WHEN I READ A RECENT POST on the City of Vesta Facebook page, I knew I needed to share this story with you. It is a heartwarming story of kindness and gratitude that renews my faith in the goodness of humanity. And it is, too, a moment in which I feel overwhelming pride in my hometown.
Before I get to the referenced post, I expect many of you are wondering, “Where is Vesta?” I’ve found in my 41 years of living in southeastern Minnesota that most people have no clue. Vesta is west of Mankato, west of New Ulm, west of Redwood Falls. The small Redwood County farming community of around 320 sits along Minnesota State Highway 19 half way between Redwood and Marshall. It is the only town directly aside that highway for the 40 miles between the two larger cities.
Vesta is in the middle of the prairie, the windswept prairie. If a winter storm sweeps in with strong winds, then conditions quickly deteriorate to blizzard status. You don’t want to be caught on the road if that happens. It’s dangerous.
Recently, a motorist found herself in such dire conditions while driving Highway 19 toward Watertown, South Dakota, to visit grandchildren. Forty mph winds, blowing snow and zero visibility—to the point where she had to stop to see if she was still on the road some two miles from Vesta—resulted in a life-saving decision. She got off the highway at Vesta.
And that’s where this story begins to unfold into a story of generosity and kindness in my hometown. The first person she encountered was Dave and his buddy, out on four-wheelers. I knew exactly who she meant. Dave owns an auto body and repair shop in Vesta. He also plows snow for locals. When my mom was alive and still living in Vesta, it was Dave who cleared her snow. It was Dave who answered Mom’s calls for help with car issues. I always felt reassured that he was, in some ways, looking after her and so many other seniors.
I digress. Dave directed the recently-diverted motorist two blocks east to the community center, a designated shelter for stranded travelers. Upon arrival at the former Vesta Elementary School, the grateful traveler found the doors locked. So off she went to find someone, anyone, to let her inside. She noticed two trucks parked outside the grain elevator, which led her inside and directly to Vesta’s emergency coordinator. Jeremy drove home and got the key to open the shelter.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. The out-of-town guest got a tour of the community center and was also advised she could help herself to the spaghetti and chicken noodle soup in the fridge, watch TV in the work-out room and then sleep on a cot, pillows provided. She was also given the Wi-Fi password. Later the city clerk’s husband brought an extra blanket after the clerk stopped to ask if the shelter guest needed anything.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Soon town kids showed up, per a text sent by Jeremy that they could hang out in the community center during the blizzard. The way-laid motorist soon found herself in rousing games of dodge ball and kickball inside the gym where I played as a grade-schooler.
Now if that was the end of the story, that would be a nice ending. But there’s more. Jeremy kept in touch, texting that the local bar was open if she wanted pizza. She was happy with the soup. The next morning the emergency coordinator texted again, notifying the overnight guest that roads had been plowed. He’d also reached out to the Marshall Police Department to assure that roads were open to motorists. Drive on a “closed” road and you risk a $750 fine. Jeremy went that extra mile to assure the woman could resume her journey to Watertown.
Her lengthy post to the City of Vesta Facebook page shows deep gratitude for all those who made her feel welcomed and safe in my hometown. She wrote: It was quite a night in the Vesta Community Center. Everyone’s kindness in this town was so timely and heartfelt that, rather than feeling like a stranded traveler, I felt like a VIP walking down a red carpet.
I am not surprised by the goodness of the folks in Vesta. This is small town southwestern Minnesota at its best. Caring, kind, compassionate, loving, welcoming. I’ve always felt embraced by the place of my roots, even decades after leaving. I understand this place. These will always be my people. My prairie people.
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Source: City of Vesta Facebook page
Thank you to Minnesota Prairie Roots reader Bill for alerting me to this City of Vesta Facebook post.