Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A reason to be happy in Le Sueur January 12, 2021

Posted on the marquee of the Le Sueur Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

DON’T WORRY. BE HAPPY.

Ah, what a message, one that, in these turbulent times, seems difficult to follow. Or even consider. Yet, focusing on the positives and joys in life feels more important than ever right now. Not that we should ignore the challenges—and there are many today—but rather balance them with also viewing the bright side of life.

Soon this marquee will be restored. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Don’t worry, be happy. Those words from the 1988 hit song by Bobby McFerrin make me smile all these years later. At the cheesy simplicity. At the thought that we can focus on the light of happiness even in the worries of darkness.

Photographed in August 2020 along Main Street South in Le Sueur. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

With that, I shift to a series of photos I took in downtown Le Sueur in late August 2020. I typically fall behind in posting my images given all I shoot during the warm weather months here in Minnesota. Regardless, this seems the right time to pull these photos from the archives and share a bit of “happy.”

In the process of being restored in downtown Le Sueur. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Visually documenting small towns like Le Sueur, a community of some 4,000 in southern Minnesota, is often a focus of my photography. I delight in the details, the architecture, the only-in-a-small-town scenes, the history, people and more that define these communities.

PHOTOS FROM OCTOBER 2016:

Before work began on the Le Sueur Theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
When I first photographed the theater in 2016, this eviction notice was posted on the door as the property went into foreclosure. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
Signs of a once active movie theater. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2016.
A movie poster still posted when I first photographed the theater in October 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so, while walking through the heart of downtown Le Sueur, I came across the vacant Le Sueur Theater and its once beautiful marquee. I remember photographing this theater previously and lamenting its abandonment. But then, while researching for this post, I discovered a reason to feel happy. Thankful, really.

I can only imagine how beautiful this marquee once its restored (or whatever it takes). Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

In March 2019, cleaning, repair (roof, walls, etc) and restoration began on this building vacated in 2008. Work to preserve, restore, replicate, replace and reinforce the marquee is expected to begin in the spring. You can find details about the ongoing project on the Le Sueur Theater Facebook page by clicking here.

A side view of the Le Sueur Theater marquee. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

Leading the project is Katie Elke of Le Sueur, who bought the building in 2016 and plans to reopen the theater for cinema, music, theatrical performances, comedy shows and other entertainment, making it a community gathering spot.

Some day this space will be filled with a new listing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2020.

I love this plan. This idea. I’ve watched as my own community of Faribault restored an historic theater into the Paradise Center for the Arts, a center for arts, entertainment and more. That the good folks of Le Sueur and the surrounding area will now have a similar hub makes me happy. I recognize that this happens only with plenty of funding (Katie started a go fund me site), hard work and enthusiastic support. Some day I hope to step inside the restored Le Sueur Theater and show you how a plan, along with grit, determination, effort, money and a whole lot of happy can take an idea to reality. Even, and especially, during a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Izzy at the Capitol August 12, 2017

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HER MAMA ONCE WORKED in the state office building next to the Minnesota State Capitol. Izzy, at 16 months, is too young to understand. But, on Friday, she was among Minnesotans celebrating the grand opening of the Capitol following a multi-year $310 million restoration.

 

Oh, where’s Izzy? Pun intended. Photos by Amber Schmidt.

 

 

 

 

When her mama, my eldest, sent photos of Izzy playing among the #ONLY IN MN letters on the front lawn, I just had to share the cuteness.

 

 

The rest of the weekend is jam-packed with activities ranging from concerts to tours to ongoing activities for families. Will I be there? No. I’m not a fan of mega crowds in the metro, plus lots is happening locally and I’m preparing for a family reunion.

 

The stunning Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from my last visit in 2009.

 

So “The People’s House,” as the Capitol is being promoted to all of us, will have to wait. I last toured the Capitol in 2009, when Amber worked next door. Prior to that, I’d only been there once, on a sixth grade class trip.

It’s a beautiful building. With the renovations, the first since the Capitol was built in 1905, I expect it to be even more stunning.

Some day my granddaughter can look back at these photos and hear the stories her mama tells about their trip to the Capitol on August 11, 2017…and how she cared more about a live owl than the Capitol restoration.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
photos by and copyright of Amber Schmidt

 

Second restored carnival car debuts in Faribault, birthplace of the Tilt-A-Whirl July 12, 2017

Signage and seating inside a restored Tilt-A-Whirl car installed in downtown Faribault in June 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

SEVERAL BLOCKS FROM MY FARIBAULT home, laborers once built the iconic Tilt-A-Whirl and lesser-known amusement rides. Occasionally I spotted oversized bears, dragons and other animal-themed spin rides aboard flatbed trailers exiting the Frog Town neighborhood, location of Sellner Manufacturing.

 

The Dizzy Dragon was once also made in Faribault. This ride and other versions of it are now built by Larson International, Inc. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

There Herbert Sellner, inventor of the Tilt-A-Whirl, opened his manufacturing company. From 1926 until its sale to a Texas company in 2011, the business made carnival rides.

 

The 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car faces north toward Central Avenue. Here’s the beautiful back. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Often I wondered why Faribault didn’t promote the Tilt-A-Whirl. Next to the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel, it’s likely the most recognized amusement ride spanning generations. The American made ride seemed a natural tourist draw to me. Today, thanks to the efforts of local businesswomen Tami Schluter (of the Historic Hutchinson House B & B) and Peggy Keilen (of Faribo Air Conditioning & Heating), there’s an increased awareness of the Tilt-A-Whirl’s origins in my southeastern Minnesota community.

 

A restored 1950s vintage Tilt-A-Whirl has been permanently installed by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

In August 2014, the pair unveiled a 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl prototype car restored by Rick’s Restoration of Las Vegas and placed next to Burkhartzmeyer Shoes in the heart of historic downtown Faribault.

 

The second car, before restoration. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

On Thursday, the two will celebrate the refurbishing of another Tilt-A-Whirl car donated by local Harley’s Auto Salvage.

 

The restored car in place by the State Bank. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

Dedication of that car will take place at noon in front of the State Bank of Faribault, 428 Central Avenue North.

 

Under Dwight Henning’s hands, a work in progress. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

The reconstructed and primed car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

Nearly complete. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

Unlike the first car, this car has been restored by former Sellner employees, Dwight Henning of Henning Fiberglass and Karen Bussert of Design Specialties. That involvement of a local craftsman and artist strengthens community pride and ownership, always a bonus with any project.

 

The first restored Tilt-A-Whirl car sits in downtown Faribault, outside a third-generation family shoe store. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

There are already hints of a third Tilt-A-Whirl restoration project. The first restored car has proven a photo op tourist attraction down at the shoe store. I expect the car by the bank to also draw attention, probably more, though, from locals than visitors. This car is not restored to vintage, but rather painted/decorated in green, white and gold, the State Bank’s colors. Green and white are also the public school colors of the Faribault Falcons.

 

Historic info featured on the “table” of the latest restored Tilt-A-Whirl car. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

 

Schluter and Keilen have worked tirelessly to bring these Tilt-A-Whirl cars to downtown Faribault. They’ve also gotten significant financial support and community backing. Still, it takes someone to initiate.

 

Karen Bussert creates Tilt-A-Whirl themed t-shirts like this one worn by Faribault native Janet Timmers at a Car Cruise Night. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I see additional potential here to expand upon what these two have started. For now I envision a seasonal pop-up mini museum showcasing the Tilt-A-Whirl in an empty downtown storefront and/or perhaps a kiosk that includes Tilt-A-Whirl t-shirts. Maybe the local F-Town Brewing Company could craft a beer named after this iconic ride. And, if I’m going to brainstorm here, I may as well dream big. I’d love to see an operating Tilt-A-Whirl find a permanent home in our historic downtown.

TELL ME: How can my community further promote the Tilt-A-Whirl as a tourist attraction? I’d love to hear your ideas.

 

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim’s Auto & Tire in downtown Faribault, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

FYI: The Rice County Historical Society includes a small exhibit on Sellner Manufacturing. And a downtown mural features the Tilt-A-Whirl.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from La Crosse: Hollywood, Wisconsin style March 24, 2017

 

DRIVING PAST THE HOLLYWOOD Theater on the fringes of downtown La Crosse, I wondered whether the theater was open. It appeared closed. An online search later confirmed that.

Not that efforts haven’t been made to restore the 1936 theater. It has opened and closed multiple times, last closing as a live music venue in the late 1990s, according to an article published on the La Crosse Public Library website. The current building owner planned to renovate and reopen the theater. But then a fire damaged the building in 2013 stalling that project.

Black-and-white images in the library’s “La Crosse Movie Palaces” story show a splendid 42-foot high illuminated HOLLYWOOD tower gracing the theater along with a wrap-around marquee. Both were removed after World War II. What happened to those? The article doesn’t reveal that and perhaps it’s unknown.

I hope finances fall into place for the current owner to complete renovation plans and reopen the Hollywood Theater. In my community of Faribault, a former theater is now the Paradise Center for the Arts, a gem of a place that includes galleries, clay works and textile labs, classrooms, a library and a theater performance space.

I appreciate when aged theaters are valued and saved.

TELL ME: Are you familiar with a similar vintage theater that has been restored to its original glory? Please share.

Or, if you’ve been inside the Hollywood Theater when it was open, I’d like to hear your stories.

FYI: Please check back for more stories in my “From La Crosse” series. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Restored Tilt-A-Whirl car unveiled in Faribault August 21, 2014

THANKS TO TWO FARIBAULT WOMEN, a group of enthusiastic supporters and a television show, one of America’s most iconic amusement rides, the Tilt-A-Whirl, will now be showcased in downtown Faribault.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen reveal the restored car to an appreciative audience Wednesday evening.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen reveal the restored car to an appreciative audience Wednesday evening.

A restored early 1950s era prototype Tilt-A-Whirl car was unveiled Wednesday evening in Faribault following the airing of “Boy Meets Whirl,” an episode of The History Channel’s American Restoration reality TV show.

The Tilt-A-Whirl car before restoration was rescued from a junkyard.

The Tilt-A-Whirl car, before restoration, was rescued from a junkyard. Photo courtesy of Tami Schluter.

Rick’s Restorations of Las Vegas worked its magic on the aged car after meeting with Faribault resident Tami Schluter. She, along with friend Peggy Keilen, spearheaded efforts to raise monies to restore the car built by Faribault’s Sellner Manufacturing Company. Backers raised $8,500 to refurbish the vintage carnival ride car rescued from, and donated by, Harley’s Auto Salvage.

A portion of the crowd watches "Boy Meets Whirl."

A portion of the crowd who supported the project with monetary and in-kind donations watches “Boy Meets Whirl.”

The Tilt-A-Whirl car, now on temporary display at Mill City Restaurant & Sports Bar—site of the celebration party—will find a permanent home a block away at the corner of (128) Central Avenue and Second Street by the third-generation family shoe store, Burkhartzmeyer Shoes.

Celebrating the restoration and reveal of the 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car outside Mill City Restaurant.

Celebrating the restoration and reveal of the 1950s Tilt-A-Whirl car outside Mill City Restaurant.

Schluter and Keilen told the crowd of 75 or so gathered for the TV airing and car debut party that the restored Tilt-A-Whirl represents a much-needed icon for this Minnesota community’s historic downtown, a need revealed in a 2011 Faribault Main Street Market study. The two businesswomen—Schluter co-owns the Historic Hutchinson House Bed & Breakfast and Keilen, Faribo Air Conditioning & Heating—say the car will provide a place to sit back, relax and enjoy the beautiful downtown.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen embrace after unveiling the car.

Tami Schluter, left, and Peggy Keilen embrace after unveiling the car.

And the Tilt-A-Whirl car likely will provide plenty of photo ops as it did following Wednesday’s reveal. An enthusiastic Schluter and Keilen posed for numerous photos and expressed their love for Faribault and gratitude to the long list of supporters that include individuals, businesses and local organizations.

Tami Schluter on "Boy Meets Whirl."

Tami Schluter on “Boy Meets Whirl.” She suggested the three pretend to be watching a Minnesota Vikings game while sitting in the car.

Both were especially pleased to bring national attention to Faribault via the television show, one reason Schluter approached American Restoration about the project. Within 12 hours, she heard that the Tilt-A-Whirl proposal was a go.

Tami Schluter's quote reaction when she saw the car for the first time.

Tami Schluter’s quote, as aired on “Boy Meets Whirl,” when she saw the car for the first time.

The women aren’t done yet with Tilt-A-Whirls. They are already focusing on raising funds for restoration of a second 1940s car to be placed several blocks to the north by the State Bank of Faribault.

The 1950s era Tilt-A-Whirl car sits, covered, outside Mill City until after the 9:30 p.m. airing of "Boy Meets Whirl."

The 1950s era Tilt-A-Whirl car sits, covered, outside Mill City before the airing of “Boy Meets Whirl.”

That second restoration, Keilen says, will be done in the Tilt-A-Whirl’s hometown of Faribault.

Sellner Manufacturing, as noted on the car, invented the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Sellner Manufacturing, as noted on the car, invented the Tilt-A-Whirl.

FYI: Sellner Manufacturing, which invented and built the first Tilt-A-Whirl in 1926, was sold in 2011. Gold Star Manufacturing purchased the fiberglass and staging part of the business and, at the time of purchase, contracted with Texas-based buyer Larson International, Inc., to make the fiberglass car portion of the Tilt-A-Whirl.

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed the Tilt-A-Whirl mural on the side of Jim's Auto & Tire this past fall.

The Mural Society of Faribault created and placed a Tilt-A-Whirl mural in downtown Faribault in 2010.

Faribault also promotes the Tilt-A-Whirl’s origins via a mural along Fourth Street just a block off Central Avenue. It was a 2010 project of The Mural Society of Faribault.

The back of the refurbished Tilt-A-Whirl.

The back of the refurbished Tilt-A-Whirl.

The Rice County Historical Society in Faribault features a permanent exhibit on Sellner Manufacturing Company.

Mill City's new signature Tilt-A-Whirl drink.

Mill City’s new signature Tilt-A-Whirl drink.

And, at Mill City Restaurant & Sports Bar, a Tilt-A-Whirl drink has been added to the bar offerings. It features brandy, Mount Gay Bermuda rum, sweet vermouth, sweet and sour mix, cherries and lemon slices served in a pint jar.

BONUS PHOTO:

Every party needs a cake.

Every party needs a cake.

 

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling