Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Along Highway 52: About that popcorn & cheese June 5, 2017

SIGNAGE INTERESTS ME. For many reasons. The graphics. The message. The marketing influence. The persuasive power.

Occasionally signage can confuse or present an unclear message.

Let’s consider three signs along U.S. Highway 52, a high traffic four-lane that I sometimes travel between Cannon Falls and Rochester. On my most recent trek along this roadway, I photographed two signs by Pine Island.

 

 

The first grabbed my visual attention because of the oversized popcorn kernels scattered on the ground below a popcorn billboard and the single word, Newt’s. What is this sign advertising? A popcorn place? Not quite. Newt’s does have, according to online reviews, some of the tastiest popcorn around. But Newt’s is a beer and burger place that also serves popcorn.

Digging deeper into the popcorn pile, I read on Newt’s Facebook page that the business pops an average of 20,000 pounds (or 10 tons) of popcorn kernels in a year at its north, south and downtown Rochester locations. Now that’s a lot of popcorn. I wonder how much beer is served.

 

 

The second sign I photographed promotes a cheese mart. But if you look closely, you will see that the Pine Cheese Mart no longer sells cheese. That’s right. Tacked onto the bottom of the sign is the notation that you can purchase beer and wine making supplies at Von Klopp Brew Shop, once also a marketer of cheese.

When the northbound highway access to the cheese mart was closed, the business took such a hit that it stopped selling cheese and closed its restaurant and gift shop, according to the business website. I wonder how many travelers catch the cheese mart part of this sign and miss the details.

 

 

The last “sign” I photographed is farther north on 52 and visible from the southbound lane. There’s nothing fancy about this handcrafted message. It’s simple and to the point. The landowner appreciates farmers and loves his country. Perfect.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

NOTE: I photographed these signs several months ago. They may or may not still be in place.

 

My appreciation for small town hardware stores January 13, 2017

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

Hardware Hank, photographed in Pine Island in October.

IF YOU GREW UP in rural Minnesota like I did, you likely hold fond memories of the local hardware store.

Two hardware stores once served my hometown of Vesta, a farming community on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. While I remember Joe Engel’s Hardware store as the place to buy rolls of perforated caps for my cap gun, my father shopped there, or a few doors down at Marquardt’s Hardware, for all his hardware needs. Like bulk nails and screws stashed in cubbies, the merchandise weighed and parceled into brown paper bags.

I remember, too, the worn wood floors, the narrow aisles, the old fashioned screen doors that banged shut.

To this day, I find myself drawn to the hardware stores that still exist in many small towns. They represent a connection to my past, to simpler days, to outstanding customer service, to a Main Street necessity. So I photograph them, usually the exteriors.

Nothing says "small town" like a hardware store, including this Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha.

Nothing says “small town” like a hardware store, including Hill’s Hardware Hank in downtown Wabasha. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

One of my hardware store images—that of Hill’s Hardware Hank in Wabasha—will soon become part of a renovated “Our World” gallery at the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul. The photo will grace signage for a mini town that includes a hardware store. Hill’s inspired the facade of the replica hardware store in which children can play. The updated exhibit opens this spring.

I am honored to have my photo displayed at the Minnesota Children’s Museum. I hope it inspires others to appreciate the value of hardware stores in rural Minnesota. They are as important today as they were when I was growing up in the 1960s. In Owatonna, Arrow Ace Hardware plans to relocate into a new and much larger space by next Christmas, more than doubling its size to some 11,000 square feet. That’s encouraging. There’s still great value in local hardware stores.

TELL ME: Do you shop in hardware stores? If yes, why? Are they still of value in today’s marketplace?  Or what are your hardware store memories? Let’s talk hardware stores.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Symbolism from the banks of the North Branch of the Zumbro River December 1, 2016

zumbro-river-234-river-overview

 

THE NORTH BRANCH of the Zumbro River ripples Hamm’s beer Land of Sky Blue Waters blue toward Pine Island Trailhead Park.

 

zumbro-river-236-blue-water

 

Through bare branched trees, sunlight flashes diamonds across the water’s surface.

 

zumbro-river-233-close-up-of-water

 

Light and darkness. Darkness and light. Intertwined, like good and evil.

 

zumbro-river-219-river-bottom

 

Farther down, as the river bends, I stand on the trail head bridge appreciating water so clear I can see the sandy, pebbly bottom. Sand sculpted by water. A bird’s footprint. Clarity. If only life was so simple, so clear, so still. Free of that which pollutes.

 

zumbro-river-228-vacant-bridge

 

I turn my attention momentarily away from the water to lines that shadow across the bridge deck. Lines like bars run the length of the pathway. So symbolic. Bars. They hold people in. They keep people safe. Yet they don’t when the system fails.

 

zumbro-river-221-randy-on-bridge

 

I peer through the bars that stop me from tumbling into the shallow water far below. Falling, falling, falling.

 

zumbro-river-225-close-up-of-shadows

 

Between the bars, I see my mini shadow and that of my husband. Shadows so near the water’s edge I fear they may fall in.

 

zumbro-river-227-looking-through-bridge-bars-and-shadows

 

The snake of the Zumbro slithers by, curving away until I can no longer see what lies beyond the bend. Beyond today.

#

Note: I took these photos in October.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Labor Day reflections: Jeff’s job isn’t just a job September 7, 2015

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

Jeff Lerum sands a chair in his shop, where he restores and repairs furniture.

ON THIS LABOR DAY, a day to rest from our labors, consider the craftsman I met on Thursday in Pine Island, Minnesota. He is Jeff Lerum. And he loves his job. Can you say that about your life’s work?

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

The shop is located in downtown Pine Island, which is north of Rochester.

For 25 years, Jeff has operated Green’s Antiques and Green’s Stripping and Refinishing. He calls his businesses a “glorified hobby.” That word choice shows passion. As I spoke with Jeff and meandered through his shop, I understood.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of which Jeff is especially fond because of the unique craftsmanship.

A beautiful handcrafted piece of furniture, unique in craftsmanship.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

Some of the furniture in the showroom.

The side door into Jeff's workshop.

The side door into Jeff’s workshop.

Furniture, finished and unfinished, fills this place. But it’s not just furniture to Jeff. Some are customers’ family heirlooms. Others are treasures he’s rescued from auctions and elsewhere and restored. He especially likes early 1800s handmade furniture. Cupboards are his specialty. He values good solid wood; you won’t find shabby chic style furniture in his shop. Stripping finishes from wood is the main part of his business.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

Everywhere there are works in progress, including these stripped chairs.

He’s a guy who works seven days a week. If he’s not in his shop, he’s making the evening and weekend auction rounds. “I was a picker before there were pickers,” Jeff says.

I spotted this religious icon among all the furniture.

I spotted this crucifix among all the furniture.

He once hit the jackpot with his picking. Inside a cupboard purchased at an estate auction, he found a hidden safe. And $1,700 inside. Jeff checked with the auctioneer on ownership and was told the money was his to keep. As the father of four, I imagine the unexpected windfall was welcome.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff's workroom.

A snippet of family photos and more displayed in Jeff’s workshop.

Family photos, a child’s artwork, handmade cards and more plaster his shop door and a section of wall. That tells me a lot about Jeff and the importance of family to him. His business is a family business of 40 years.

Signage for Jeff's business spotted inside his shop.

Signage for the business inside the shop.

This Baby Boomer appears much younger than his 51 years. And I wonder if that comes from doing what he loves or being his own boss or both. Whatever the reasons, it was a joy to meet someone as genuinely enthusiastic about his labor as Jeff.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

Artfully displayed furniture that Jeff has restored.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

In this photo, you can see the harvest table Jeff built.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

A beautiful table showcased in the showroom.

His passion shows. In the front showroom space, where furniture is displayed like artwork in a gallery. In the hefty harvest table Jeff crafted from repurposed posts and lumber. In the way Jeff wraps sandpaper around the leg of a chair and sands the wood.

Even Jeff's business cards are displayed in a way that's simple and unique--in a box on a door.

Even Jeff’s business cards are displayed in a way that’s simple and unique–in a box on a door.

His hands, his face, his personality all convey that contentment that comes from making one’s passion one’s life work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

There are other antiques and collectibles in Jeff's shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

There are other antiques and collectibles in the shop besides furniture. I absolutely adore this floral print.

Love this vintage light, too.

Love this vintage light, too.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

This cubby unit was among many many pieces of furniture crammed into a space between the showroom and the workshop.

More treasures...

More treasures…

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Delighting in the unexpected at a Pine Island cafe June 18, 2015

IT WAS WELL AFTER THE NOON HOUR on a Saturday. I was hungry. And we were still too many curving miles away from our destination of Pine Island in southeastern Minnesota.

I needed something, anything, to settle my immediate need for food. I unzipped my purse, scrounged for two peppermint Life Savers, unwrapped them and then dropped one into my husband’s hand and popped the other into my mouth. This would tide me over until I could get real food into my empty stomach.

Driving along Pine Island's busy Main Street, I notice a meat market and a Subway. I was looking for a small town cafe.

Driving along Pine Island’s busy Main Street, I notice a meat market and a Subway. I was looking for a small town cafe but was semi distracted by the historic architecture.

Finally, we rolled into Pine Island from the west backroads, not from U.S. Highway 52, the crazy busy four-lane that connects St. Paul to Rochester and bypasses this rural community.

The Rainbow Cafe is among businesses housed in historic and architecurally interesting buildings.

The Rainbow Cafe is among businesses housed in historic and architecturally interesting buildings.

Simple and lovely signage above the front door.

Simple and lovely signage above the front door.

The sandwich board menu that drew me inside. I like to see menus before entering an eatery. And since I don't have a smart phone, this street side listing is helpful.

I like to see menus before entering an eatery. Since I don’t have a smart phone, this street side menu listing is helpful.

Now, where to eat. We drove through the downtown scouting for a place, finally settling on the Rainbow Cafe. The outside sandwich board advertising a variety of unique selections not typically found on small town diner menus drew me to this eatery.

My Prime Rib Sandwich.

My Prime Rib Sandwich.

The Rainbow did not disappoint. I ordered the grass-fed Prime Rib Sandwich with a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup. Randy chose a Cuban Pork Sandwich (with a delicious smoky taste to the meat) and fries. Both arrived promptly and piping hot. I like my food hot. And I always appreciate quick service.

First I enjoyed a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup.

First I enjoyed a bowl of Cream of Artichoke Soup.

The creamy soup would have been even better, though, with additional and larger chunks of artichoke. And both Randy and I agreed that our sandwiches, although definitely savory and filling, could have done with less mayo on mine and less mustard on his.

That said, I would not hesitate to return here because many menu items, like the Organic Blueberry Pork Sandwich—slow-roasted organic pork, blueberry and arugula on ciabatta—and the free-range Chicken Apple Sandwich and other lunch choices sound delectable.

On the cafe’s Facebook page, I noted this recent dinner offering: Grilled pork chop with pea vine macadamia pesto, bacon and chile roasted broccoli and kohlrabi over green garlic confit mashed potatoes.

The Rainbow features locally-sourced (from places like the farmers’ market) and (sometimes) organic food with an ever-changing seasonal menu. I welcome that approach in a small town restaurant where the usual lunch offerings often lean toward your basic burgers and fries or chicken/fish sandwiches with minimal creativity. You’ll find burgers at the Rainbow. But lots more, too. Among the salad listings is a Roasted Beet Salad that I’d like to try sometime.

The dessert menu and water served in a wine bottle.

The dessert menu and water served in a wine bottle.

The waitress tempted us with a dessert list. But we were too full to indulge.

Uncluttered decor with clean lines and those dangling stones define the interior decor.

Uncluttered decor with clean lines and those dangling stones define the interior.

Besides the appeal of creative and tasty food choices, the Rainbow Cafe presents a soothing environment in which to dine. Granted, we ate there at past peak meal time. But I think even at its busiest times, diners would feel comfortably relaxed in this minimalist setting. Randy and I were a bit curious about the stones dangling from the ceiling beside tables. I forgot to inquire. My guess: They are related to the concept of Fen Shui.

From my seat, I had a good view of beautiful historic buildings and Main Street.

From my seat, I had a good view of beautiful historic buildings and Main Street.

We purposely seated ourselves next to a front window, for the light as much as the view of Pine Island’s Main Street which sees a steady flow of traffic. Cross carefully. We did exactly that after finishing our sandwiches and setting out to explore this town of some 3,300 only 18 miles from Rochester.

FYI: The Rainbow Cafe, 212 South Main Street, is open 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday; from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. for Sunday brunch; and is closed on Mondays. This post is based on our dining experience in May.

#

OTHER DINING OPTIONS:

Borgy Boyz appears to be a popular pizza place which also serves wraps, salads, sandwiches and more.

Borgy Boyz appears to be a popular pizza place which also serves wraps, salads, sandwiches and more.

I really like this signage. Signage counts with me.

I really like this signage. I’d like to know the history behind the name.

On a few drive throughs along Main Street, I saw a number of folks hanging out outside this sports bar. I don't care for sports bars, so did not consider this a dining option.

On a few drive through along Main Street, I saw a number of folks hanging out outside this sports bar. I don’t care for sports bars, so did not consider this a dining option. It seemed a popular place, though.

Because I know everyone has different tastes, such as a Wisconsin resident who didn’t find cheese curds at the Rainbow Cafe (so our waitress shared), there are plenty of other options like Borgy Boyz Pizzeria & Cafe, which looked busy; the Pine Island Sports Bar; Cathy’s Catering and Cafe; and Better Brew Coffeehouse.  I’m sure I missed a few places.

The Rainbow Cafe serves mozzarella sticks. Not quite Wisconsin cheese curds. But then this isn’t Wisconsin.

FYI: If you missed my first post on Pine Island, click here to learn more about this southeastern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Next time pull off in Pine Island June 17, 2015

Approaching Pine Island on Highway 52 southbound.

Approaching Pine Island on U.S. Highway 52 southbound.

TRAFFIC ZOOMS BY on U.S. Highway 52 around Pine Island, hurried motorists rushing to Rochester or St. Paul or places in between.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

I’ve been one of those travelers all too many times while en route to and from Wisconsin. Never pulling off to explore Pine Island. But always wondering what this small town holds and thinking I really ought to stop at the highway side Pine Cheese Mart.

It’s too late now to visit the Cheese Mart. The long-time business folded last year after an exit into Pine Island was closed due to traffic safety issues. That closure made navigating to the Mart cumbersome, resulting in a business downturn. So I missed out on the cheese.

A view of Pine Island's Main Street while driving into the downtown.

A view of Pine Island’s Main Street while driving into the downtown.

Early this spring, my husband and I took a day trip to Pine Island. We hopped in the van with our Minnesota atlas and road map and headed east, stopping first in West Concord.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory where, yes, butter was once made.

I should have done my homework. After the fact, I learned that Pine Island was once considered “The Cheese Capital of the World” That would have been in the opening decades of the 20th Century when some 40 cheese factories existed in the area. In 1911, Pine Island cheesemakers crafted a 6,000-pound block of cheese for the Minnesota State Fair, earning that cheese capital title for the town.

Today the small cheese factories are gone with only the large Land O’ Lakes cooperative producing cheese. But the community honors its cheesy past with an annual July Cheese Festival.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community's rich cheese past.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community’s rich cheese past.

Perhaps I missed it. But I didn’t notice anything visually significant tipping me off to Pine Island’s rich cheese history other than a mouse and a block of cheese painted onto a downtown mural and a lovely brick building labeled BUTTER-FACTORY.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

I should have done my research. The old Butter Factory today houses bikes and bike helmets available to borrow at no cost from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends to cyclists using the nearly 13-mile Douglas State Trail from Pine Island to Rochester and Pine Island’s Paths to the Past trails: Historical Trivia Trail, Young People’s Path and Homes & Heritage Trail. Check ahead as this usage is seasonal.

So I missed a few things this visit. But I didn’t miss the remarkable historic architecture that defines the downtown business district:

Downtown buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

Downtown historic buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building. I stood in an alley and aimed my camera up.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

The top of City Hall.

The top of City Hall.

And some of the beautiful old homes close to downtown:

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house while driving by.

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house with a wrap-around porch while driving by.

Another sweet house near downtown.

Another sweet house near downtown.

I was disappointed, though, to find the one antique/furniture refinishing store, Green’s Stripping & Antiques, closed when I was there.

Likewise, I really wanted to get inside the Olde Pine Theater:

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

Maybe next time.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Parked outside Hardware Hank.

Outside Hardware Hank.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I spotted the spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

I spotted this early spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island's mobile home court across the cornfield.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island’s mobile home court across the then stubbled cornfield.

IF YOU KNOW Pine Island, what other things did I miss on my first visit to this Minnesota community of 3,300 residents?

How did Pine Island get its name? According to the Minnesota Historical Society “Minnesota Place Names,” an early settler named the town Pine Island in 1855 for the large, lone white pine on a small island in the Zumbro River. The island was once thick with pines and was once a winter shelter to the Dakota.

Check back to read about the Rainbow Cafe, where we ate lunch.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo documentary of Minnesota barns & thoughts on their demise April 16, 2015

Barn, 7 se MN

 

BARNS ONCE SHELTERED cows, pigs, sheep, a farmer’s livelihood. Some still do. But most don’t.

 

Barn, 14 se MN

 

Today all too many barns stand empty of animals and are used instead for storage of recreational vehicles and other possessions. Others are simply slumping into heaps, like rotting carcasses with backbones exposed.

 

Barn, 10 se MN

 

I fear barns will soon become memories rather than strongholds, symbols, anchors of farm sites. Their demise has been steady, sure. I see it every time I drive through the Minnesota countryside. Empty barns. Weathered siding. Curling shingles. Boarded windows. Weeds overtaking former cow yards.

 

Barn, 15 se MN

 

I understand the financial burden of keeping up these massive structures. Sometimes it just is not in the budget to maintain a barn that provides zero income.

 

Barn, 11 se MN

 

Back in the day when I rolled a wheelbarrow brimming with ground feed down the barn aisle, forked straw onto cement for cow’s bedding, shoved manure into the gutter, dodged streams of hot cow pee, shoveled pungent silage before stanchions, the barn and associated source of revenue were more important than the house. Long before my childhood home had an indoor bathroom, the barn had a gutter cleaner.

 

Barn, 18 se MN

 

Times have changed. Many farmers no longer raise cattle or hogs or milk cows. They plant cash crops and work off the farm.

 

Barn, 19 se MN

 

And so days and weeks and months and years pass and the empty barns, without the humid warmth of animals, without the daily care of the farmer, without the heartbeat of life, begin to die.

 

Barn, 21 se MN

 

Except for those that are saved.

 

Barn, 9 se MN

 

FYI: All of these barns were photographed in southeastern Minnesota, mostly around Pine Island and Oronoco.

Click here to learn about Friends of Minnesota Barns, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating and preserving Minnesota’s rural heritage.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snippets of rural Minnesota in photos November 1, 2011

A harvest scene along U.S. Highway 52 in southeastern Minnesota Sunday afternoon.

YOU CAN TAKE the girl off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the girl.

Even decades after leaving my childhood farm at age 17 to start my freshman year of college in the fall of 1974, I hold tight to my agricultural roots.

My rural upbringing shaped me as a person, defined me as a writer and photographer.

More often than not, I find myself creatively focused on the rural, on those places and memories that remind me of the farm and which hold the strongest grasp on my heart.

So I am naturally drawn to photographing rural landscapes and barns and country churches and tractors and small towns whenever I travel. These are the places and objects to which I feel the deepest connection.

I'm always and forever photographing barns like this one along Hwy 52 between Pine Island and Rochester.

Today I’ll take you along U.S. Highway 52 and Interstate 90 in the southeastern section of Minnesota. I’ll show you rural snippets photographed at highway speeds through the passenger side and front windows of our family’s cars. Yes, cars, plural. My husband and I made a quick jaunt to Tomah, Wisconsin, on Sunday to exchange vehicles with our second daughter. Hers needs repair and we met her half-way between her home and ours.

After 2 ½ hours of travel to reach Tomah, we lunched with Miranda and a friend before turning around and heading back home to Faribault.

The day rated as gloomy and dreary weather-wise. Yet, as you will see, such moody skies bring out an emotion in images that you might not feel had the day been sunny bright.

I’m always surprised, when I view the photos, to see the details I missed in the process of shooting the images. But then, along-the-highway scenes flash by in an instant and they are gone, not wholly appreciated until that second, later look in a photo.

You can barely see the distant tractor in this shot. But that's what I like about this scene, how the sheer size of the cornfield and the skies dwarf the tractor, reinforcing the thought that everything is truly small in comparison to the landscape, to the big, big world.

Every red building stood out against the grey, grey skies. Sky is always an integral part of my photos.

Even the stripes of crops are aesthetically pleasing to my photographer's eye.

This photo of Pine Island connects town and country in a seamless blend.

An historic barn and a horse...a common sight along Hwy 52 and I-90.

The red-roofed barn provides a jolt of color under heavy grey skies.

A country church, strong and sturdy, along I-90 near the Winona exit. Look closely and you'll see a sheriff's department squad car parked by the church.

Westbound on I-90, the sun begins to set. I like the contrast between the vivid yellow sign and the grey of the day.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vote to rebuild parks in four flooded Minnesota communities June 9, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Mann & Tina Marlowe.

FOR SOME TIME NOW, I’ve been committed to helping the folks of Hammond in southeastern Minnesota recover from a devastating September 2010 flood.

I’ve assisted in the best way I can—not physically—but with words and photos on this blog. We all possess talents and mine are not hanging sheetrock or swinging a hammer. I write. There is power in words.

Last October I brought you a series of stories and photos from Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, where I interviewed several individuals and shot many photos showing the damage caused by the flooded Zumbro River. The women I spoke to shared heartbreaking stories. Yet, they remained strong. That impressed me.

I spoke to Tracy Yennie in Zumbro Falls several weeks after the flood damaged her home.

A gutted, flood-ravaged home in Zumbro Falls.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery, where a portion of a building once stood in Hammond. The building lies in a heap in the street.

I saw gutted homes and businesses, a child’s toy lying in a pile of discarded appliances. Truly, I could not fathom the personal loss of possessions and home.

In March I published a series of stories about Tina Marlowe and her family, who lost so much to the floodwaters in Hammond. Hers was one story of many that you will never hear. Some residents have decided not to return. Others await possible buy-outs or funding to repair their homes.

But beyond the individual losses, these towns have suffered as communities. They’ve lost gathering spots and places for their children to play. Parks need rebuilding. To do this, these communities need money.

Marlowe, who was recently elected to the Hammond City Council, has started the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project and is accepting donations of monies, materials and labor to rebuild the recreational areas in her river hamlet.

Send donations to: City of Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project, 320 East Center Street, Hammond, MN. 55991. Click here to learn more about this effort.

 

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo on September 25, 2010.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

AND NOW A 16-YEAR-OLD Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School student, Amy Schultz, has stepped up, leading the push to secure a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant that will repair flood-damaged parks in Zumbro Falls, Hammond, Pine Island and Owatonna.

Schultz tried for a grant earlier this year, focusing solely on Zumbro Falls and Hammond. Now she’s expanded her area, hoping that the inclusion of Pine Island and Owatonna will mean more votes. The top 10 projects, those with the most votes, get the $50,000.

Simple? Yes. Just vote by:

Voting continues through June. When I checked the ranking for this project on Wednesday morning, Schultz’s idea stood at number 27. Let’s blast that number into the top 10.

This high schooler is determined. Just read this information I found online, in news releases she sent to cities, Chambers of Commerce and elsewhere: “The local parks are part of the fabric that joins these picturesque river towns together. It is where families and friends come to play and visitors come to sit by the riverside all summer long. So many memories have been made here over the years and we need to restore them for current and future generations.”

Convincing words from a young woman who wants to make a difference in four Minnesota communities still recovering from the September 2010 flash floods.

Vote today and every day until the end of June for the “Rebuild Parks in Owatonna, Zumbro Falls, Pine Island and Hammond MN” project.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling