Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A message from Minnesota officers: Let peace prevail July 9, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 2:53 PM
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Peace ad published in Faribault


NEARLY NINE HUNDRED MILES from Dallas, Texas, and an hour from Falcon Heights, Minnesota, a message of peace published this morning in my local newspaper, The Faribault Daily News.

The full-page ad on the back page of the front section comes from the Faribault Police Department and the Rice County Sheriff’s Department. In a succinct 13 words, these law enforcement officers deliver a powerful statement to our culturally diverse community.

It is the final three words that I find universally hopeful: Let Peace Prevail.

Let. Peace. Prevail.



The SWAT team rendezvous in my Faribault, Minnesota, neighborhood May 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:19 PM
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TUESDAY EVENING I’M WATCHING American Idol when my husband suddenly leaps from his comfy spot on the couch to peer out the window.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

He doesn’t respond.

I can see only the tail end of a brown car parked in the street.

“The SWAT team is out there,” he says.

The SWAT team leads a team of law enforcement officials in Faribault Tuesday evening.

I grab my camera, which is sitting nearby. Sure enough, armored men, thick as flies, cling to the side of a vehicle that leads a procession—an ERU (which I think means “Emergency Response Unit”) vehicle, a Rice County sheriff’s squad and several Faribault police cars.

They turn at the corner by my neighbor’s house and head up and over the steep hill on First Avenue Southwest. Through the window, I quickly snap two pictures, which don’t turn out very well given my haste and the fading light under cloudy skies.

A Rice County sheriff squad and several Faribault police cars follow the SWAT team and ERU vehicle up First Avenue Southwest in Faribault.

Soon Randy and I are slipping on our shoes and walking up the hill, although I’m thinking this isn’t the smartest thing for us to be doing given all those weapons. Half way up the hill I decide to play it safe. Randy, despite my protests, forges ahead and disappears.

“They have guns,” I yell after him.

I head back home, waiting for my curious spouse to return. Safely, I hope.

He does and reports that the action is happening about three blocks away next to Division Street near the Faribault Senior Center, where the street has been cordoned off. He can’t get any closer.

And that’s OK with me.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling