Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The connection between a pony, Preparation H & a liquor store June 22, 2016

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I’M NO MARKETING EXPERT. But I did take advertising and public relations classes in college, a requirement of my Mass Communications degree. Yet, degree and media experience aside, I rely primarily on my initial emotional reaction to rate the success or failure of media campaigns.

I find myself most drawn to advertising messages that tug at my heartstrings or offer a bit of unexpected humor. Flashiness and celebrity endorsements don’t impress me. Simplistic and relatable do. Punch out a strong message, boom, and you’ve got me. Word choice matters, as do music and setting in TV commercials and radio spots.

I photographed these little ponies at Sibley Park in Mankato.

I photographed these miniature horses at Sibley Farm in Sibley Park, Mankato, Minnesota.

My husband will tell you I seldom pay attention to television commercials. For good reason. Most aren’t worth my time. But he’ll also tell you there are exceptions. When the Amazon Prime ad featuring a sweet little pony airs, I crank up the volume like I’m listening to a favorite rock band. I love everything about that commercial from the music to the horses to the pure cuteness factor. I am obsessed to the point of wanting to purchase a little pony for my granddaughter. Isabelle is only 11 weeks old. I’m not serious, of course. But if I lived in the country…

From ponies to Preparation H, a new hemorrhoid treatment commercial filmed in the small southern Minnesota community of Kiester also rates as a current favorite. I applaud the marketing genius who connected kiester to Kiester and came up with this humorous, thinking outside the box ad.

Small towns can be a hotbed for unique advertising. For example, I spotted this sign outside Wayside Liquor in Montgomery (Minnesota, not Alabama) on Sunday:

 

Wayside Liquor sign in Montgomery, 14

 

A quick Google search indicates Wayside Liquor staff didn’t create this message. But they clearly knew the humorous words would grab the attention of motorists traveling along busy Minnesota State Highway 13. The sign works in directing attention toward the liquor store. Boom.

How about you? Do you have a favorite TV commercial, radio spot, print ad, sign, billboard? What makes it a winner?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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If you’ve never explored Montgomery, Minnesota, that is January 20, 2016

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A snapshot of downtown Montgomery last Saturday afternoon as strong winds whipped a light snow.

A snapshot of downtown Montgomery last Saturday afternoon as strong winds whipped a light snow.

“WHAT’S IN MONTGOMERY?” friends asked when I mentioned that my husband and I had been there Saturday afternoon.

That would be Montgomery, Minnesota. Not Alabama.

What’s in Montgomery, a small town of nearly 3,000 that lies a half hour to the northwest of my Faribault home? I’m always surprised when people know little about nearby communities.

Vintage signage on historic buildings is part of Montgomery's charm.

Vintage signage on historic buildings is part of Montgomery’s charm.

So I rattled off a lengthy answer: Montgomery Brewing Company, Franke’s Bakery, Hilltop Hall (and the Curtain Call Theatre), Pizzeria 201 (with farm-to-table food), Quilter’s Dream, Bird’s Nest Thrift Store, Herrmann Drug, Card & Gifts, Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History, LaNette’s Antiques ‘n Lace, Main Street Barber, the Montgomery Veterans Project and several bars.

Of course, there’s much more to Montgomery and my list may not be totally current. I’ve posted about all of these places in the past.

Simply another view of the business district.

Simply another view of Montgomery’s business district.

If you enjoy exploring small towns like Randy and I do, you will appreciate Montgomery, a community with a deep Czech heritage reflected in its self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World title and its annual summertime Kolacky Days celebration.

I love the look of this town with historic downtown buildings, cozy neighborhoods and a definite rural and patriotic feel. Flags line a section of the main drag. A grain elevator abuts train tracks on the north end, next to the grocery store.

Montgomery, at least when I’ve visited numerous times, is soothingly quiet and inviting. Not touristy. But welcoming in the sort of setting Norman Rockwell might have painted.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Out & about on a dangerously cold January weekend in southern Minnesota January 18, 2016

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Saturday afternoon in Montgomery, fierce wind whipped this over-sized flag and a light snowfall.

Saturday afternoon in Montgomery, fierce wind whipped this over-sized flag as light snow fell.

BITTERLY COLD. Double digit below zero temperatures. Minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit Sunday and Monday mornings. Dangerous windchills of minus 35 and 45 degrees. Exposed skin that can freeze in 10 minutes or less.

That’s our reality in Minnesota these days as Arctic air settles over our state. It is the topic of conversation. We Minnesotans love to talk about our weather.

Cold enough for you?

Staying warm?

How long is this supposed to last?

With windchills in the minus 20-degree range, Saturday afternoon, these snowmobilers dealt with machine break-down issues in the countryside.

With windchills in the minus 20-degree range Saturday afternoon, these snowmobilers dealt with machine break-down issues in the countryside.

We hole up indoors. Or we embrace the cold. As best we can. On Saturday I observed youth playing hockey outdoors while others skimmed across an adjacent skating rink. I spotted three snowmobilers parked alongside the road after a snowmobile apparently struck a highway sign. I saw vehicles ringing rural bars.

Reduced visibility driving into Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Reduced visibility driving into Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Me? I snugged inside the van with my husband, mini quilt across my lap, as we crisscrossed Rice and nearby counties. We just drove, feeling the need to escape reality for an afternoon. Our meandering took us to downtown Lakeville, where we ducked in and out of several home-grown shops.

Since my last visit to New Prague, an antique shop has opened in this former hardware store. The shop holds a large collection of vinyl records and vintage Czech jewelry.

Since my last visit to New Prague, an antique shop has opened in this former hardware store. The shop holds a large collection of vinyl records and vintage Czech jewelry.

Then we aimed west, stopping at a New Prague antique shop before driving toward Montgomery.

I am always struck by how desolate farm sites appear in winter. This one lies between New Prague and Montgomery.

I am always struck by how desolate farm sites appear in winter. This one lies between New Prague and Montgomery.

Sunshine occasionally sliced rays across the white-washed landscape. It is so cold you can see cold in the sun. It is so cold you can hear cold in the crunch of snow beneath tires and boots. And you can certainly feel it in the sting of cold slapping cheeks.

Traveling Minnesota State Highway 13 toward Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Traveling Minnesota State Highway 13 toward Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Snow swirled through the wind-driven air near Montgomery, veiling the sky.

The building doesn't look like much from the outside. But step inside Montgomery Brewing Company to find an inviting taproom in an historic building.

This historic building doesn’t look like much from the outside. But step inside Montgomery Brewing Company to find an inviting taproom.

In this Czech community, we stopped for a cold one at Montgomery Brewing Company. You would think on a bitterly cold January day like this, few people would venture out for a beer. But the place was hopping with couples popping in for tap beer, conversation and growlers.

Winter does not stop Minnesotans from riding their bikes. This one was spotted in Montgomery.

Winter does not stop Minnesotans from riding their bikes. I spotted this one in Montgomery Saturday afternoon.

Back to the east in my county of Rice, Faribault’s F-Town Brewing Company offered beer samples at the Snow Crush Fat Tire Race at River Bend Nature Center on Saturday. An after-party followed at the brewery. Had the temperature been warmer, I likely would have been at the race shooting photos. But there’s a limit to what I’ll do in sub-zero/hovering around zero temps.

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FYI: All of these edited images were shot from inside a warm van.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

At St. Olaf College: A Minnesota connection to the 1965 Civil Rights Movement May 12, 2015

The name Reeb holds special significance at a Minnesota college.

The name Reeb holds special significance in a memorial at a Minnesota college.

JAMES REEB. You may not recognize his name. Or you may remember an actor portraying the Rev. Reeb in a scene in the movie, Selma. Or heard/read his name in a recent news story.

The memorial honoring the Rev. James Reeb was dedicated in March, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

The memorial honoring the Rev. James Reeb was dedicated in March, on the 50th anniversary of his death.

Today, just outside the entrance to Rolvaag Library on the hilltop campus of St. Olaf College in the southern Minnesota community of Northfield, Reeb is honored with a memorial for his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement.

Words play across a screen in a video next to the memorial.

Words play across a screen in a video next to the memorial.

His involvement cost him his life.

A portrait of Reeb printed on the memorial.

A portrait of Reeb printed on the memorial.

On March 9, 1965, Reeb and two friends were attacked after dining at a Selma restaurant run by local black citizens. The Massachusetts clergyman, an outspoken advocate for civil rights, desegregation and more, died two days later from his injuries.

Reeb, shown to the left in this photo, was among those who marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, Bloody Sunday.

Reeb, shown to the left in this photo, was among those who marched to the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965. This image is in a video at the St. Olaf memorial.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who’d called upon clergy to join a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, delivered Reeb’s eulogy.

Reeb’s death served as a catalyst for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, according to information published on the memorial to this 1950 St. Olaf graduate.

Visitors to the "Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail" exhibit at St. Olaf College let their voices be heard.

Visitors to the recent “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College let their voices be heard.

To view this recently-installed memorial, to read that Reeb possessed “a healing personality, but his convictions are like iron” is to understand that one voice can make a difference. Reeb considered taking a stand for justice more important than remaining in the safety of his home. He left his family in Massachusetts to join the march from Selma to Montgomery. While walking to a planning meeting for that march, Reeb was brutally attacked.

The "Selma to Montgomery" exhibit at the Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf, recently closed.

The “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit at the Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf, recently closed.

In Reeb’s eulogy, King noted that, “His death says to us that we must work passionately, unrelentingly, to make the American dream a reality, so he did not die in vain.”

Those are words we would do well to remember today, 50 years after Reeb’s death and the march from Selma to Montgomery.

FYI: Click here to read my post about the recently-closed Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail exhibit at St. Olaf College.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Civil Rights Movement as photographed by Stephen Somerstein April 23, 2015

POWERFUL. HISTORIC. MEMORABLE.

Looking through a window into an exhibit space at Flaten Art Museum.

Looking through a window into the “Selma to Montgomery” exhibit in the Flaten Art Museum at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN.

That trio of adjectives describes Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail, an exhibit of 45 black-and-white photos documenting the 1965 Civil Rights Movement through the work of photographer Stephen Somerstein.

I was only eight years old in 1965, living in rural southwestern Minnesota, far removed from what was occurring in Alabama.

The faces of the Civil Rights Marches and Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Faces of the Civil Rights Movement include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., left, and his wife, Coretta Scott King, right. This shows a snippet of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

But the exhibit, showcased at the Flaten Art Museum of St. Olaf College, took me to Alabama in 1965 and into the movement for equality in an up close and personal way.

An overview of a section of the exhibit at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

An overview of a section of the now-closed exhibit at St. Olaf College.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Somerstein’s pictures are worth 45,000 words. My one regret is that I did not visit this exhibit until the day before it closed on April 12 thus failing to inform you, my readers, of the opportunity to see this for yourselves.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

This portion of a photo by Stephen Somerstein drew my attention.

As I circled the museum space, I studied many of the photos in detail. These images by Somerstein, a then student at City College of New York and editor of the school newspaper, call for close examination. It is in the details that we begin to fully understand, to see the fear, the hope, the defiance, the anger, the love, the determination.

I found myself drawn to hands and arms—those of an interracial couple, that of a union member gripping a sign, activists carrying American flags, a soldier focusing binoculars, a mother cradling her son:

One of my favorite images

One of my favorite photos by Stephen Somerstein.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section  of a Stephen Somerstein photo.

Skin color matters not, as showcased in this section of a Stephen Somerstein photo I photographed.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marcher carrying and American flag and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars.

The two things I noticed in this Stephen Somerstein photo: the marchers carrying American flags and the soldier atop the building scanning the scene with binoculars. It’s truly a multi-layered image.

The Teamsters Union

The Teamsters Union Local 239 sent supplies to activists who were marching. This is a selected section of a photo by Stephen Somerstein.

Eyes and words also drew me in:

vote

Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn, wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This is a section of Stephen Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

The exhibit featured explanatory information about photos and the movement.

And although I did not participate in the interactive portions of the exhibit created by artist Nancy Musinguzi, I appreciated that visitors could photograph themselves and pen thoughts on working toward justice and equality.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Visitors could photograph themselves at the exhibit and express their thoughts.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

Opinions expressed in the exhibit polling place.

They could also vote in a People’s Survey. Vote.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

A St. Olaf College student staffing the museum makes sure a video is working properly.

The exhibit drew a wide range of interest at St. Olaf College with students in social work, history, art history, gender studies and more viewing the photos, says Flaten Art Museum Director Jane Becker Nelson. The timing of the exhibit—on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement, relating to current day issues and release of the movie, Selma—added to the interest.

Another overview of part of the exhibit.

Another overview of part of the exhibit. Photos displayed are by Stephen Somerstein.

Additionally, Becker Nelson notes that the exhibit connects to the 50th anniversary of the death of St. Olaf graduate James Reeb. (More to come on that in a post next week.)

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

A chair placed before a Stephen Somerstein photo offers visitors a place to sit and contemplate.

This remarkable collection of documentary photos impresses in a deeply personal way. Beyond headlines. Beyond news stories. Beyond the pages of history books. Somerstein’s photos document the humanity of the Civil Rights Movement in the eyes, in the hands, in the stances of individuals. And that connects all of us, no matter our skin color.

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© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Original photos are by Stephen Somerstein. My photos of Somerstein’s images are published here with permission of Flaten Art Museum, St. Olaf College.

Selma to Montgomery was booked through New York-based National Exhibitions & Archives.

 

Montgomery-based Child’s Play Theatre ignites imagination April 9, 2015

I LEFT MY CAMERA AT HOME. Then I spotted a bald eagle scavenging in an open field. Shot missed.

A few miles later, after reaching our destination, St. Patrick’s Church in Shieldsville, I realized for the second time that I should have hauled my Canon DSLR with me.

But my husband and I were attending a theatrical production. And, as live theatre goes, photography is typically not allowed. Plus, lighting is often insufficient.

Still, I could have gotten some shots afterward of the seven young performers from Child’s Play Theatre Company who presented an impressionable drama on a portable stage in the fairly well lit St. Patrick’s Fellowship Hall.

This photo of "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" is courtesy of Child's Play Theatre and was taken by Chris Vilt.

This cast photo from “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” is courtesy of Child’s Play Theatre and was taken by Chris Vilt. Cast members, left to right, are Dylan Vilt, Ian Hanson, Aimee Ilkka, Amber Simon, Olivia Simon, Carolyn Mikel and Lucia Rynda.

Upon arrival, I had no idea what to expect. I knew only that we would be seeing Child’s Play Theatre’s production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, an introspective drama about Jewish children temporarily imprisoned in Terezin. Most of the 15,000 children held there eventually were shipped to Auschwitz and thus to a certain death in the gas chambers. Heavy stuff.

I thought an adult theatre troupe would perform the drama, even given the name “Child’s Play.” I wasn’t expecting seven Montgomery-Lonsdale-New Prague area performers ages 11 – 14 to take the stage. But they did. And the performance these youth delivered was deserving of the standing ovation we gave them.

First grader Kyle Ernste of Nerstrand Charter School painted this vivid butterfly which reminds me of Eric Carle's art.

First grader Kyle Ernste of Nerstrand Elementary School painted this butterfly, displayed at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, 2012 Student Art Exhibit. Image used here for illustration purposes only and does not reflect art produced by Child’s Play Theatre participants. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Director Andrew (Andy) Velishek wasn’t exaggerating when he suggested, in his introductory remarks, to have a tissue handy. The depth to which these five actresses and two actors played their roles was haunting and memorable. I felt their fear, heard their anger and desperation, experienced their joy in imagining flowers and butterflies. As a poet, I connected with the poetry they read. In Terezin, children’s art and writings were buried and later uncovered.

Art mattered in Terezin. Just like it matters to Velishek, whom I talked with prior to the play. He is passionate about theatre. He’s been involved in more than 80 productions with 25-plus years of acting and 15 years of directing/producing experience.

And he’s passionate about helping children, especially, to use their imaginations and to learn and hone the craft of performing. This stay-at-home dad and sometimes substitute teacher has three boys ages nine months to five, the oldest ones already showing an interest in performing.

Child's Play Theatre presented an Improvisation Theatre Workshop

Child’s Play Theatre presented an Improvisation Theatre Workshop through Shakopee Community Education in 2013. That resulted in a 15-minute skit that included vampires, angels, bullies, a wolf and a dragon. Photo by and courtesy of Andy Velishek, Child’s Play Theatre.

Velishek travels from his Montgomery home base to southern Minnesota schools, community centers, libraries and more with his educational theatre company that draws youth on stage. Past productions include plays such as Beauty Is A Beast, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Twinderella. He formed the theatre company in 2012 and, he says, is laying the foundation to keep community theatre alive.

Child's Play Theatre - Copy

His focus is on the kids. You won’t find a professional performer in the lead role with youth as just supporting cast, he says. If there are not enough parts in a script for kids, Velishek will write in roles.

You can hear the energy and passion in his voice, see it on-stage in the performances of those he directs. Butterfly even started a bit late because this director was so engaged in telling me about Child’s Play Theatre. Now that’s a man who loves what he does.

He teaches and encourages and celebrates success, noting to the audience that the cast of I Never Saw Another Butterfly was honored for Outstanding Achievement in Acting-Ensemble at the recent Minnesota Association of Community Theatres’ MACT Fest 2015.

When I the congratulated the cast of Butterfly for their performance at St. Patrick’s, their enthusiasm for theatre ran strong. Velishek is encouraging their creativity, building their confidence, teaching them that performing is a gift they can give back to their communities.

They’ve seen the butterflies and the flowers.

Child's Play Theatre includes all facets of a production, including creating and building the set. Photo by and courtesy of Andy Velishek, Child's Play Theatre.

Child’s Play Theatre includes creating and building the set. Photo by and courtesy of Andy Velishek, Child’s Play Theatre.

FYI: Here’s a sampling of upcoming Child’s Play Theatre camps/shows: Twinderella, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 16 at Twin Oaks Middle School (Prior Lake-Savage Schools); Disney’s The AristoCats Kids, 7 p.m. June 5 and 1 p.m. June 6, Tri-City United Schools in the Montgomery Middle School Auditorium; and Twinderella, 6 p.m. June 12, Owatonna Senior High School. For a full schedule, visit Child’s Play Theatre website by clicking here.

All productions include week-long camps for kids K-12 with registration done through local Community Education departments. Show tickets are available at the door and are kept at a family friendly cost, Velishek  says.

Velishek also offers theatrical opportunities to adults through Limelight Theatre Company, a division of Child’s Play Theatre. Limelight debuted at Next Chapter Winery south of New Prague last September with a dinner theatre production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged.

© Text copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Child’s Play Theatre photos are copyright of Chris Vilt and Andy Velishek.

 

“Sold, to bidder number…” February 27, 2014

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Turek's Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been "serving Minnesota since 1958." Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

Turek’s Auction Service, 303 Montgomery Ave. S.E. (Highway 21), Montgomery, has been “serving Minnesota since 1958.” Daniel Turek, Sr., started the third-generation family business now operated by Dan, Jr. and Travis Turek. They sell everything from antique vases to real estate.

YEARS, MAYBE EVEN A DECADE or more, have passed since I attended an auction.

But once upon a time my husband and I frequented auctions, bidding mostly on furniture. Our prized dining room table came from a neighbor’s household and farm auction back in my hometown of Vesta. The matching chairs were from a sale near Morristown.

Auctions appeal to me for many reasons. There’s a certain camaraderie yet competitiveness, friendliness yet aloofness, thrill yet disappointment.

When you outbid someone or snare merchandise at a bargain price, it’s a heady feeling.

But it’s more than that. The rhythm of an auction, the mesmerizing cadence of the auctioneer’s voice, the slight nod of the head, the closeness of the crowd, the commonality of community, Styrofoam cups brimming with steaming coffee, all create an unforgettable experience.

Perhaps it’s time I attend an auction again.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling