Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating the Fourth of July for 125 years in North Morristown July 2, 2017

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

IN RICE COUNTY, the Fourth of July and North Morristown are synonymous. For in this rural spot of corn, soybean and alfalfa fields, farm sites, and a country church and school, folks gather every Independence Day to celebrate. This July Fourth marks 125 years of patriotic and family togetherness.

 

Vehicles line county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas in this Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from July 4, 2016.

 

You won’t find North Morristown by looking for a water tower or anything that resembles a town. Rather, head northwest of Morristown to 10500 215th St. West and the festival grounds across the road from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, North Morristown.

 

The vintage car ride for kids. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Although I did not grow up in this part of Minnesota, I’ve lived here 35 years now and have celebrated many July Fourths at this rural location. I love the folksy simplicity of an event which began 125 years ago as a picnic. Today the celebration includes a 5K run/walk, parade, patriotic program, medallion hunt, silent auction, BINGO, musical performances (including the popular Twin Cities based Monroe Crossing), kids’ carnival style rides, fireworks shot over farm fields and more.

 

The homemade pies are a popular food choice. Buy your pie early for the best selection. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

And then there are the food and beverages: homemade pies, fresh-squeezed lemonade, ice cream, pork sandwiches, burgers, beer and more. This food is basic country at its best, served by volunteers who work tirelessly to feed the masses.

 

The bingo callers in 2013. I entered this image in a photo contest and won first place. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Most who attend know each other. They either grew up here, married into a local family or have connections to the area. North Morristown on the Fourth of July is like a big family reunion. But even if you have zero connections to this place, you will feel comfortably welcome on the grassy, tree-filled festival grounds packed with friendly people.

 

By late afternoon last July 4, the crowd began thinning a bit. Festivities began at 9 a.m. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

As much as I’d like to attend, I may not this year due to the crowds and uneven walking surfaces. A friend, who is one of the grand marshals of this year’s 10 a.m. parade, expressed disappointment upon learning of my shoulder fracture. He was apparently counting on me to photograph the day’s events as I have many times in the past. Sorry, Al.

 

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

 

Click here to view my previous coverage of North Morristown’s Fourth of July celebration. From my photographic perspective, you can see why this event has endured for 125 years. It doesn’t get much more grassroots basic Americana than North Morristown on the Fourth.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown July Fourth Facebook page.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I am taking a break from further blogging this week. Please check back because I’ll be back.

 

About those dirty hands July 1, 2017

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. This photo and a comment on it prompted this post. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

 

I FEEL THE NEED to defend my husband. And if I was on Facebook, I’d go directly to the source of an uninformed and hurtful comment about a photo I took of Randy’s hands while he was eating a cheeseburger at the 2016 North Morristown Fourth of July celebration.

The commenter wrote that she would not eat a burger “with those dirty hands/fingernails. Yikes.”

 

My husband at work in the automotive machine shop where he is employed as the sole employee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I take issue with that. Randy is an automotive machinist and has been for about 40 years. He works in a dirty environment on heads, blocks, brake rotors, flywheels and more that are oily, greasy, filthy—whatever word you choose to define the grime he touches.

 

 

His hardworking hands are permanently imprinted with the residue of his labor. He washes his hands multiple times daily. Removing every trace of grease would be nearly impossible. It’s not like he’s coming to the table with hands just pulled from some project. They are as clean as he can get them without extensive scrubbing. To suggest otherwise is just plain wrong.

 

Just one example of all the work that awaits my husband in the NAPA automotive machine shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I’ve often felt that blue collar employees don’t get the respect they deserve. Randy is good at what he does. Really good. His skilled work is in high demand. Always. Few people do what he does. His skills are advanced beyond basic garage mechanics to precision automotive machining. He repairs everything from cars to vans, trucks, semis, forklifts, snowmobiles, motorcycles, tractors and more.

Randy holds an incredibly strong work ethic. I keep telling him that, at his age of 60, he doesn’t need to work so hard and long. He stopped working Saturdays only a few years ago, often puts in 9-hour plus days and, up until this summer, received only 10 vacation days annually. But he continues to work hard because he feels an obligation to his customers, the people depending on him to get their cars back on the road, their tractors in the field, their boats on the water.

I admire his dedication. And I recognize those “dirty hands/fingernails” as those of a man who is not always appreciated as he should be. Without hands-on skilled tradesmen and women, this country could not function. Randy may not have a four-year college degree, but that does not make him or his work any less important than that of a college grad.

 

Randy’s toolbox. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2013.

 

I realize I’m getting a tad off topic here. But I grow weary of a society that generally places a higher value on white collar workers. Fresh out of college, our son, now 23, started a job in the tech field at a salary more than double his dad’s pay and with much better benefits. We always want our kids to do better than us. That is a good thing. But this personal example within our family shows the disparity between blue and white collar workers and the minimal value placed on 40 years of experience and those without a four-year degree.

 

Randy enjoys a BBQ pork sandwich and a beer at the 2013 North Morristown July Fourth celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2013.

 

So, yeah, criticize my husband’s hands and you will hear from me. His are the hands of a man who has worked in his field for about four decades. His are the hands of hard work and dedication. His are not unwashed hands holding a burger.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: So much to appreciate at North Morristown’s July 4 celebration July 6, 2016

FROM THE COMFORT OF MY LIVING ROOM, I watched fireworks explode across the television screen in bursts of sparkling hues against the hazy New York City skyline. Simultaneously, smoke from neighborhood fireworks drifted through open windows in my Minnesota home, creating an enhanced sensory illusion.

Red, white and blue attired prevailed among fest-goers who settled in a gazebo, on lawn chairs and grass and on bleachers to hear musicians perform.

Red, white and blue attired prevailed among fest-goers who settled in a gazebo, on lawn chairs and grass and on bleachers to hear musicians perform.

As I enjoyed the live broadcast, I considered how different my observance of our nation’s birth. Hours earlier I’d roamed the festival grounds of the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. At this rural southern Minnesota location, I experienced a down-to-earth grassroots event that is still going strong after 124 years.

In New York City, boats shot fireworks. In North Morristown, the only body of water was a kids' wading pool holding rubber duckies for a carnival game.

In New York City, boats shot fireworks. In North Morristown, the only body of water was a kids’ wading pool holding rubber duckies for a carnival game.

Some 1,200 miles away on the East Coast, fanfare and orchestrated precision capped the evening. In North Morristown the day also ended in fireworks—shot from a farm field along a country road with fireflies dancing in the road ditches.

A couple listens to the music while sitting on portable bleachers under a canopy of trees.

A couple listens to the music while sitting on portable bleachers under a canopy of trees.

What a contrast of parties.

Parked on the festival grounds following the parade.

This 1940 Farmall owned by John Krause was parked in the festival parking lot.

I’ve been to New York once, nearly 40 years ago. I have no desire to return. But I’ll return to North Morristown as I have many times for the Fourth or for the annual fall harvest dinner at Trinity Lutheran Church. This rural location suits me and my agricultural upbringing.

Cooper rides a vintage car while his mom watches.

Cooper rides a vintage car while his mom watches. The homemade kids’ rides are signature North Morristown.

No fancy signage needed.

No fancy signage needed to deliver information.

Games, rides and the ticket booth are housed in this red poleshed.

Games, rides, the ticket booth and more are housed in this red poleshed.

A strong sense of community and of family, of nostalgia and of tradition define this place and this celebration.

The barrel train ride is by far the most popular of the kids' rides.

The barrel train ride is by far the most popular of the kids’ rides.

There’s a certain comfort in the simplistic rustic charm of North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s a place you want to bring your kids and grandkids, where you come to meet friends and make new friends. It’s a place to reunite with family, to remember the past and to create memories.

The barrel train chugs away across the lawn.

The barrel train chugs away across the lawn.

You'll see lots of duct tape used here.

You’ll see lots of duct tape used here, including on this vintage horse ride.

Games of skill draw many a player.

Games of skill draw many a player.

The carnival style rides are novel, the food homemade delicious, the atmosphere welcoming and kicked back.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam.

A biplane buzzes the festival grounds mid-afternoon.

A biplane loops over the festival grounds mid-afternoon.

The Rev. Juan Palma of Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown teams up with his son to call bingo.

The Rev. Juan Palm of Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown teams up with his son to call bingo.

Here you can strike up a conversation with a bluegrass fan from nearby New Prague; love up a 12-week-old puppy named Max; encourage Noah, Hannah and Jack in their search for the medallion; catch up with Rose whom you haven’t seen in years; delight in a biplane writing smoke across the sky; listen to the pastor’s son call bingo numbers…

An appreciative crowd listens to Monroe Crossing, a popular bluegrass band.

An appreciative crowd listens to Monroe Crossing, a popular bluegrass band.

It’s nothing like NYC. And that’s absolutely alright by me.

BONUS PHOTOS:

This banner marks the intersection of two county roads near the North Morristown festival site.

This banner marks the intersection of two county roads near the North Morristown festival site.

Kids' activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead.

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead.

New to the skill games this year is the target shooting game using a spring-loaded gun.

New to the skill games this year is the target shooting game using a spring-loaded gun.

A flag bedecked car passes the festival grounds.

A flag bedecked car passes the festival grounds.

Kids loved the blow-up prizes ranging from animals to an inflatable ice cream cone.

Kids love the blow-up prizes ranging from animals to an inflatable ice cream cone.

A fest goer crochets while musicians perform.

A fest goer crochets while musicians perform.

The names of all parade grand marshals are displayed on the main stage backdrop.

The names of all parade grand marshals are displayed on the main stage backdrop.

Next year will be a big year as North Morristown marks its 125th Fourth of July celebration.

Next year will be a big year as North Morristown marks its 125th Fourth of July celebration.

FYI: Click here to read my first post on North Morristown’s 2016 Fourth of July celebration.

I’d like to thank all of the hardworking men, women and children who organize and volunteer at the North Morristown celebration. You are giving all of us a delightful way to celebrate the Fourth. Whether you grilled burgers, scooped ice cream, sold tickets, operated a carnival ride, picked up garbage, sold buttons and more, know that you are valued and deeply appreciated. These events don’t happen without your tireless efforts and dedication. So thank you.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating the Fourth of July the old-fashioned way in rural North Morristown July 5, 2016

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performed twice at North Morristown.

NORTH MORRISTOWN on the Fourth of July is grassroots Americana. It is also Minnesota’s longest running celebration of our nation’s birthday.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

Vehicles lined county roads leading to the festival grounds and also filled parking areas.

By late afternoon, the crowd began thinning a bit. Festivities began at 9 a.m.

By late afternoon, the crowd thinned a bit.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance.

In 2015, Mathea, now one, was recognized as the youngest in attendance. Fest planners also honor the eldest in attendance and those who travel the greatest distance. I didn’t stay for that 5 p.m. announcement. My husband noted a sign up sheet showing a 9-day-old baby there as well as visitors from both coasts.

For 124 years, through generations of families, folks have gathered here in the farmland of southwestern Rice County on July 4.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

The old-fashioned barrel train draws lots of riders.

Kids love the barrel train.

Kids love the barrel train complete with bicycle horns to toot.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

The homemade carnival rides have been around forever.

Iolla, in her 70s, remembers coming here as a child, riding some of the same kids’ rides still operating today. Jen, in her 30s, remembers too and now brings her children, including the youngest, only two months old.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

A fest-goer left this vintage wooden folding chair sitting behind the ice cream stand. In the background you can see Trinity Lutheran Church and School across the road.

On July Fourth, this spot in the middle of farm fields, edged by several building sites and across the street from Trinity Lutheran Church and School, draws thousands.

The winners of the medallion hunt are introduced and presented with a $100 check.

A member of Monroe Crossing introduces the winners of the medallion hunt and presents them with a check for $100.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Players packed the bingo hall inside a poleshed style building.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

Even Superman rode the barrel train.

They come for the mid-morning parade, the patriotic program, the medallion hunt, the food, the music, the carnival rides, the bingo, the fireworks and much more. And they come for the reunion with family and friends. Many grew up in the area. But many didn’t. Like me.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food.

This food stand serves tasty BBQ pork and beef sandwiches and other food. The stand was already out of roast beef when I arrived at around 1 p.m. However, several hours later the supply had been replenished.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

There was always a line for the ice cream.

That matters not. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 34 years now, enough to know a lot of people. When my husband and I walked onto the North Morristown festival grounds early Monday afternoon aiming for the food stands, it took us awhile to get our pork sandwich, burger, onion rings and fresh-squeezed lemonade. Not because service was slow. Rather, we ran into a lot of friends.

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to

Ice cream to eat and ice cream to go.

Signs mark the various food booths.

The pie shop is always popular given the homemade pies.

The barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat on the job.

Marlin the barrel train engineer was so busy that he had to eat his sandwich on the job.

North Morristown was the place to be this Fourth of July as organizers reported record crowds. I don’t have stats to share, only knowledge that food stands were running out of or low on food. That’s a good problem to have given more people equals more income for Trinity Lutheran School, the beneficiary of this annual fest.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

North Morristown will be celebrating its 125th Fourth of July in 2017.

There’s something about this rural celebration that is uniquely charming and appealing in the sort of old-fashioned way that makes you want to return every summer. Nothing really changes much.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

These vintage plastic jumpy horses were repurposed decades ago into a carnival ride.

The food stands and kids’ rides seem from another era.

No fancy bingo cards here.

I wonder how many generations have used these vintage bingo cards.

Even the bingo cards feature sliders rather than daubers.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

By the time I decided I needed a slice of pie, the selection was dwindling. However, I enjoyed a slice of blueberry-peach.

The pies are still homemade. The oily scent of crispy onion rings drifts through the air, drawing crowds to the hamburger stand. Polka bands still play in the beer shed.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Musicians performed throughout the afternoon and into the evening. The names imprinted upon the boards (the stage backdrop) are of past parade grand marshals.

Music blasts a bluegrass beat.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

Looking toward the festival site among farm fields.

It is an idyllic place to celebrate the Fourth of July, in the heart of rural Minnesota.

FYI: Check back for a second post on North Morristown’s July 4, 2016, celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Minnesota patriotism July 1, 2016

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it's an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

The Stars & Stripes Garage in Heidelberg, Minnesota, photographed several weeks ago. Normally I would crop the parking lot section of the image. But it’s an important part of the scene with white stars painted upon asphalt.

I HAVE YET TO FIND a more patriotically-themed garage.

Painted red, white and blue and decorated with stars and an American flag, the Stars & Stripes Garage in the hamlet of Heidelberg in Le Sueur County stands out for its grassroots show of patriotism.

Copy of Garage, Stars & Stripes 1

The Stars & Stripes Garage. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009

I first came across the Stars & Stripes in 2009, subsequently writing a magazine article about the garage owned by Vietnam veteran Joel Kukacka.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first painted it.

The Stars & Stripes Garage, seven years after I first photographed it.

Recently I passed through Heidelberg, pausing briefly to snap a few images of Joel’s business on a bright Sunday summer afternoon. The paint is faded in some places, a few new stars have been added and the business sign moved. But, basically, the exterior appears unchanged.

This public show of patriotism still endures in this out-of-the-way spot along quiet Le Sueur County Highway 30 in rural southern Minnesota. It’s the type of place you discover when taking the back roads.

The bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, has performed at North Morristown the past seven years, presenting two concerts at the celebration.

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, returns to the North Morristown stage for two performances, at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Several other musical groups are also performing throughout the day and into the evening. There is no charge, although donations are welcome. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

TO ALL OF MY READERS, have a wonderful and safe Fourth of July weekend as we celebrate the birth of our nation.

If you’re seeking an authentic Americana experience of the holiday in rural Minnesota, attend the 124th annual North Morristown July Fourth celebration. From the Firecracker Walk/Run to a parade to a patriotic program to a medallion hunt to music to kids’ rides to bingo to fireworks and more, you’ll find a full day of activities. You also find the best homemade food (buy your slice of pie early) on the festival grounds. North Morristown is a few farm homes and Trinity Lutheran Church and School and is located north of Morristown/west of Faribault.

Click here to view a photo essay I published in 2013 on the North Morristown celebration.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Church Food: Harvest dinner at Trinity North Morristown October 9, 2015

My meal at last year's Trinity dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too.

My meal at a previous Trinity North Morristown dinner, minus the bread and cranberries. I had cake for dessert, too. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

IT IS THE SEASON of church dinners in Minnesota, which is why I’ve deviated today from the usual Minnesota Faces series to Minnesota Food.

This Sunday, October 11, Trinity Lutheran Church North Morristown, a rural parish in western Rice County, hosts its annual fall harvest dinner. I’ve been to many church dinners and this one ranks as my favorite.

Everything served here is homemade from the garden-grown potatoes and squash prepared in the church basement to the dressing, bread and more, all served with turkey and ham.

It’s a feast. And one served in good company by rural folks who welcome and engage you in friendly conversation. Go for the people, experience and setting as much as the food.

Serving begins at 11 a.m., shortly after the 9:30 a.m. worship service, which I’d also encourage you to attend. There’s something about worshiping in a small country church surrounded by farm fields that focuses thoughts on thankfulness for the harvest and all the blessings of life.

Besides the dinner, which runs until 1 p.m., Trinity also hosts a bake goods, produce and craft sale in the back room of the church basement. More goodies from gardens and kitchens plus handcrafted items.

Cost for the dinner is a reasonable $10 for ages 13 and older; $5 for ages 6 – 12; and free for ages 5 and younger.

You will leave feeling stuffed and blessed.

FYI: Dinner planners are looking for people to peel potatoes beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday.

TELL ME, DO YOU FREQUENT church dinners and do you have a favorite?

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: The musicians of Monroe Crossing July 3, 2015

Portrait #30: Monroe Crossing

Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

Four of five Monroe Crossing musicians photographed during a 2013 performance at North Morristown.

They’re in the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame. They’ve recorded 14 CDs to date. Twice they’ve appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York City. And in 2016, they will become the first Minnesota bluegrass band ever to perform in South Korea.

They are Monroe Crossing, a group of five musicians who rank as one of Minnesota’s favorite bluegrass bands.

On Saturday the performers, as they have many times in the past, take the stage at the oldest Fourth of July celebration in Minnesota, now in its 123rd year. That would be in North Morristown, a country church and school and a few homes clustered west of Faribault in the middle of farm fields.

The Trinity Lutheran Church and School festival grounds is the perfect setting for these musicians who present foot-stomping down-to-earth songs. They perform at 1:30 p.m. and then again at 4 p.m. And it’s free, although donations are accepted in on-grounds donation boxes.

Plan to arrive well in advance of Monroe Crossings’ concerts. The July Fourth celebration begins at 9 a.m., when food stands and games open. Yes, there’s plenty of great food including homemade pies, barbecued pork sandwiches, burgers and more. You can play bingo, hunt for a medallion, observe a flag-raising, bid on auction items, throw horseshoes, attend a parade (at 10 a.m.), listen to other musicians (The Jolly Huntsmen Polka Band, Sawtooth Brothers, Benson Family Singers and Downtown Sound), drink beer and more.

There’s also plenty of visiting. Old-fashioned handcrafted rides are available for the kids. This rural celebration is about as Americana grassroots wholesome goodness as you’ll find anywhere in Minnesota on the Fourth of July.

Ending it all is a 10 p.m. fireworks display.

FYI: Click here to reach the North Morristown Fourth of July website page for a schedule of events and directions.

You can also check out the event Facebook page by clicking here.

Click here to view a photo essay from the 2013 celebration.

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The Minnesota Faces series is featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling