Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Picnicking at historic Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church August 16, 2020

On the backroads in Rice County, heading northwest of Faribault.


IN MINNESOTA, WE LOVE our summers. And that has a lot to do with our long winter season of too much cold, too much darkness and too much being cooped up inside. Factor in COVID-19, and summer days are even more beloved.

This summer, especially, Randy and I often pack sandwiches, fruit and whatever else for a weekend picnic lunch. It gets us out of the house/town and into nature, exactly what we need when so few options exist for escaping anywhere these days.

On a recent Sunday we contemplated our choices and decided to head to Cannon Falls, a lovely river town about a 40-minute drive northeast of Faribault. But, as we backed out of the driveway and looked to the east, we saw storm clouds building. Change of plans.


One of my favorite rural sightings: aged barns. This one is near Circle Lake.


Instead, we drove northwest, with the intention of picnicking at Circle Lake near Millersburg. A much shorter drive on a day of unsettled weather and possible afternoon storms. As farm-raised kids, Randy and I always delight in traveling rural roads—paved and gravel—to reach our destination. On our way to the lake, I observed acres and acres of cornfields, far exceeding soybeans. Not uncommon.


The sign marking Circle Lake’s public pier.


No comfortable place to sit here…


A view across the lake of the surrounding countryside.


Randy missed the lake turn, backed up on the county road and then proceeded down a gravel road toward the public access point on Circle Lake. To our dismay, we saw no picnic tables either at the boat launch site or the adjoining patch of green space. A bit farther, though, we spotted a public fishing pier and decided to eat our lunch there.


Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg. This congregation is no longer active with the church open only for special services and events.


Except, upon exiting the van, the stench and sight of stagnant green lake water, a floating dead fish and an obviously neglected dock caused us to, once again, change plans. I suggested we drive to Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church, a nearby historic church set atop a hill overlooking the countryside. We could, I suggested, sit and eat on the front steps.


A long flight of steps lead up to Christdala.


And that’s exactly what we did, after we climbed a flight of steep steps and passed under an arch leading into the fenced church property. We turned our backs to the sun, settled onto the cement steps and pulled our sandwiches and other food from the cooler. It’s the first time I’ve picnicked next to a graveyard.


Near Minnie’s gravestone, I photographed this interesting fungi on a stump.


As we ate, we talked. About Minnie’s gravestone, in our direct line of vision. She died at age 23. Like too many who lost their lives prematurely so long ago, pre-modern medicine.


Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church painted in 1969 by Faribault artist Rhody Yule. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


We talked about our friend Rhody Yule, who showed select original religious-themed paintings here in September 2010. He gifted his 1969 painting of Christdala to the church on that Sunday afternoon. I organized the outdoor exhibit and a more extensive gallery show months later at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. Randy and I shared how much we liked Rhody, an artist we met while on a Sunday afternoon drive two years prior. He quickly became a good friend, someone we delighted in for his gentle spirit of kindness and deep faith. A true joy.


Posted next to the front door.


The steeple rises high above the treetops.


A summary of church history is posted next to the parking area at the bottom of the hill.


We noticed paint scrapings on the ground, indicating the 1877 church was recently repainted. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places, significant because the first Swedish settlers in Rice County founded this congregation, built this church.


Another marker nearby honors Swedish immigrant Nicolaus Gustafson.


One of those immigrants, Nicolaus Gustafson, was fatally shot by Cole Younger in the attempted raid of the first National Bank in nearby Northfield in 1876.


Just a sampling of the Swedish names on gravestones at Christdala.


There’s so much history and heritage here in names like Johnson, Anderson, Paulson, Gustafson, Nelson…the “son” of Swedish ancestry.


I spotted this probably glow-in-the-dark cross near a gravesite.


The graveyard surrounds Christdala church.


A wrought iron fence encloses the entire property.


We meandered through the graveyard separately. I didn’t recall the wrought iron fencing or the graveyard expansion with plenty of open space for future burials. It’s a lovely and peaceful spot behind the church, away from busy enough Rice County Road 1.


Randy saw this snake before me, but didn’t tell me. He knows I intensely dislike snakes. He suggested I move in for a closer photo. Nope, won’t get any nearer.


Randy directed me to a small stone marking the additional graveyard space as a 2008 donation from Arnold and Phyllis Horejsi. Arnold, 91, died on March 23 with services delayed until August 18 and burial at Christdala at a later date. I walked over to the marker, commenting on the many small holes that pock the land. And then, as I focused my camera lens on the stone, I noticed the garter snake. Striped. Too long. Head up. Tongue flicking.

That was it. I was done touring this cemetery, especially after I saw a second snake nearby. My mind fixated on snakes slithering over my feet and I couldn’t help but think of the biblical reference in Genesis to Satan as a snake. I wanted out, away, gone.


A heavenward view of Christdala.


And so I waited near the front steps for Randy to finish his graveyard tour. I aimed my camera lens skyward, away from the ground and slithering snakes. High toward the steeple. To the cross.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Believe April 20, 2014

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"The Risen Lord," painted in by my artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault, who dies in June 2011 at the age of 92.

“The Risen Lord,” painted in 1951 by my artist friend, Rhody Yule of Faribault, who died in June 2011 at the age of 92.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene… She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.—  Mark 16: 9-11


Faithful support of Christian education September 19, 2013

The crowd of bidders at the annual CVLHS auction.

The crowd of bidders at the annual Cannon Valley Lutheran High School auction. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT AN AUCTION. Sure, the cause may be to empty the house, settle an estate, raise monies for a charity or cause.

But the beauty of an auction lies in the bringing together of folks in a sense of community to achieve a defined goal.

Never have I felt a deeper bonding of souls than at the annual Cannon Valley Lutheran High School Auction Fundraiser, which I’ve attended for many of its past six years. I feel like I’m among family at this auction in the Morristown Community Center. We’re all there to support young people desiring a Christian education.

This Saturday, September 21, CVLHS holds its seventh annual auction event beginning at 4:30 p.m. with a silent auction (that closes at 6 p.m.) followed by the live auction at 7 p.m.

Auctioning of beautiful pieced quilt at the CVLHS live auction.

Auctioning of a beautiful pieced quilt at the CVLHS live auction. Volunteer Development Director Mike Young is pictured on the right. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Organizers—including my friend, volunteer Development Director Mike Young—work tirelessly to put this event together. Mike’s not going to like me singling him out. But sometimes that’s OK, to be publicly thanked for selfless dedication and hard work.

Embroidered dish towels were among silent auction offerings.

Embroidered dish towels were among silent auction offerings at a past auction. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Jars of pickled beets on display.

Jars of pickled beets and other fresh and canned produce and baked goods are available for purchase. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

You can't beat the food served during the CVLHS auction, like this pork sandwich, potato salad and homemade apple pie.

You can’t beat the food served during the CVLHS auction, like this pork sandwich, potato salad and homemade apple pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

So many individuals and businesses contribute to the success of this event with donations of handcrafted and new items, garden produce and baked goods, gift certificates and more, including their time.

They do it all for the students attending Cannon Valley, a grade 9 – 12 Christian high school located in Morristown.

Except this school year, classes have been temporarily suspended in order for CVLHS to repay debts, regroup and recruit more students. It’s not easy funding a private school—relying mostly on donations, gifts, congregational support, tuition and fundraisers to pay the bills. The plan is to reopen the school next fall.

"Breaking Bread," an original painting by well-known Faribault artist Rhody Yule, will be sold during the live auction.

“Breaking Bread,” an original painting by well-known Faribault artist Rhody Yule, will be sold during the live auction.

Now the fine folks at Cannon Valley and their supporters could have easily tossed in the proverbial towel and said, “That’s it. We’re done.” But they didn’t. They are choosing to move forward despite the financial challenges. That’s faith, dear readers. Faith.

FYI: To learn more about Cannon Valley Lutheran High School, click here.

To learn more about artist Rhody Yule, click here.

CVLHS supporter Kevin Becker repurposed this early 1900s headboard and bed frame in to a storage bench. The headboard was built by the grandfather of the Rev. Robert Snyder, a retired pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

CVLHS supporter Kevin Becker repurposed this early 1900s headboard and bed frame in to a storage bench. The headboard/footboard was built by the grandfather of the Rev. Robert Snyder, a retired pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault. Trinity congregation is a CVLHS association member/supporter. Photo courtesy of CVLHS.

Here are some of the items to be sold at the live auction beginning at 7 p.m.: farm fresh hamburger; a get-away for four to Branson, Missouri; tickets to the Minnesota Zoo and Chanhassen Dinner Theatre; a week’s stay at Lake Okoboji, Iowa; two half hogs; a Cedar Garden Arbor Electric organ; handcrafted Intarsia art; a Minnesota Twins print autographed by Tony Oliva; garden art; and more.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Shop at this gym full of treasures July 25, 2013

GOOD MORNING. It’s 6 a.m. And, if you’re an avid garage saler and have the morning free, you likely already are preparing your route of must-hit sales.

A shot taken Tuesday evening with more items to be set out on Wednesday.

An overview shot taken Tuesday evening in the Trinity gym with more items to be set out on Wednesday.

In Faribault, add the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School sale to your list. Doors to the sale site, the gym at Trinity Lutheran Church, 530 Fourth Street Northwest (Minnesota Highway 60 across from McDonalds) open at 8 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 25, and Friday, July 26. Saturday, July 27, hours are 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.

Tuesday I got a sneak peek at this gym full of treasures. Yes, I adhere to the “One man’s (or woman’s) junk is another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.”

Frames and mirrors and merchandise reflected.

Frames and mirrors and merchandise reflected.

Except for clothing, of which there is none at this sale, you will find the usual assortment of merchandise ranging from household décor to kitchenware, books, furniture, toys, sporting equipment, some collectibles and more.

Sweet vintage thermoses.

Sweet vintage thermoses.

A bit overwhelmed by the volume of offerings, I methodically worked my way through the gym, photographing items I found of particular interest. Note that I am drawn to vintage more than anything.

A kitschy vintage clock for the cat lover.

A kitschy vintage clock for the cat lover.

I collect vintage drinking glasses and tablecloths, but did not uncover any during my one-hour walk-through. That’s just as well. I already have more than I need.

A beautiful Pyrex casserole for the collector.

A beautiful Pyrex casserole for the collector.

A large bowl for the Pyrex collector.

A large bowl for the Pyrex collector.

And two more beautiful Pyrex bowls.

And two more beautiful Pyrex bowls.

I suggested to one of the organizers that the three Pyrex bowls and casserole I spotted ought to be marked at collector prices. “There will be collectors here,” I advised her.

"Puppy Love" and "Winter Solitude" by Rhody Yule, appraised and priced at $395 and $375.

“Puppy Love” and “Winter Solitude” by Rhody Yule, appraised and priced at $395 and $375.

If you’re an art collector, you will want to examine four paintings by my friend, Rhody Yule, a Faribault sign painter and prolific artist whose work was featured in a 2011 gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts six months before his death at age 92. He was a remarkable man of deep faith and I was blessed to be gifted with one of his religious themed paintings. Now you, too, can own a piece of Rhody’s art.

Some wonderful wooden puzzles, newer and older.

Some wonderful wooden puzzles, newer and older.

If I had young kids or grandkids, I would have scooped up lots of books and toys, most in excellent condition. I did nab a homespun poetry book, The Old Hometown, by Faribault resident Marlene Hyatt Meehl, now deceased. I also found two blackboards to use at my daughter’s wedding reception.

Another view of that gym full of merchandise.

Another view of that gym full of merchandise, to which more has been added since I took this photo.

I expect you will find something you “need.” How could you not in a gymnasium packed with treasures?


There are plenty of hard-sided suitcases for sale and a few soft-sided also.

There are plenty of hard-sided suitcases for sale and a few soft-sided also.

I have not seen curlers like this in 40 years, just like my mom used and occasionally poked into my head. The plastic pins for securing the rollers are included.

I have not seen curlers like this in 40 years, just like my mom used and occasionally poked into my head. The plastic pins for securing the rollers are included.

This vintage timer was made in one of my favorite Wisconsin towns, Two Rivers, along Lake Michigan.

This vintage timer was made in one of my favorite Wisconsin towns, Two Rivers, along Lake Michigan. The box and the literature inside are as vintage cool as the timer.

 A peek at some of the furniture.

A peek at some of the furniture.

Among the abundance of Christmas decor, I spotted these precious pieces.

Among the abundance of Christmas decor, I spotted these precious Nativity pieces.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The art of healing at a Minnesota hospital January 28, 2013

TWO YEARS AGO this month, my then 92-year-old artist friend, Rhody Yule, opened his first-ever gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

Six months later, he died.

But Rhody, and his art, live on, this time in a Paradise Center Healing Arts Program Exhibit at District One Hospital in Faribault. The arts center and hospital are partnering on the program.

Thursday evening I attended a reception for that show which features 70 pieces of art created by eight outstanding artists, each of them definitively different: Faribault artists Jody Hanscom, Jorge Ponticas, Pearl Tait and Rhody Yule; Marcus Moller of Morristown; Faribault native Tom Fakler, now living in Basel, Switzerland; Jane Strauss of Minneapolis; and Cynthia Ali of St. Paul.

As Healing Arts Coordinator Elizabeth Jacobs led my husband and me through the maze of hallways and centers that comprise the hospital complex, I thought how Rhody would have felt honored to be part of an exhibit designed to comfort patients and make their hospital experiences more pleasant.

The art selected by a committee of hospital staff fits the program’s criteria as “healing art,” meaning it must be calming, happy and a positive piece of work, Jacobs says.

Three of Jody Hanscom's horse portraits.

Three of Jody Hanscom’s horse portraits.

And you’ll see that, almost experience that positivity, from the minute you walk in the front doors of the hospital to view Jody Hanscom’s sizable horse portraits in the lobby waiting areas. Jody’s oil paintings capture both the gentleness and free spirit of horses, a combination that simultaneously calms and uplifts.

Tucked into a corner by the elevators, the fourth of Hanscom's horse oil paintings.

Tucked into a corner by the elevators, the fourth of Hanscom’s horses.

Just down the hallway, five oil paintings by Jorge Ponticas brighten the walls with vivid scenes from his native Chile and elsewhere. His art evokes happy thoughts. What can I say? I can’t resist the sweet face of a llama.

Pearl Tait's "Aubergine Drift I."

Pearl Tait’s “Aubergine Drift I.”

Moving along to the emergency room lobby, I find Pearl Tait’s moody mixed medium art the ideal choice for a setting often filled with emotion and uncertainty. Her work, which features textures like sand and tape incorporated into a painting, reflects, in my opinion, the intense layers of feelings that come with any visit to the ER.

A photo in a cozy private waiting room fronts Tom Fakler's Swiss Alps photos.

A sofa in a cozy private waiting room fronts Tom Fakler’s trio of Swiss Alps photos.

Around the corner inside a cozy ER room where families are taken to hear bad news (so says Jacobs), the mood totally changes with the soothing photography of Tom Fakler. His black-and-white canvas prints of the Swiss Alps offer a natural world escape during a particularly difficult time for patients’ families.

Likewise, the photography of Jane Strauss in the surgery center reflects that same sort of escapism, especially in panoramic landscape scenes. Jacobs notes that Strauss is autistic, meaning her approach to photography focuses on qualities like texture and detail, aspects others might not consider in photographing a scene.

Faribault native Cynthia Ali's floral pastels are not for sale. Ali, of St. Paul, is primarily a jewelry artist.

Faribault native Cynthia Ali’s floral pastels are not for sale. Ali, of St. Paul, is primarily a jewelry artist.

Also in the surgery center, Cynthia Ali infuses a soft natural beauty with her floral pastels. You can almost smell the heady perfume of her beautiful roses.

Marcus Moller's "Madison Lake Bait Shop" in watercolor.

Marcus Moller’s “Madison Lake Bait Shop” in watercolor. Moller’s art (mostly pastels) hangs in the surgery center waiting area, a place frequented by children. Thus his art is hung quite high, which made photographing it difficult.

Marcus Moller works in pastels, too, and watercolors, covering a variety of subjects from autumn landscapes to a bold rooster to my favorite, “Madison Lake Bait Shop.” Those of you who’ve traveled Minnesota Highway 60 will recognize the kitschy red building backed by the Madison Lake water tower. I cannot even begin to count how many times I’ve considered photographing that building. Moller’s bait shop painting is nudging me to actually stop and take that photo.

Twenty-five of Rhody Yule's oils grace the hall and patient rooms in the cancer center.

Twenty-five of Rhody Yule’s oils grace the hall and patient rooms in the cancer center.

Finally, my open house tour ended in a hallway outside the District One Cancer Center with the oil paintings of my friend, Rhody Yule. I’d seen nearly every one of Rhody’s hundreds of paintings when I worked with his family and friends on the 2011 Paradise exhibit. But, still, it was as if I was viewing his pieces for the first time, appreciating the landscapes, many of them winter scenes in this show, and the other art he created through decades of painting. Rhody was a kind, gentle man with a heart full of goodness, and I remembered that, too.

Examples of Rhody Yules art close-up.

Examples of Rhody Yule’s art close-up.

Most of the artwork in the Healing Arts Exhibit, but not all, is available for sale. (Artwork not featured in photos here is because I did not have permission to photograph it.)  A portion of any proceeds from the sale of Yule’s work will go to the local hospice, per the family’s request.

If you wish to tour the winter installment of the Healing Arts Exhibit, check in at the main desk, 200 State Avenue, during hospital business hours. All areas of the exhibit may not be accessible for viewing at all times. The current show runs through February 28.

If you are an artist interested in being featured in a Healing Arts Exhibit, contact Jacobs at the Paradise Center for the Arts. You will find details and contact information by clicking here.

The Healing Arts program is sponsored by the District One Hospital Auxiliary, which initially proposed the concept.

To view information on the artists with an online presence, click on their highlighted names.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS on art as a “healing” tool? Have you seen similar exhibits? Please share.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A painting from my dear friend Rhody September 28, 2012

IN LIFE, RHODY YULE, impressed me with his humble spirit, deep faith and artistic talent. He thought the best of everyone. He appreciated life so much that, even up until days before his June 2011 death when he was but a shell of his former physical self, he desired to live beyond his 92 years.

Celebrity portraits Rhody Yule painted and hung on his garage, where I first discovered his work in the fall of 2009 while driving past his rural Rice County residence.

Losing my friend of only a few years—the man I met because I photographed the portraits he had painted and hung on the side of his garage in rural Rice County—was difficult for me. Yet, I knew Rhody’s legacy would live on in the hundreds of paintings he created through the decades.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened in January 2011 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

It was my absolute honor, after discovering Rhody’s work, to bring his paintings to the public via a mini art show at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, rural Millersburg, and then during a much larger gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault.

And now Rhody, in death, has blessed me with the gift of one of his paintings, the painting he knew I most favored.

A sampling of the religious paintings Rhody exhibited at a mini show at Christdala on September 26, 2010. The painting on the right is the one Rhody gifted to me.

On Tuesday evening, the day before my 56th birthday and just a day shy of the two-year anniversary of that mini exhibit at Christdala—yes, I spent my 54th birthday setting up that art show for Rhody—I picked up the painting Rhody wanted me to have.

I’d known for a few weeks that I was to receive the painting I’ve come to call “Woman in Reverent Prayer.” Tuesday I phoned Rhody’s stepson, Bob, asking if my husband, Randy, and I could come over and pick up the piece of art in a half hour. That would work, Bob said.

“Woman in Reverent Prayer” by Rhody Yule

Over at Bob and his wife Kathy’s condo, Rhody’s prayerful woman painting leaned against the living room wall as we reminisced about the man we had each loved.

And as I remembered Rhody, I felt myself slipping into sadness. I missed him and wished I had known him longer.

Then, when Bob told me how Rhody wanted me to have that particular painting and how Rhody’s gallery show at the Paradise was the highlight of the last year of his life, the tears seeped from my eyes. To be able to give someone like Rhody such a gift, to realize how much this meant to him, prompts the most humbling and joyful of emotions.

Shortly thereafter as I caressed the painting, Bob suggested that I might want to replace the dinged frame. No, I would keep the frame Rhody crafted, I said, running my fingers along the wood.

Bob lifted the four-foot by 2 1/2-foot painting onto the dining room table then so we could examine the date under Rhody’s signature. We could barely decipher the faint curve of double sixes, meaning Rhody painted “Woman in Reverent Prayer” in 1966 when I was just 10 years old.

I know nothing, really, about the oil painting except Rhody once sharing that it was based on another painting or photo, minus the rosary beads clasped in the kneeling woman’s prayerful hands.

Now, each time I view Rhody’s painting, which will soon grace a wall in my living room, I am reminded of my friend’s deep faith. And I am reminded of how very much his friendship meant to me and likewise my friendship to him.

To realize that Rhody wanted me to have this painting simply touches my heart with gratitude and love.

Rhody and me at his opening night gallery reception in January 2011 at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault.

FYI: To read about Rhody’s mini art show at Christdala Evangelical Swedish Lutheran Church, click here.

To read about Rhody’s January 2011 gallery exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Faribault, click here.

To read my tribute to Rhody upon his death, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In loving memory of Rhody C. Yule June 16, 2011

Rhody's self-portrait, 1989

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON we eulogized and buried my 92-year-old artist friend, Rhody Yule.

I have known Rhody for less than two years, having met him quite by happenstance in the fall of 2009. While driving by his rural Faribault home, I spotted celebrity portraits hanging on his garage, stopped to photograph them and then went to his front door.

There I met this sprite of a man and his yapping dog, Jo-Jo.

With his dog shut in the kitchen because I feared being bitten, Rhody shared the story of his life with me and my husband, Randy, strangers until then. I did not hesitate to ask about the paintings hung in his cozy living room and on his garage. He did not hesitate to share that he had been painting since age 16.

Even on that first visit, I learned so much about a man who would come to mean so much to me. His wife, Shirley, had fallen and was living in Hastings. Oh, how he missed her. His only child, Paul, died in a car accident in 1977 at age 23. Oh, how he missed him.

Rhody told us about his military service, including time in Nagasaki, Japan, cleaning up after the atomic bomb. He showed us photos and paintings on that first visit and grass-woven sandals from Japan snugged inside a wooden box he had crafted.

I thought to ask, thank God, if he had ever publicly exhibited his art. He hadn’t. That became my mission, to get a gallery show for this life-long artist. His first mini-show, of his religious paintings, came in September 2010, when he was invited to Christdala Church near Millersburg. He had, many years prior, done a painting of the church. Randy and I coordinated that exhibit, then loaded the paintings into our van and set them up outside this historic country church. Rhody and I spoke briefly at that event and he assured me that, despite our nervousness, we did well.

At Christdala, I distributed mini fliers for his upcoming gallery show at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. I had applied for the exhibit on his behalf and, in January, with the assistance of family and friends and volunteers, “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” opened to a packed gallery.

In typical Rhody fashion, this man of gentle spirit and quiet humility took it all in, never once boasting, but enjoying every second of his evening. This marked a shining moment for him in his 92 years of life and I was honored to have helped him achieve this public recognition of his art.

Rhody, minutes before his gallery show opened in January 2011.

RHODY’S FUNERAL SERVICE on Wednesday, while tinged with grief, also caused us to laugh out loud at his humor. We reminded each other of his forgiving attitude, his unshakable faith, his always positive attitude.

Just days before his death,  my husband Randy and I visited one last time with Rhody. Physically his body had deteriorated to a shell of the man he had been, but his mind and spirit remained strong. We saw him on a good night.

In that last hour with our friend, we reminisced about his gallery exhibit as I, one-by-one, held up photos I had taken that evening. He was too weak to grasp the images. And then we paged through several of his photo albums with pictures of a younger Rhody, a freckle-faced Paul, a beautiful Shirley.

I thought to myself, “You will be with them soon, Rhody. Soon.”

Rhody did not fear death. Yet he wished to live, even thought he might recover. I knew better. When I mentioned Millersburg, Rhody was ready for a night out and a beer at his favorite eating establishment there. Family and friends celebrated with him last fall in Millersburg at a patriotic-themed freedom party. His idea. His celebration after overcoming a recent, temporary loss of his personal freedom.

Rhody had more living to do. I learned at his funeral that this WW II veteran wanted to travel on a Washington D.C. Honor Flight to see the war memorials. It breaks my heart that he did not live long enough for that to happen.

Me and Rhody at his opening night gallery reception.

He prayed every night for the soldiers to come home.

He was smartly dressed for burial in his military uniform, which hung loosely on the gaunt body of a man who once stood strong in service to his country.

Those honoring his memory were directed to donate to the Rice County Veterans Memorial Expansion Project.

A spray of patriotic red and white flowers adorned with a blue ribbon decorated Rhody’s carved wooden casket, a casket so appropriate for a man who crafted wooden boxes and also picture frames (for his art). Had he been physically capable, I expect Rhody may have built and carved his own casket.

But Rhody is gone now and, as the eulogist, the Rev. Ron Mixer, said, Rhody is busy painting sunrises and sunsets in heaven. He suggested we look for a signature “Y” in the clouds.

Rhody has left those of us who knew and loved him with more than his legacy as an artist and the thought that he is still painting. He has gifted each of us with his spirit of forgiveness and kindness, his humor and humility, his desire for fun, a love of life and a faith that endured challenges.

I knew Rhody such a short time. But how blessed that time has been.

We drove through nearly-torrential rain Wednesday afternoon to the rural Cannon City Cemetery to bury Rhody beside Shirley. As we gathered under the tent and next to it, sheltered by umbrellas gripped tight against the whipping wind, members of the Central Veterans Association fired an honorary salute to their brother soldier. Taps mourned. An aging veteran presented a folded American flag to Rhody’s step son in a voice choking with gratitude and emotion.

Soon the rain stopped and the sun wedged through the clouds as if Rhody was there, telling us to wipe away the tears. He would have wanted us to celebrate his life, and we did, but only if we didn’t brag about him.

Rhody's favorite painting, "The Last Supper," which he painted in honor of his beloved son Paul.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Passion of Christ in scripture and art April 22, 2011

When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”  Mark 14:17-18

Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  Mark 14:35-36

Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him.  Mark 14:44-46

They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him…With a loud cry Jesus breathed his last.  Mark 15:17 and Mark 15:37

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene…  Mark 16:9

“He has risen! He is not here.”  Mark 16:6

(Scripture from The New International Version of the Holy Bible.)

© Photos copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling of paintings by Faribault, Minnesota, artist Rhody Yule, copyrights reserved


The Last Supper at St. John’s April 14, 2011

Rhody Yule, a 92-year-old Faribault artist, painted this version of The Last Supper.

LIVING ART. A tribute to Christ. A contemplative event to mark the beginning of Holy Week.

However you view it, a dramatic presentation of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper by a rural church should be on your must-see list for the weekend if you live in my area of southeastern Minnesota.

For 49 years now, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented Drama of the Last Supper in the old limestone church set among flat farm fields and scattered farm places near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Rice County.

At 8 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 17, as darkness falls upon the land, the sanctuary too will darken and the spotlight will shift to 12 men seated at the front of the church. Alan, Grant, Craig, Kyle, Todd, Thad, Keith, Doug, Marty, Brian, Randy and Paul will assume the roles of the 12 disciples.

Christ, if I remember correctly from attending a previous performance, is not portrayed by an actor.

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” Matthew 26:20 – 21

The Betrayal, a painting by Faribault artist Rhody Yule.

So the scene unfolds with a monologue featuring each of the 12 disciples and their relationships with Christ.

“I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29

Enveloped in darkness, listening to the somber words of forthcoming betrayal, worshippers experience the tense emotions that marked The Last Supper, setting the mood for a week that leads to the crucifixion of Christ and then, on Easter morning, to his glorious resurrection.

It is a thoughtful, serious drama presented by the local men, many of whom are repeat performers.

It is worth seeing, worth hearing and worth contemplating as Holy Week begins.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

St. Johns United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township

FYI: St. John’s is about a 15-minute drive from Faribault. Take Minnesota Highway 60 east and then turn north onto Rice County Road 24. The church is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue.  A fellowship hour, with food, follows the presentation.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The mystery of the brewery and bank paintings January 17, 2011

I DIDN’T GROW UP in Faribault. But I’ve lived here longer than any place in my life—28 ½ years—so I suppose that makes me somewhat of a local.

As such, I’ve developed an appreciation for the history that surrounds me, especially in the downtown. Faribault boasts a historic commercial district graced by many beautiful brick buildings.

So when two paintings of old Faribault buildings mysteriously showed up at my friend Rhody Yule’s art exhibit, I was intrigued. I knew the pieces in the exhibit inside and out, backward and forward, upside down and right side up because I submitted the application for Rhody’s show and then helped select the art.

Then, suddenly, these two additional paintings—of the Fleckenstein Brewery and the Security Bank—appear. How did they get there?


Faribault artist Rhody Yule created this oil painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery in 1976. The building, and the brewery, no longer exist. The 20-foot Fleck's beer bottle on the right side of the painting sat near the brewery entrance. Children often had their pictures taken here when their parents toured the brewery.

In 1964, Rhody Yule painted this picture of the Security Bank in downtown Faribault. The original 1870 stone structure was covered with a brick facade. The building is no longer a bank.

I asked around, but no one could solve the mystery.

Thanks to my sleuthing husband, who thought to look at the backs of the paintings, the mystery was quickly solved and I had a name and number.

Local history buff Brian Schmidt owns the oil paintings. When he learned of Rhody’s art show, he hustled the two pieces down to the Paradise Center for the Arts because he figured others would be interested.

Brian was right and I had lots of questions for him, starting with, “Where did you get these paintings?”

Turns out he purchased them at Woody Schrader auctions, which are held on Sundays and Wednesdays at Schrader’s Faribault auction house.

As long as we were talking, I didn’t shy from asking Brian how much he paid for the paintings. He purchased the 1964 bank painting for $30 seven years ago. He got the 1976 painting of the Fleckenstein Brewery about 10 years ago for $90.

I told Brian he got a deal. He knew it.

But here’s the best part about this whole story. Brian grew up on the north side of Faribault and often dug for bottles in the “bottle pit” at the Fleckenstein Brewery. He’s also considered the local expert on the brewery, he says, and has some 300 collectible brewery items.

Who better to own these paintings than Brian?

“I love Faribault history,” says this Rice County Historical Society member who is always seeking treasures from the city’s past.

He can tell you that the Fleckenstein Brewery had a 108-year history in Faribault, opening in 1856 and closing in 1964. The Fleckensteins made Fleck’s beer and pop. He’s eager to share more and has invited me and my husband to see his collection.

For now, though, we focused primarily on those paintings.

“I was so glad to put to rest the mystery of the paintings that I own from Rhody Yule,” Brian wrote in an e-mail follow-up to our phone conversation. “I have often wondered where his studio was and who was the man behind the wonderful art work that I found. It was a pleasure to finally see the man who actually painted these wonderful paintings. I will cherish these paintings FOREVER now!”


The former Security Bank, today, along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault.

The clock that graces the corner of the Security Bank building has fallen apart. A number of years ago there was discussion about refurbishing the clock, but that didn't happen, I believe, because of the high costs to undertake such a project.

The lovely stone entrance to the Security Bank.

FYI: Rhody Yule, who was a Faribault sign painter for 33 years, never had a studio. He painted quietly at home for enjoyment.

IF ANYONE OWNS paintings by Rhody, please submit a comment here and tell me about the art pieces you have.

If you would like to see the Security Bank and Fleckenstein Brewery paintings, which Brian Schmidt terms “so spectacular and detailed,” check out “A Lifetime of Art: The Rhody Yule Collection” at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and noon – 5 p.m. Saturday. This first-ever gallery show for 92-year-old Rhody runs through February 26.

Other exhibit paintings of Faribault buildings include one of the old Trinity Lutheran Church and School and the Faribault Woolen Mill.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling