Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Rebuilding a rural Minnesota church January 1, 2012

St. John's Lutheran Church in Vesta, hours after a July 1 "series of downbursts" with winds of 90 - 100 mph ripped half of the south roof off. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

FOR SIX MONTHS NOW, since strong winds ripped half the roof from St. John’s Lutheran Church in my hometown of Vesta, the congregation has been without a permanent place to worship.

The southern half of the roof was ripped off by high winds and toppled onto the bell tower, which has since been removed. It was attached to the sides of the entry, as seen in this image from September.

Inside the sanctuary I listened to the wind flap the tarp that covered the damaged roof in September.

The pews and other items from the church were moved into the undamaged social hall.

Ponder that for a moment. If you are a church-going person, how would you be impacted by the temporary closure of your church building?

Here’s how St. John’s members have dealt with the situation: They are worshipping at their sister congregation, Peace Lutheran in Echo, about 10 miles away. They are holding Sunday School classes in the Vesta Community Hall. They are rebuilding and expanding St. John’s.

Repairs and building expansion are underway at St. John's in this photo taken on December 23.

The south side church expansion includes an office, handicapped accessible bathroom and an enlarged narthex, according to my mom, who attends St. John's.

Like the strong prairie people they are, St. John’s folks are adapting. They are helping one another, offering rides to those who can’t/don’t wish to drive to Echo, especially during the winter months.

Yet, this absence of their church within their community can’t always be easy. Imagine losing a loved one who attended St. John’s, whose death could not be mourned in the comfort of familiar surroundings. The same goes for celebrating baptisms and weddings.

In a small town like Vesta, population around 330, a church knits people and lives together into a community of care. That still exists. But, without a building, it takes extra effort to maintain that closeness.

For those who call St. John’s home and for those of us who grew up in this congregation, the reopening of these church doors cannot come soon enough.

Will “soon” be Easter?

© 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