Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

No need to wonder about the power of this movie December 14, 2017

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IF EVER THERE’S a current movie everyone should see, it’s “Wonder.”

And for me to state that is noteworthy. “Wonder” is the first movie I’ve viewed in a theater since 2011. Yes, I really have not been inside a cinema since I last saw “The Help,” another memorable movie, six years ago. Most movies don’t interest me. Too much violence and genres that don’t appeal to me. I prefer movies with a message, with a purpose other than to simply entertain and with content that moves me.

“Wonder” fits those criteria.

Based on the New York Times bestselling book by R. J. Palacio, “Wonder” tells the story of 10-year-old Auggie Pullman, born with facial deformities and entering school for the first time after being homeschooled. As you would expect, Auggie faces incredible challenges, including bullying.

This film shows the real-life psychological harm of peer pressure and bullying to individuals and to families and then presents multiple ways people address it. And not always in good ways, just like in real life.

“Wonder” should be required viewing for every child, teen and adult. The book was assigned reading at my eighth grade great nephew’s Minnesota school, followed by a class field trip to see the movie. I applaud educators like those in Tristan’s school who realize the value in this film as a teaching tool and as an opportunity to open up conversations on differences, bullying, peer pressure, kindness, compassion and more.

As a survivor of junior high school bullying and even bullying as an adult, I understand this issue all too well. I refuse to tolerate bullying (and abuse) on any level. “Wonder” champions strength to rise and to overcome, making it one powerful movie.


FYI: If you haven’t read about the recent bullying of a young boy in a Tennessee school, then click here and read Keaton’s story. It breaks my heart. Decades ago, this was me. Crying. Suffering. Unable to stop the bullying. I was not bullied in the same ways as Keaton. But the bullying I experienced in junior high school hurt me. Deeply. Just like Keaton. This behavior needs to stop.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017


DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Documentary focuses on missionaries’ life-saving roles in Nigerian civil war of 1966 January 27, 2017

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

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

I’VE EXPERIENCED WAR. Not first hand, but through the words of my soldier father who fought on the front lines during the Korean War. And through photos he took. Through textbooks, too, and the stories of veterans and immigrants. And in memorials I’ve visited, poems I’ve read, songs I’ve heard.

"The Disturbances" is told in both book and film.

“The Disturbances” is told in both book and film.

Now I have an opportunity to learn more about a civil war—one in Nigeria in 1966—through “The Disturbances,” a feature-length documentary. The film is screening at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 29, at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1054 Truman Avenue, Owatonna.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House). Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their sons, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo. He is in the front row, third in from the right. Carl Eisman (tall man in the back) is featured prominently in the film. He taught at the boarding school.

What brings a film like this to southern Minnesota? The answer, in short, is the pastor of Redeemer, the Rev. Kirk Griebel. He moved, as a second grader, from Minnesota to Nigeria with his missionary father and family in February 1966. They stayed until June 1969, took a furlough and then returned for two more years, leaving in 1972. The Griebels and other Christian missionaries found themselves caught in the middle of violent tribal atrocities. “The Disturbances” is their story—the story of how missionaries and Nigerian pastors saved lives.

Back then, missionaries did not openly discuss the situation. Now they are, in this documentary produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics. The stories of missionaries from various denominations, including those of the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, are included.

I look forward to learning more about these brave souls who stretched their missionary skills beyond preaching, teaching, training and serving to acts of heroism that saved lives.

Kirk Griebel with his parents, the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel, on his Confirmation Day in 1972. The family left Nigeria shortly thereafter.

Kirk Griebel with his parents, the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel, on his Confirmation Day in 1972. The family left Nigeria shortly thereafter.

The Rev. Kirk Griebel plans to share memories of his experiences from that time in Nigeria. He was only eight years old when war erupted, but remembers a mob of men with clubs and machetes as the violence unfolded, according to a January 15 interview with “Faith of Steele.” I expect I will learn more about my pastor-friend who holds a strong interest in social issues. I surmise his experiences and observations in Nigeria helped shape his willingness to publicly tackle and participate in issues beyond simply preaching from the pulpit. War changes people.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

Sunday’s screening is at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

FYI: Please consider attending this free screening of “The Disturbances.” I always appreciate opportunities like this to learn and then relate what I learn to my life.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos from Nigeria are courtesy of the Rev. Kirk Griebel.


When you’re not into Star Wars December 21, 2015

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MY KNOWLEDGE OF STAR WARS is limited. I would recognize Darth Vader if I saw him on the street. I know there’s a Princess Someone or Other. And Luke Skywalker. Yes, I remember that name. But that’s about it.

I grew up watching Lost in Space on TV with characters like Judy, Penny, Will, Don and the evil Dr. Smith. And a robot whose name may have been Robot.

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam's Interstate 35 display. I've seen a shark, guitar, submarine...

You never know what art will be showcased in Hot Sam’s Interstate 35 display. I’ve seen a shark, guitar, submarine…and now this spaceship.

Sci-Fi, though, as an adult, is not my genre. Still, I had to wonder about the spaceship suspended in an artsy display along Interstate 35 at Hot Sam’s Antiques near Lakeville, south of Minneapolis. I last visited Hot Sam’s in 2012. This one-of-a-kind place features an eclectic mix of art and old stuff scattered over several acres.

The hovering spaceship.

Hot Sam’s hovering spaceship.

Recently, the spaceship was added to the highly-visible hilltop Interstate collection. I thought perhaps it was a Star Wars ship replica. At this point, feel free to laugh. My son may have snickered when I asked. “Uh, no, Mom.” he said.

To all you Star Wars fans, my apologies.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Snow Minions February 25, 2015

THIS IS HOW MUCH my husband and I know about current day cartoons. We confused these snow sculptures with Sponge Bob Square Pants:


Snow sculpture, Minions close-up


Yes, go ahead and laugh.


Snow sculpture, Minions


Can you see the similarities between Sponge Bob and the Minions? OK, maybe not so much. But to the untrained don’t have kids at home or grandkids yet, the two different cartoon characters do kind of resemble one another.


Snow sculpture, Minions in yard


Kurt Klett recently sculpted these Minions from the Universal Pictures 3-D movie “Despicable Me” in his Faribault front yard. This marks the sixth year he’s created a snow sculpture. Soon he’ll change the heart to a shamrock in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day.

The “Fight MS” message is Klett’s personal campaign to raise awareness about Multiple Sclerosis. He has the disease.

You have to admire a guy who, each year, crafts snow sculptures, especially in a winter like this with minimal snow and plenty of frigid temps.

His artwork brings a bit of fun to a long, cold Minnesota winter.

FYI: Click here to read about the snow sculptures Klett created in 2014 in his yard at 417 Second Street Northwest.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Luverne: “Go digital or go dark” August 29, 2013

The entry to the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

The entry to the historic Palace Theatre in downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

THE DOORS TO THE OLD THEATRE were locked, much to my dismay, on a recent Saturday visit to Luverne in extreme southwestern Minnesota.

Charming exterior art.

Charming exterior art.

If only I could have gotten inside to view the original painted wall panels, stage curtains, pipe organ, and artistic wall and ceiling décor inside the 1915 Palace Theatre.

I am a fan of old theatres and of old buildings in general. But you know that if you’ve followed Minnesota Prairie Roots.

That's ReBorn, in the right corner of the city-owned theatre building at 102 E. Main Street.

The city-owned Palace Theatre at 102 E. Main Street, operated by the nonprofit Blue Mound Area Theatre.

That Luverne appreciates the value of its historic theatre enough to preserve the building, which hosts a variety of cultural and other events, pleases me. The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Theatre supporters are currently working to continue one aspect of the building’s use, that of showing movies. Through the “Go Digital or Go Dark” campaign, efforts are underway to raise $75,000 for the purchase of a digital projector. At the end of 2013, film companies will no longer produce 35mm film, necessitating the switch.

Now I’m not a big movie watcher, having last viewed an in-theatre movie several years ago. But I like the option of a local theatre, which my community of 23,000 no longer has. Sad. Truly sad.

I expect the good folks of Luverne would miss their movies, too, should funding not come through for the digital projector.

A notable sign draws the eye to the Palace.

A notable sign draws the eye to the Palace.

A special fundraising event, “A Night at the Palace,” slated for Saturday, September 7, will raise monies specifically for that projector. Click here to learn more.

There’s just one more bit of information you should know about the Palace Theatre. Six years ago, on September 6, the Palace Theatre hosted the world premiere of The War, a Ken Burns documentary on World War II. Luverne is one of four communities featured in the film.

Downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

Downtown Luverne, Minnesota.

Of all the venues which could have been selected for the debut showing, the Palace Theatre was chosen. That, my friends, says a lot for the community of Luverne and the historic theatre.

FYI: To learn about another Luverne theatre in need of funding for a digital projector, click here and read about the Verne Drive-in.

If you wish to donate monies (via PayPal) toward purchasing a digital projector for the Palace Theatre, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Discovering a drive-in movie theatre in Luverne & a nation-wide effort to save these icons August 15, 2013

A FEW WEEKS AGO, while traveling specifically to Luverne in the southwestern corner of Minnesota to tour the Brandenburg Gallery and Blue Mounds State Park, I discovered a vanishing icon of American culture.

That would be a drive-in movie theatre on the south edge of town just off Interstate 90.

Verne Drive-in entry sign

The Verne Drive-In Theater, built in the 1950s, is one of only a few drive-ins remaining in Minnesota. Others include the Long Drive-In in Long Prairie, the Starlite 5 Drive-In Theatre in Litchfield, the Vali-Hi Drive-In in Lake Elmo and Sky-Vu Drive In in Warren. I think I’ve covered them all.

Nearly a year ago, the Cottage View Drive-In in Cottage Grove, in a controversial move, was closed and the land sold for construction of a Walmart store. (Click here to see Minnesota Public Radio photos of a September 2012 event celebrating the Cottage View’s 46-year history.)

Although I didn’t see a show at the Verne Drive-In, my husband and I drove through the vacant theatre parking lot on a Saturday morning just to check out the place and reminisce. We went to a few outdoor movies together when our community of Faribault still had a drive-in theatre. We also each attended drive-in movies separately while growing up. Me in Redwood Falls and he once in the Little Falls area and then near Brainerd.

Verne Drive-in, screen w filmstrip

I expect most of you hold on to some drive-in movie memories whether its cramming into the trunk of a car, making out with a long forgotten boyfriend or girlfriend, waiting in line for a concession stand snack or burger, tuning in to a movie via those little boxes stationed throughout the gravel parking lot, piling the kids into the car in their jammies for a night out under the stars…

At the Verne Drive-In a young couple, who went on their first date at the drive-in four years ago, recently became engaged there.

Drive-in theatres, most assuredly, are a part of our history, our culture, our growing up years and our personal memories.

Verne Drive-In exit sign film strip

Once commonplace in communities across the country, drive-ins are vanishing with only 368 remaining in the U.S., according to Project Drive-In established by Honda Motor Company. Honda, via an online and texting voting process, is giving away digital movie projectors to five drive-in theatres. The goal is simple: to save as many drive-ins as possible.

The financial challenge for drive-ins today lies in the need to switch to digital projection by the end of 2013, an upgrade which costs an estimated $80,000.

For theatres like the one in Luverne, winning a free digital projector through the Project Drive-In giveaway would be huge. You can vote online and/or via texting for these two Minnesota drive-ins daily for the next 25 days: the Verne Drive-In or the Long Drive-In. Click here for more information.

Project Drive-In also includes opportunities to donate monies toward saving our nation’s drive-ins and to pledge to go to a drive-in movie theatre. Win. Win.

WHAT MEMORIES DO YOU have of drive-in movie theatres? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling