Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

7:04 PM, June 13, 1968, Tracy, Minnesota June 13, 2018

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ELLEN HANEY. Mildred Harnden, Barbara Holbrook. Ellen Morgan. Fred Pilatus. Paul Swanson. Walter Swanson. Nancy Viahos. Otelia Werner.

They ranged in age from two to 84. The same age as my granddaughter and just a few years younger than my mom.

On this evening 50 years ago, the nine died in an F-5 tornado that ravaged the rural farming community of Tracy in my native southwestern Minnesota.

At 7:04 p.m. today, church bells will ring in Tracy, marking the precise time the twister, with wind speeds surpassing 300 mph, roared into town killing those nine residents, injuring 125 and desecrating the landscape.

 

A residential street, once covered in branches and debris, had to be plowed to allow vehicles to pass. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma, Tracy native and author of Out of the Blue, a book about the Tracy tornado.

 

All these decades later, the visual memories of that devastation still flash before my eyes in twisted, broken trees and piles of jumbled lumber, once homes. I was an impressionable almost 12-year-old when my dad drove our family 25 miles southwest from our farm to Tracy just days after the storm. You don’t forget a scene like that—such utter and chaotic destruction that a place no longer resembles a town. For that reason I’ve always feared and respected tornadoes.

I’ve written many times about the Tracy tornado. I’d encourage you to read those posts by clicking here.

 

Some of the injured at the Tracy Hospital. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Tracy residents, current and former, remain committed to honoring the memories of those who died in the June 13, 1968, tornado. Last weekend the town held events to commemorate the 50th anniversary. That included tolling of the Lutheran church bell and the release of nine black balloons. A noted Twin Cities meteorologist and storm chaser came to town as did Scott Thoma, hometown boy who authored a book, Out of the Blue, about the tornado. Locals shared tornado stories in words and in photos posted on a memory wall. A Tornado Tree Memorial has long been in place. Selected 2018-2019 Tracy area high school graduates will receive scholarships given in the names of those who died. Monies from the sale of “Never Forget” t-shirts are funding those financial gifts.

Never Forget. Those two words have themed this 50th anniversary remembrance.

 

Surveying the destruction at Tracy Elementary School, which was destroyed. Photo by The Tracy Headlight Herald and courtesy of Scott Thoma.

 

Down in Nashville, Tracy native and award-winning songwriter Dennis Morgan, penned, performed and recorded a song, “The Ballad of the Tracy Tornado, 50 Years Later.” Morgan was just 15 and cleaning a calf pen when he and his family spotted the twister from their farm west of town. They raced to get their father from a field where he was cultivating corn before sheltering in a neighbor’s basement. Morgan sent 300 copies of his ballad CD to his hometown with all sale proceeds designated for the Tracy Fire Department and Ambulance Service.

 

Eric Lantz, 16, of Walnut Grove, shot this award-winning photo of the Tracy tornado as it was leaving town. He often took photos for the Walnut Grove Tribune, owned by his uncle, Everett Lantz. This image by Eric was awarded third place in the 1968 National Newspaper Association contest for best news photo. This copyrighted photo is courtesy of Scott Thoma with the original copyright retained by Eric Lantz.

 

While researching this post, I also noted an iconic, award-winning tornado photo on the City of Tracy website. The image was taken by then 16-year-old Eric Lantz for the Walnut Grove Tribune. Today that photo takes me back to this small town on the prairie as, at 7:04 pm 50 years later, I schedule this post to publish. I shall never forget…

 

© Text copyright of Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Images copyrighted as noted.

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An afternoon on a Minnesota peony farm & winery June 8, 2018

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An overview of one of the gardens at Aspelund Peony Gardens, located at 9204 425th Street, rural Kenyon (near Aspelund).

 

WE WERE ON OUR WAY to do some shopping last Sunday afternoon when Randy mentioned a radio ad for Aspelund Peony Gardens.

 

A view from Minnesota State Highway 60 on the way to the peony gardens and winery.

 

That’s all it took to turn the van around, make a brief stop back home for a Minnesota road atlas and bottled water, and then head east on State Highway 60 rather than south on the interstate. I will choose touring flower gardens any day over shopping.

 

Nearing Aspelund.

 

 

 

Now marks prime peony viewing time at the Goodhue County gardens of Bruce and Dawn Rohl. I first met the engaging couple two years ago at their rural Kenyon (northwest of Wanamingo) acreage, also home to Aspelund Winery. They are a delight, the type of neighborly folks who hold a passion for peonies and wine in addition to full-time off-the-farm jobs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both visits I felt comfortably at home, welcome to stroll the gardens and the oak-shaded grounds where the wind sweeps across the hilltop location. I feel as if I’m a world away from reality in this peaceful setting of natural beauty and farm field vistas. Dogs play. A cat roams. A tire swing sways.

 

 

 

 

As I walked through the freshly-tilled rows of peonies, I stopped many times to dip my nose into fragrant blossoms, to study the lush (mostly) shades of pink petals, to photograph the flowers that danced a steady rhythm in the wind.

 

 

There is something endearing and connective and romantic in meandering through a peony garden. The spring flower reminds me of long ago brides gathering blooms from their mother’s/grandmother’s gardens. Young love. Sweet. Poetic.

 

 

It’s been a good year for peonies at Aspelund Peony Gardens, according to Dawn. Perfect weather conditions burst the bushes with an abundance of blossoms.

 

 

 

Lilacs, not quite in bloom, are also found on the farm site.

 

At an open house from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. this Saturday and Sunday (June 9/10), visitors can peruse those peonies, choose favorites and select roots available in the fall. The Rohls sell 65 types of peonies and are currently growing 150 varieties.

 

The vineyard.

 

Additionally, they craft wine—from apples, rhubarb, grapes, elderberries, raspberries, cucumbers and more. High Country Spice, made from tomatoes grown on-site, is probably their most unusual wine, one that I loved. Peppered, made from bell peppers, debuts this autumn.

 

The small wine tasting room on the right is connected to the Rohls’ home.

 

 

Towering oaks populate the farm yard, although many were damaged and some destroyed during a downburst in 2017.

 

After touring the peony gardens, a sampling of wines or a glass of wine—sipped inside or on the spacious deck—caps a lovely afternoon in the Minnesota countryside.

 

Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery are located about five miles from Wanamingo.

 

There’s a sense of neighborliness here, even among guests. Like the couple we met from Skunk Hollow after we’d discussed the differences between hotdish and casseroles with the Rohls. It is all so quintessential Minnesotan, and, oh, so much better than shopping.

 

 

FYI: Plan a visit to Aspelund Peony Gardens during this weekend’s open house which will feature a KOWZ 100.9 FM radio personality on-site on Saturday along with a food truck. Peonies may continue to bloom through Father’s Day, but there’s no assurance of that.

The winery is open from noon – 5 p.m. weekends only. Just like the gardens, open Saturdays and Sundays only.

Click here to read my 2016 post on Aspelund Peony Gardens and Winery.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Close up at the Faribo Drag-On’s Car Club Show, Part II June 1, 2018

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CAR SHOWS, at first glance, seem simply an event for car enthusiasts to gather and showcase their vehicles to the public.

 

 

 

 

But I see more. Much more.

 

 

Under the hood of a Mustang.

 

 

I see beyond a community of like-minded individuals who admire engines and shiny surfaces. I see the details, too.

 

 

On the roof of a vehicle…

 

A creative foot rest on a motorcycle.

 

Among all the bright colors, the throngs of people, the draw of trophies, I see humor. Art. History. Personal pride.

 

 

 

 

And I see dedication in the groups who organize these events. Like the Faribo Drag-On’s Car Club, host of the show photographed here. These club members hold a deep appreciation for motor vehicles, especially vintage.

 

 

 

The best sounding exhaust trophy.

 

That they share this love with folks like me, who will never own a vintage vehicle, is a gift. I can walk here among these cars and trucks and appreciate, admire, enjoy.

 

 

 

 

If you’ve never taken in a car show, I’d suggest you do so. You’ll experience a sense of community, an appreciation for classic vehicles and a grassroots connection to simpler times. There’s a lot to be said for that in today’s rat race world.

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FYI: Faribault Main Street hosts a monthly (during the summer) Faribault Car Cruise Night. The next car show will be from 6 – 9 p.m. Friday, June 15, along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault.

Or, you can take in a car show from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. this Saturday, June 2, at Babe Nordmeier Baseball Field in Morristown during the town’s annual Dam Days celebration.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How I learned to appreciate car shows, Part I May 31, 2018

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A TIME EXISTED WHEN I WANTED nothing to do with a car show. “Go and look at old cars?” I scoffed. “Nope, not interested.”

 

 

 

 

But then I accompanied Randy to a show once and discovered that these were more than just old cars lined up for display. These vehicles represent love, devotion, passion, pride, art, memories, stories. And, yes, a form of transportation, although really that seems secondary.

 

 

What changed my mind about car shows like the recent Drag-On’s Car Club Show in Faribault? Photography. My view of an event is often shaped through the lens of my Canon DSLR. Through photography, I notice details and strive to tell a story with my images.

 

 

I am often drawn to the unusual. A plastic Jesus on the dashboard.

 

 

A plastic rat atop a rat rod.

 

 

Elvis crooning in a car.

 

 

A shiny bumper,

 

 

a unique color,

 

 

an emblem or hood ornament,

 

 

tail fins,

 

even rust draws my interest.

 

 

 

Art more than automotive focuses my attention.

 

 

 

 

I love, also, to people-watch. While I couldn’t sit for hours in a lawn chair next to a car at a car show, many do. Entire families embrace these events.

 

 

I observe genuine enthusiasm for motors, the rev of an engine, the careful restoration of a vintage vehicle.

 

 

Trophies aplenty are handed out at these shows. How do you even begin to judge the hundreds of vehicles? It seems a subjective process to me. I’d look at the artsy side with no interest in what’s under the hood. Randy, an automotive machinist who has worked on plenty of vintage vehicles, would, however, peer at engines and restoration details.

 

 

 

 

Despite our differing perspectives, Randy and I each enjoy car shows. Who would have thought I’d come full circle on this? Not me.

 

Please check back for more photos from the Faribo Drag-On’s annual show.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Memorial Day in Faribault, a photo essay May 28, 2018

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A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park.

 

MEMORIAL DAY IN FARIBAULT, like in so many other American towns, honors veterans through patriotic tradition.

 

Steve Bonde plays patriotic tunes on a downtown Faribault street corner before the start of the Memorial Day parade.

 

Parade goers listen to Bonde as they await the start of the parade.

 

A barber cuts hair in his barbershop across the street, parade-goers reflected in his shop window.

 

A parade follows Central Avenue through our historic downtown, ending in nearby Central Park.

 

 

 

Grand Marshall Vicki McDowell with her husband, Honorary Grand Marshall Myles McDowell.

 

Each year I expect the same—the police cars and fire trucks, the Color Guard and honored veterans,

 

 

 

 

 

the bands and Scouts,

 

 

 

the kids and candy and politicians,

 

 

 

 

 

the vintage cars and the horses.

 

 

 

 

A restored vintage Tilt-A-Whirl provides a parade viewing spot in the heart of downtown. The Tilt-A-Whirl was invented in Faribault and, up until several years ago, was still made here.

 

Only the faces change, and sometimes not even those.

 

A volunteer hands out programs at Central Park.

 

Printed on the back of the program and read by master of ceremonies Gordy Kosfeld.

 

After the parade, folks gather at Central Park for the Memorial Day program, this year the 149th.

 

A table setting at American Legion Post 43 honors the POW-MIAs.

 

Afterwards, some—mostly vets and their families—go to the Legion for a luncheon and additional remembrances.

 

The luncheon serving line set against a backdrop of photos of local Legion Post 43 commanders.

 

There’s a certain comfort in embracing this day with time-honored traditions. Traditions remind me year after year after year that we still live in a free nation. Each Memorial Day I can set my lawn chair curbside along Central Avenue. I can take photos without retribution. I can stand for my flag and applaud and smile. On this day, I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The personal connection of war, decades after my dad left Korea May 26, 2018

The cover of a July 31, 1953, memorial service folder from Sucham-dong, Korea.

 

WAR IS MORE THAN THE FLASH of a news story, a list of statistics, a row of flags marking graves.

 

Photo by Sonny Nealon, Ray’s best friend in high school, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

War is personal. War is a flag-draped coffin, a name upon a tombstone, grief for a loved one.

 

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

 

I expect nearly every one of you could share a story of a family member who served in the Armed Forces, perhaps even gave his/her life for country.

This Memorial Day—between the travel and fun of the weekend—please reflect on the true meaning of this holiday. Remember those who died on battlefields or along roads or in trenches during too many wars.

 

Page two of the 1953 memorial service bulletin from Korea.

 

I need look no farther than a brown shoebox. It holds the memorabilia of war, of my father’s time as an infantryman on the front lines during the Korean War. Among the photos and other items is a memorial service bulletin dated July 31, 1953, Sucham-dong, Korea. It lists the names of 28 men from the 2nd Battalion, 65th Infantry Regiment who died in service to country.

 

A story about Cpl. Ray W. Scheibe, published in the July 23, 1953, issue of The Wolbach Messenger.

 

Among those names, my dad’s Army buddy, Raymond W. Scheibe. Ray died the day before he was to return home to his wife and infant daughter. My heart breaks when I think of that, of my dad witnessing his friend’s death and then Ray’s family getting the awful news back in Nebraska. A young wife left a widow. A daughter never knowing her father. Grieving parents.

 

The third page of the memorial service bulletin my soldier dad carried home from Korea.

 

War is personal. To think that my dad saved this memorial service bulletin shows me the depths of his grief. He could have tossed the piece of paper after the service—after the singing of patriotic songs and reading of Scripture and prayer and roll call and a moment of silence. But he didn’t. He folded the now yellowed paper into quarters and carried it with him, across the ocean, across the country, back home to Minnesota.

 

An in-ground marker honors my father, Elvern Kletscher, a Korean War veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he suffered at Heartbreak Ridge in Korea. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Through that action, my father, dead 15 years now, honored his soldier-friend. He assured that the next generation, me, would remember. War is personal. War is a worn slip of paper saved for 65 years.

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FYI: Many opportunities exist in the Faribault area to honor our veterans on Memorial Day. Here’s a partial list:

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

‘Tis prime secondhand shopping season in Minnesota May 25, 2018

Necklaces for sale at the May 19 Rice County Historical Society Flea Market, Faribault, Minnesota. I took all of the images in this post at the RCHS market.

 

MANY WOMEN LOVE to shop. I’m not one of them. Filtering through racks of clothing and then trying clothes on is far from my idea of fun. I shop out of necessity. Not for therapy or just because I want something new or for whatever other reason. I suppose if I had unlimited cash flow, I might feel differently. But probably not.

 

 

That said, I enjoy shopping at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage and yard sales. I appreciate vintage and unique and keeping rather than tossing.

 

 

 

 

Most of my original and print art—and I have a lot—comes from these second-hand sources. I’ve also sourced vintage glassware, dishes, tablecloths and more from other people’s junk. I use the word junk in a positive, not trashy, way.

 

 

 

May marks the beginning of secondhand sale season in Minnesota. I took in my first flea market last weekend at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault. While I didn’t buy anything, I poked around and chatted it up with vendors, including one from Minneapolis. I invited him to visit our historic downtown, suggesting specific places to check out. “You should work for the tourism office,” he said. I told him I do through occasional freelance writing and photography.

 

 

 

 

I am often amazed at how little people still know about Faribault despite strong tourism promotion efforts. With downtown Minneapolis only an hour away to the north along Interstate 35, my community is ideally situated for a day trip into rural Minnesota. Any time I can encourage others to visit Faribault, I will.

 

 

 

 

This weekend presents another opportunity to check out this section of southeastern Minnesota at the 19th annual Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Swap Meet & Flea Market. That event runs from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the showgrounds along Minnesota State Highway 3 south of Dundas (which is south of Northfield, north of Faribault). There’s also a consignment auction at 9 a.m. Saturday and a tractor pull at 9 a.m. Sunday. I always find the flea market interesting, photo-worthy and simply a nice way to spend a few hours in a rural setting. Sometimes I find a treasure, sometimes not.

TELL ME: Do you shop flea markets, thrift stores and/or garage/yard sales? If yes, are you looking for something specific? Tell me about a treasure you bought at one of these secondhand sources.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling