 20—the season of new life, the season of planting and budding and greening—I feel a mental shift. Psychologically, my mind can envision a landscape shifting from colorless monochrome to vivid greens. I can feel the warmth of warmer days yet to come. I can smell the scent of dirt released, breaking from winter’s grip. I can hear the singsong chatter of returning birds. I can taste asparagus spears snapped from the soil.

A bud beginning to open in late April 2020. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2020)

All of this is yet to come. I understand that. A date on a calendar doesn’t mean spring in Minnesota. That season is realistically weeks away. April can still bring inches of snow.

Crocuses, always the first flower of spring in my flowerbeds. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo March 2021)

But we are edging toward spring. I feel that in temps sometimes reaching just past 40 degrees. I feel it in the warmth of the sun, shining brighter, bolder, longer. I see dwindling snow packs and exposed patches of grass. I hear spring in vehicles splashing through puddles rather than crunching across snow. I see spring, too, in the endless potholes pocking roadways.

The first line in my winning poem, posted roadside in 2011. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo 2011)

On this first day of spring, I am reminded of a poem I penned in 2011, a poem which splashed across four billboards along a road just off Interstate 94 in Fergus Falls in west central Minnesota. To this day, publication of that poem remains an especially rewarding experience for me as a poet.

Billboard number two of my spring-themed poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

I submitted the poem to the now-defunct Roadside Poetry Project’s spring competition. Poems changed out seasonally in this Fergus Falls Area College Foundation funded contest. It was a bit of a challenge writing a spring-themed poem, as I recall. Not because of the theme, but rather the rules—four lines only with a 20-character-per-line limit. But, as a writer, it’s good to be challenged.

Line three of my Roadside Poetry Project spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

I suppose you could say the same about Minnesota weather. It’s good to be challenged by an especially snowy winter so we appreciate spring’s arrival even more. Yes, that’s a positive perspective—a way to mentally and psychologically talk myself into enduring perhaps six more weeks of winter in this official season of spring.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo June 2011)

NOTE: I intentionally omitted any pictures showing snow/winter.

© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling