Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Thank you, veterans November 11, 2019

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A star marks a veteran’s grave. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I AWAKENED EARLY this morning writing this post in my head, before I fell back into a fitful sleep. Words flowed earlier. Now, though, I’ve forgotten the precise phrasing. But the essence of my thoughts remains. Thank you, veterans.


Howard Homeier, a WW II veteran from Kenyon, Minnesota, in his cherished 1950s pick-up truck. When I photographed him in 2009, he’d just participated in a ceremony honoring veterans. He was a member of the Kenyon Color Guard. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2009.


Thank you for all you sacrificed to serve, to protect our freedom and that of other nations and peoples. Thank you for placing country before self. Thank you for your bravery and fortitude, for your resilience and strength, for your ability to forge on in the most difficult of circumstances.

Thank you for setting aside your personal and family lives, for all those days and nights apart from those you love. That could not have been easy. Separation never is.

Thank you to your families for enduring this separation, for supporting you, for recognizing the importance of your work.


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


Those two words—thank you—don’t seem nearly enough. But I write them with sincerity and a depth of understanding founded in the experiences of my Korean War veteran father. I saw the toll war took on him, decades after he left Korea. He fought there in the rugged mountains of that nation, rifle in hand, firing at the enemy, hugging the earth of foxholes, taking out a sniper who killed too many of his brothers. War is hard.

And so thank you seems insufficient. But it is what I offer to you today. From my heart.


A veteran salutes during the Memorial Day Program at Faribault’s Central Park. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.


ADDITIONALLY, I want to share that the above photo I took of a veteran at the 2018 Memorial Day program at Central Park in Faribault, recently won third place in the People category of National Mutual Benefit’s 2019 Photo Contest. National Mutual is a fraternal life insurance society based in Madison, Wisconsin and through which my parents purchased a policy for me as a baby.

I am honored to have this image chosen for recognition and publication. It is just one more way for me to say, “Thank you, veterans.”

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What makes a winning photo December 8, 2015

IT’S ALWAYS A THRILL, as a photographer, to be recognized for one’s work. It validates what I create with my camera and fuels my passion to continue pursuing photography.

A few cars, some vintage, managed to sneak into the drive-in among all the tractors.

My winning photo: “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn”, Winona, Minnesota.

For the third time, a photo I entered in the National Mutual Benefit annual photo contest has placed. This year I earned honorable mention in the people category for my image, “A Dinner Date at the Lakeview Drive Inn.” I shot the scene in August 2014 at this iconic drive-in in the Mississippi River town of Winona, Minnesota. My husband and I were returning from a vacation to Iowa and Galena, Illinois, when we visited the Lakeview on a mid-week Farm Tractor Night.

Lighting—the golden hour of photography—was perfect. And the scene and setting were so iconic Americana that I was giddy about the photo possibilities. You just know as a photographer when photo ops abound.

I was familiar with the Lakeview, having dined there a few times while our eldest daughter attended nearby Winona State University. I’d also written and taken photos for a magazine feature story about this long-time eatery noted for its homemade root beer.

When I saw an elderly couple dining in their convertible, I framed the scene and clicked the shutter button. The result was a winning photo that captures a sweet moment in time and memories of yesteryear. Nostalgia.

Click here to see all of the winning photos in the 2015 National Mutual Benefit contest.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo taken on July 4, 2013.

Last year I also entered a photo of an elderly couple to win first place in the people division of National Mutual’s photo contest for my “Fourth of July BINGO callers.” That scene was shot in 2013 at North Morristown. Again, I managed to recognize and snapshot a moment that is grassroots connective.

My first photo win, though, in a National Mutual contest came back in 2003 when I won first place in the scenery division for an image of a butterfly settled upon a daisy in my backyard. That was taken with my 35 mm film camera, before I owned my Canon DSLR. I’d show you that photo, too, except I have no idea where the print may be.

My new camera.

A mirrored self-portrait when I was trying out a different Canon earlier this year. I shoot with a Canon EOS 20D.

I love photography. Along with writing, it’s a creative outlet for me. But it’s also a source of income. Numerous people have found my work via this blog and purchased rights to use my images—on websites, in books, on annual reports, in magazines, as framed prints, in an educational app and more. I am pleased and thankful when others recognize and value my work. No, I do not give away my photos for credit and/or a link. Many people apparently think I do based on the numbers of inquiries offering that type of “payment.”

Email me at audrey at mnprairieroots.com if you are interested in purchasing digital rights to my images.

I use photography to tell a story in the most creative way I can. I am not a stand in the corner and shoot person. I squat and kneel and even lie on the ground if necessary to get the proper perspective. Sometimes I hold my camera above my head, aim the lens down and shoot. Other times I place the camera on the ground, tilt it up and click.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

One of my favorite close-up VBS photos shows the VBS leader clutching crosses to be used in a craft project.

I shoot from afar and I shoot up close. During a stint of volunteering to photograph my church’s Vacation Bible School this summer, I took more than 1,000 photos in eight hours of work. And if anyone was expecting me to simply photograph obscure groups of kids, they were wrong. Sure, I snapped images of groups. But I also told the VBS story in detailed photos of hands and faces and other close-ups.

Many think taking good photos is all about the equipment. Yes, good equipment is nice. But it’s ultimately lighting, creativity, composition and observation skills (and sometimes luck) that lead to quality memorable images.

This quote by noted advertising and documentary photographer Elliott Erwitt summarizes well my thoughts on photography:

“Photography is an art of observation…I’ve found that it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

I’ve been shooting long enough, first as a photojournalist (a necessity back in my days working as a small town newspaper reporter), to feel confident in my work, in my style. Thank you for appreciating me and my photography.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My winning Americana photo December 8, 2014

AS A PHOTOGRAPHER, you know when you’ve snapped a photo that tells a story, that freezes a moment, that captures an emotion. Light and composition and focus also factor into the equation of a memorable image.

The bingo callers. My first place winning photo.

The BINGO callers. My first place winning photo.

Such was my reaction to photographing John and Lavonne, BINGO callers at the 2013 July Fourth celebration in North Morristown. Many of my images from that day make me proud of my work as a photographer.

Through my photography, I strive to show the everyday and celebratory moments of life—the people, places and happenings that define my world in Southern Minnesota.

And North Morristown on the Fourth of July is about as rural and down-to-earth as you get in these parts. So when I saw this couple calling BINGO, I determined to photograph the scene. They appeared to not even notice me and my camera, so focused were they on their job.

That’s precisely how I like it, to go unnoticed, to click the shutter button and document.

Professional photographers John Hart and Amber Arnold from the Wisconsin State Journal saw, too, what I see in that “Fourth of July BINGO Callers” image. They selected it as the first place winner in the People category of the 2014 photo contest sponsored by National Mutual Benefit.

The judges commented:

This photo has a timeless quality and is a candid, natural moment. It’s a slice of Americana.

I couldn’t have said it better.

My trusty fifth eye, my Canon EOS 20D.

Me and my Canon EOS 20D. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

As a photographer, I am delighted to receive this professional validation of my work with a monetary prize and publication.

This is the second time I’ve won in the National Mutual Benefit Photo Contest. My last win came in 2003 when I photographed a butterfly on a daisy, garnering first place in the scenery division. That was back in the day when I was still shooting with film. I’ve only entered the competition a few times.

What do you think makes a winning or really good photo?

FYI: To view all of the winning photos and judges’ comments, click here. None of the contest images could be digitally altered.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Minnesota festivals weather the weather June 19, 2014

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JASON REHER, WHO VOLUNTEERS on the Faribault Heritage Days Committee, seemed a bit worried Wednesday evening. And rightly so.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about this concerns.

Jason Reher addresses the crowd at Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony Wednesday evening and then talked to me afterward about his weather worries. Photo by Randy Helbling.

With more rain in the forecast and the City of Faribault in a declared State of Emergency due to flooding potential, he wondered whether festival events would need to be canceled or moved. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton this afternoon declared a State of Emergency for 35 Minnesota counties including my county of Rice and neighboring Steele, Waseca and Le Sueur counties. This declaration makes state resources available to areas of the state in need of assistance and “engages state agencies in response efforts.”

Sandbags have been placed in the mill parking lot next to the Cannon River.

Sandbags are in place at the Faribault Woolen Mill which sits along the Cannon River. The dam here is no longer visible. This was shot Wednesday evening.

Already the riverside Faribault Woolen Mill canceled its Heritage Days tours because of the rising Cannon River and the need for sandbagging its property. And Saturday’s Kids’ Fishing Contest at the King Mill Dam has been postponed until July 12 due to dangerous high water. (Click here to read my earlier post about flood prep in Faribault. River levels have actually dropped some since Wednesday evening but started to rise again Thursday morning as steady rains resumed.)

I'd bet money on 7-year-old Curtis doing well in Saturday's competition.

A racer in the 2012 Faribault Heritage Days Soap Box Derby.

Saturday, Reher said, is the “make it or break it” day for the fest with a lengthy list of activities that range from tours to music to a soap box derby, fun run, garden tractor pull and more capped by the 6:30 p.m. parade. He was already tossing around the possibility of moving the parade route, which follows Second Avenue. A portion of that city street bridges the rising Cannon River.

Despite his concerns, Reher seemed hopeful at the Wednesday evening Heritage Days opening ceremony that the rain will stop and the sun will shine this weekend.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato.

A view of the Minnesota River as seen from Riverfront Park, looking toward downtown Mankato. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

Let’s hope, because this weekend is packed with area festivals and events, like my community’s Heritage Days, Straight River Days in neighboring Medford and the Arts by the River fest in Mankato’s Riverfront Park along the banks of the Minnesota River. Mankato has experienced lots of problems associated with mega rains, resulting in mud slides, closed roads and more. The downtown is protected by a flood wall.

In Medford, just to the south of Faribault, the City Council meets this evening for the purpose of declaring a State of Emergency in this Straight Riverside community. The volunteer fire department put out a call yesterday for locals to fill sandbags and build walls. As of now, this small town’s annual Straight River Days weekend celebration is still on with events subject to change due to the flooding river.

Locally, Faribault Area Hospice is celebrating 30 years of service with a free outdoor bluegrass concert by Monroe Crossing at River Bend Nature Center at 3 p.m. Sunday. Floodwaters and downed trees have closed numerous trails in the nature center. Should the venue and weather necessitate, the concert will be held at the American Legion. In past floods, the Legion has also been closed off because of flooding.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker” at the Old Stone Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Nearby, but indoors not out, the Old Stone Church is holding its annual worship service in this historic Norwegian church 2.3 miles southwest of Kenyon along Monkey Valley road at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And then from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Sunday to the south also in rural Kenyon, Moland Lutheran Church celebrates its annual Strawberry Festival with a delicious meal of pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, cake, locally-grown strawberries, ice cream and beverages. There’s a bake sale, too.

Whatever you do this weekend, don’t sit at home. Get out and enjoy. Rain or shine.

FYI: Click here for more information about Heritage Days.

Click here to read a past post about the Old Stone Church and the Moland Strawberry Festival.

Click here to learn about Arts by the River.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

Me with my winning International Festival 2012 photo.

WEDNESDAY EVENING I WAS AMONG those honored at the Faribault Heritage Days opening ceremony in Central Park. By default (mine was the only entry), I earned first place in the “personal heritage” category of the event’s first-ever photo contest with an image from the 2012 International Festival Faribault.

My photograph shows children during a pinata breaking. It is one of my favorite photos from that international celebration for the perspective and the content. The image shows the many cultures of Faribault, particularly fitting for Heritage Days.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

The only three entries, and thereby the winning entries, in the Faribault Heritage Days Photo Contest. The photo on the right of historic Johnston Hall was voted the community favorite during polling at the State Bank of Faribault.

That photograph and the two other entries (in the landscape/wildlife/historic views portion of the competition) will be showcased at Central Park during Heritage Days and then at Paul Swenson Photography (327 Central Avenue North), contest sponsor.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Seeking vintage photos November 12, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:22 AM
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THE OLDER I GET, the more I appreciate my past. That includes those black-and-white vintage photos held in place by gummy black corner tabs and tucked into old photo albums.

I don’t have all that many photos from my youth—only 48 black-and-white prints to be exact. That’s not many. But we were a farm family with little money, and film and photo developing weren’t exactly top budget priorities.

Yet, I am thankful for the precious few black-and-white images I have of myself and with my parents and siblings. Photos capture memories. And memories are integral in my writing, especially my poetry.

But I’m not going to talk poetry here today. Rather I want to talk about love and vintage photos and how you can share yours.

This contest promo image of Mary Nachicas and Don Anderson comes from Nina Hedin, who blogs at ArtsyNina.

I write for Minnesota Moments magazine. Awhile ago, inspired by a vintage image I saw on Nina Hedin’s The Adventures of ArtsyNina blog, I came up with a contest idea, “Snapshots of Love.” Yes, I’ve talked about it here before on this blog. But I want to give it one final push.

Tuesday, November 15, is the final day to submit an entry.

Here’s how you can enter: Look through your vintage black-and-white candid snapshots. (We’re not looking for professional, posed portraits.) Select one that speaks love to you—maybe a snapshot of your grandparents or parents, siblings, friends, cousins, person and pet…

Then write a paragraph of 75 words or less stating what the photo tells you about love.

Then click on this link, http://minnesotamoments.com/current/contest.html, and follow the instructions on how to submit.

I’d highly advise submitting electronically.

We at Minnesota Moments (yes, that includes me) will select a winner to receive a prize package valued at $150. I wish I could win these great prizes:

There, you have it. Please consider entering. And to those of you who have entered due to my pesky e-mails or blog reminders, thank you. I appreciate your submissions.

IF I COULD ENTER, here’s what I’d submit:

Me with the clown cake my mom made for my second birthday in 1958.

I grew up poor. That meant no birthday gifts from my parents. Instead, Mom crafted a cake, often in an animal shape, for each of her children as a gift. When I had children, I, too, created special birthday cakes, although I also had money for gifts. The presents are long forgotten, but my kids still remember their cakes, a tradition of love passed down from their grandma.

WE’LL FEATURE SELECTED entries (or maybe all, depending on space and numbers) in the winter issue of Minnesota Moments, publishing in January.

So let’s see some of those wonderful vintage black-and-white snapshots. Remember, you have only until Tuesday, November 15, 2011, to enter.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Boosting my photography confidence December 9, 2010

WE ALL LIKE to win.

My husband once won a trip to the Bahamas.

A few years ago I won a bag of groceries.

I’ve also placed in several photo contests during the past decade—a few times at the local nature center and once in a nation-wide competition sponsored by a life insurance company. That first place national win earned me $100.

Every time one of my photos wins an honor, my confidence soars. While I feel quite confident as a writer, I’ve always had some insecurities about my photography skills. I’m a writer first and the photography simply evolved as a sideline necessity.

Today, after years of practice, I can unequivocally state that I enjoy photography. Yet, the doubt still lingers. Are my photos good enough and does anyone like them?

Apparently the folks at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans liked the photo I submitted for a 2011 wall calendar competition. My image of an old cross-topped fence surrounding the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery in rural Cannon Falls now graces the October page of the Thrivent “Connecting with the Cross” calendar.


My winning image of the church cemetery fence. The calendar photo has been slightly cropped and darkened.

“We looked for unique and inspiring images, and yours was one of them,” Tim Schwan, vice president of Church and Community Engagement wrote in a congratulatory form letter I received. “We received more than 300 submissions. Among many high-quality contenders, yours stood out.”

Now if those words aren’t validating, I don’t know what would be. While I may not be as technically savvy as some/many photographers, I do possess an eye for detail that allows me to find and compose good pictures.

Interestingly enough, I did not shoot my winning fence image specifically to enter this contest. In fact, I was unaware of the Thrivent photo calendar competition when I took the picture in late March while on a Sunday afternoon drive with my husband in the Sogn Valley area of southeastern Minnesota. We both love old country churches. So when we came upon Urland Lutheran, we stopped, walked the church grounds and I started clicking.


Urland Lutheran Church, rural Cannon Falls

Country churches offer so many photo ops along with lots of beauty and history.

Urland Lutheran Church dates back to 1871 and is named after Urland in the Sognefjord area of Norway, home to many of the families that formed the rural Cannon Falls congregation. Names like Ole and Ragna on church cemetery tombstones point to the strong Norwegian heritage.


Ole is a common name on markers in the Urland cemetery.

Another Ole tombstone at the Urland Lutheran Church Cemetery points to the congregation's Norwegian heritage.

Behind every photo lies a story. And that’s the story behind my winning calendar image.


A close-up side view of Urland Lutheran. Unfortunately the church was locked when we were there.

I DON’T KNOW the stories behind the other 11 calendar page photos. But all portray a cross, as required by contest guidelines. Among the more unusual photos—crossed icicles, a cross-shaped thorn, and children holding quilts and standing in a cross formation inside a church sanctuary.

I’m hopeful that Thrivent will publish the winning images and information about each photo on the company’s website.

The other photo contest winners are Cindy Carlson of Northfield, MN; Jyll Malotky of Prior Lake, MN; Fred Von Ruden of Owatonna, MN; Roy Christell of Lake Saint Louis, MO; Martin Lohrmann of Philadelphia, PA; Walt Timm of Jefferson City, MO; Lynn Radtke of Blaine, MN; Chris Denning of Helena, MT; Carla Gauthier of Saginaw, MI; Susan Ryan of Chicago, IL; and Anitra Frazier of Dolton, IL.

Now, if you’re wondering how you can get one of these calendars, well, you must be a Thrivent member.


AS A SIDE NOTE, many years ago my daughter Miranda placed in a Thrivent Kids’ Club calendar contest. She drew a picture of alligators flying kites on the beach. I think she won for the very same reason I did. Her creation stood out as unique.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling