Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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


Promoting Faribault March 10, 2017

A snippet of Faribault’s just-published 2017 tourism guide cover shows Faribault’s signature angled name graphic overlaid on a photo taken along Central Avenue.


NEARLY 35 YEARS AGO, I moved to Faribault, relocating to this southeastern Minnesota city after my May 1982 marriage. My husband had the more secure job in an area with more employment opportunities.

I’ve grown to love this community and its people. I can go almost anywhere in town and run into a friend or acquaintance. While Faribault, with a population of around 23,000 still seems big to me in comparison to my rural southwestern Minnesota hometown of under 400, I feel here the closeness of a small town. Paths cross at events and in churches, schools, grocery stores, shops, restaurants, parks and more. That creates a sense of community.

Among events fostering community closeness is the monthly May – August Car Cruise Night along Central Avenue in our historic downtown. The well-kept aged buildings in Faribault’s central commercial district are among our strongest assets and provide an ideal backdrop for car enthusiasts to gather.

For a blogger like me, Car Cruise Night presents an abundance of photographic opportunities. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with new and creative ways to photograph the car show, showcased many times on Minnesota Prairie Roots.


My July 2016 Car Cruise Night photo is the cover of the 2017 Faribault tourism guide.


Now my car shoots have extended beyond this space to tourism. A photo I shot at the July 2016 Car Cruise Night graces the cover of the just-released 2017 Visit Faribault Minnesota tourism guide published by the Faribault Daily News in collaboration with the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. I am delighted and honored to have my work chosen by a committee for this placement.

In a single photo, potential visitors get a snapshot of Faribault. In the backdrop architecture, they see the history and the care Faribault has taken to preserve historic buildings. In the people and cars, they see a fun event. In the green Faribault banner and lush, hanging flower basket, they see community pride.


My original photo from the July 2016 Car Cruise Night. The left side of this photo is printed on page 22 of the tourism guide in the section titled “Explore historic downtown.” Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


But there’s more to this photo than seen in the vertical tourism guide cover. I shot the image in a horizontal format, my view stretching along nearly the entire length of the 200 block (west side) of Central Avenue. The 1884 Fleckenstein building, beautifully renovated and restored by Faribault-based Restoration Services, Inc., anchors the image on the right. But just look at all those buildings beyond. I cannot say enough about how lovely the historic architecture in downtown Faribault.

Of course, Faribault is about much more, so much more. I’ve also had the opportunity recently to pen pieces on River Bend Nature Center and the historic murals in our downtown for the tourism website. I’m proud to promote Faribault, pronounced fair-uh-boh. That would be French in a community that’s today culturally diverse.


TELL ME: What would you like to know about Faribault? Or, what do you know about Faribault? Or, what do you love about Faribault?

FYI: In addition to my cover photo, my Midway photo from the Rice County Fair is printed in an ad on page 20 and a photo I took of Twiehoff Gardens & Nursery is published on page 30.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Picnic perfect January 16, 2017

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WINTERS TEND TO GROW long here in Minnesota. Double-digit below zero temps, windchills, snow, ice and too much darkness wear on even the heartiest of native Minnesotans. Like me.

So I force myself sometimes to embrace this season. This weekend, which yielded balmy temps in the 30s and sunny skies, brought a smile and lifted my spirits. As did this photo, shot Sunday afternoon while hiking snow-packed paths at River Bend Nature Center in Faribault:




I am struck by this scene—by the contrast of seasons (thoughts of summer in the reality of winter), by the lone picnic table set upon snow on the prairie’s edge. I expect the table placement was intentional, for a purpose. But the creative side of me likes to imagine otherwise—that perhaps an artist or a comedian staged the table here to make a point/prompt conversation/elicit laughter.

I am applauding. Because I am laughing. And in a Minnesota winter, laughter is good.

TELL ME: What’s your response to this “picnic perfect” scene?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Saturday morning in small town Minnesota July 19, 2014

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I DIDN’T BUY ANYTHING at this recent garage sale in Dundas. But I got this photo:


Garage sale in Dundas 2


I can’t quite put my finger on why I like this scene, this image.

It’s not because I’m some old car enthusiast, although I admire this shiny 1957 Chevy.

Rather it’s the serenity, I think, of a Saturday morning in a small town. This car collector had driven to Dundas for a car show, which was cancelled presumably because of the predicted rainfall. This scene speaks to me of small town living and contentment and simpler days when life was less hurried.

And I like, too, how the hue of the car is mimicked in the color of the garage sale sign. Not quite the same shade, but noticeable to my eye.

This photo could write a story. That’s my conclusion.

How does this scene speak to you?

Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




A prairie island October 6, 2013

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Rural, farm behind corn field

IN THE SEA OF CORN which defines southwestern Minnesota, an island emerges.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Tis the season… August 9, 2013

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Kandy corn for sale in Slayton

…in Slayton and elsewhere in Minnesota.


I may not read music, but… January 29, 2012

GROWING UP, I ALWAYS wanted to play the piano. But I never had the opportunity, although one Christmas I received a toy accordion that temporarily satisfied my yearning to create music.

There was neither money nor space for a piano within the budget constraints of a poor farm family or within the walls of a cramped southwestern Minnesota farmhouse.

And so the years passed without music.

During junior high school I struggled through required music classes, once fake-playing the ukulele at a Christmas concert because the music teacher failed to recognize that I could not read musical notes.

In high school when so many classmates were joining band, I was not among them. Remember that money issue? Still there.

A few years later my younger siblings were allowed to join band—one sister choosing the flute, the other the clarinet. The brothers focused on sports. For awhile I tried to play my sister’s flute, without much success.

During college, a friend allowed me to strum her guitar. The strings bit into my fingertips so I quickly lost interest.

Years later when I had children, I was determined they would have the musical opportunities I never had. I started them on a mini toy organ. Later, the eldest tried playing my sister’s flute for awhile, then quit. The second daughter borrowed my youngest sister’s clarinet, sticking with band lessons for several years. My son had no interest in an instrument until recently, when he inquired about playing the guitar. He’s meeting with a family member soon to try out guitar-playing.

I tell you all of this because of a recent musical opportunity that came my way. It’s ironic really, given my inability to play any type of instrument or, in fact, read a single musical note. If you put a song sheet in front of me right now, I’d stare at it like I was reading Greek.

But composer Curtis Lanoue, also an elementary music teacher and the director of music at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Miami, found the music in my soul. Seeking a cover photo for his 29-page Four Organ Preludes Based on Common Hymn Tunes book, Lanoue did an online image search and discovered my photo of the old pipe organ at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland, Minnesota, the congregational home of my maternal forefathers.

“As you can imagine, there were a ton of (image) results,” Lanoue says. “Most of them were those flowery European organs in the cathedrals. That didn’t go too well with the style of the music. Somehow through the eye strain of looking through hundreds of photos, I found yours. It’s not surprising my eye was drawn to it as I was raised in a Midwest Lutheran church.”

Once I received a copy of this musician’s recently self-published book, I understood why he selected my photo of Immanuel’s organ that was built in 1895 by Vogelpohl and Spaeth Organ Company of New Ulm at a cost of $1,500.

It’s the perfect fit for Lanoue’s preludes based on the definitively Lutheran hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” and on “Amazing Grace,” “Out of the Depths I Cry to Thee,” and “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.”

As I flip through these compositions written by a musician with degrees in jazz performance and studio jazz writing and experience as a working organist since age 16, I can only smile at the contrast between his vast musical knowledge and talent and my musical illiteracy.

FYI: You can purchase Four Organ Preludes Based on Common Hymn Tunes for $9.99 by clicking on this link: https://www.createspace.com/3734555

Disclaimer: I am expecting payment for use of my cover image and have received a free copy of Lanoue’s book. This post, however, has been written solely at my discretion.

A rear photo shot of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Courtland, looking up to the balcony (where the 1895 pipe organ is located) and toward the spacious fellowship hall.

The beautiful pipes on Immanuel's organ.

JUST BECAUSE I THOUGHT it important to include, here’s some additional information about Immanuel’s organ, as shared by Immanuel’s pastor, Wayne Bernau:

The 1895 organ was renovated in 1988 at a cost of $25,000.

When Immanuel built a new church in 2007, Rollie Rutz and crew from Rutz Organ Company in Morristown (about 10 miles from my Faribault home), helped move the organ from the old church into the balcony of the new sanctuary.

A set of chimes was added to the organ in 2007.

Immanuel’s organ is today valued at around $200,000.

Says Pastor Bernau: “With the balcony constructed the way it is and the excellent acoustics for music in our new church, I believe the organ sounds better now, maybe twice as good, as it ever did in our 1881 building.”

I’ve heard the organ played in Immanuel and I agree. The acoustics in the new house of worship truly showcase the sounds of this 117-year-old organ played each Sunday by Lisa (Bode) Fischer, the daughter of my mom’s first cousin and a descendant of the Bode family members who helped found this rural congregation in the Minnesota River Valley more than a century ago.

A historical sign outside of Immanuel Lutheran Church, east of Courtland, Minnesota.

This photo, taken in September, shows primarily Immanuel's social hall and the adjacent cemetery where many of my Bode forefathers are buried.

A view of Immanuel's sanctuary from the balcony. The pews, the chancel furnishings and the stained glass windows from the old church were incorporated into the new church.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling