Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Grassroots Americana on July Fourth in North Morristown, Minnesota July 2, 2021

Kids’ activities are to the left, food and beverage stands to the right and the entertainment stage straight ahead at the North Morristown July 4 festival grounds. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

NORTH MORRISTOWN OFFERS a July Fourth celebration unlike any other in Minnesota. It’s grassroots Americana, billed as the longest-running Independence Day celebration in the state. Since 1892 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID-19), folks have gathered on a plot of land across from Trinity Lutheran Church and School in western Rice County for this rural-rooted community event.

Craig, whom I know from Faribault Car Cruise Nights, showed up (with his wife Kathy) dressed as Uncle Sam. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’ve attended many times (click here to view past blog posts), even though I hold no familial connection to this place. Yet, I always feel welcome. I’ve lived in nearby Faribault for 39 years and know a lot of people in the area. The Fourth of July in North Morristown is, at its core, about reconnecting with family and friends. Or, if you’re new to the event, meeting new people and experiencing an old-fashioned, down-to-earth Independence Day celebration.

One of several vintage carnival rides at North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

While some activities, such as a Remote Control Demolition Derby and Bean Bag Competition, have been added to the event, most activities are long-standing. A Patriotic Program, 10 AM parade complete with Candy House, silent auction, BINGO, Medallion Hunt, games, vintage kiddie rides and more endure. There’s something incredibly comforting and charming about keeping things the same.

My husband enjoys his cheeseburger at the North Morristown Fourth of July celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

From the Pie Stand to the Hamburger Stand, the food offerings are basic and delicious. I’d advise purchasing a slice of pie early on given the popularity of the pies. Vintage buildings house the food stands where volunteers prepare and serve food and beverages. Onion rings, pork sandwiches, ice cream, cold beer…

The popular bluegrass band, Monroe Crossing, performs on the Fourth of July in North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The music also draws many, especially the popular Monroe Crossing, set to play at 1:30 PM and 4 PM on July 4 at the Main Stage. Believe me, it’s worth coming just to hear this bluegrass band. Other musical performers include Potluck String Band, Red Dirt Road and more.

Fireworks cap the day of celebration.

Among the homemade pie offerings at the Pie Stand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Words really cannot fully describe North Morristown on the Fourth of July. It’s something you have to experience. I’d encourage you to attend. Bring your lawn chairs or blankets (seating is limited for the concerts), your money, and a joyful attitude. Then celebrate America’s birthday in the middle of the countryside—among soybean and corn fields—with people who love this land and each other.

FYI: Click here for more detailed information about the July Fourth celebration in North Morristown.


TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS: Have a safe and wonderful Independence Day celebration whether you are at home or traveling, among lots of people or simply with family. Or even just relaxing alone. Please take time on July Fourth to reflect on the blessings of living in a free country. I, for one, feel grateful.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A photo essay from the Dam Days carnival in Morristown, Minnesota July 17, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


TIS THE SEASON of small town celebrations and county fairs here in Minnesota. We pack a lot of activities and events into the summer months. Carnival rides, games and concession stands pop up on Main Streets and in city parks. Folks flock to fairgrounds, this week locally in Faribault for the Rice County Fair.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Whether you embrace these events or steer clear of them and the ensuing crowds, they are part of our history, our culture, our communities.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.



In June I photographed snippets of the annual Dam Days celebration in Morristown to the west of Faribault. And later in the month, I took my camera to the Midway at the Faribault Heritage Days celebration in Central Park.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.



Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Today I invite you to peruse selected photos from my Sunday afternoon walk among the amusement rides, games and food stands in Morristown.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.



Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


On this day mostly locals and those come back to their hometown for Dam Days, enjoyed the festivities and each other’s company in the sunshine of a sweet summer day in southern Minnesota.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.


© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Place it near a cornfield and they will come, or something like that July 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:09 AM
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“IF WE DON’T FIND a bathroom soon, I’m just going to go in a cornfield.”

Such prophetic words I pronounced as my husband and I recently entered the burg of Bellechester, population 172, mostly in Goodhue County, partly in Wabasha County, in southeastern Minnesota.

Honestly, it isn’t like I haven’t peed in a cornfield. I detasseled corn in the 1970s; I’ve squatted between corn rows.

But I’m not exactly a teen any more and the idea of walking into a cornfield on a scorching summer morning to pee didn’t appeal to me.

So, after asking a local where I could find a public restroom in Bellechester and being told there were none and we’d need to drive 12 miles to Lake City, the cornfield option seemed a very real possibility.

Not quite believing the man, though, my husband directed our van toward Bellechester’s one-block business district. Spotting the Bellechester Tavern and the Bellechester American Legion, I figured I’d dash inside one or the other and we’d be on our way.

This former bank is home to the Bellechester American Legion. Yes, I took time to photograph the Legion and the tavern even though I really, really had to go. I love old buildings, what can I say?

Look at the gorgeous architectural detail on the former bank. Yes, I know, I really should be moving along.

But wait, one more photo. Look at this faded signage on the side of the Legion.

Well, as long as I’m taking pictures, I may as well show you the bar I wished was open.

As luck would have it, the tavern and the Legion were closed. I considered the busy repair shop on the corner, for like two seconds. There’s something about walking into a garage full of men that left me crossing my legs (figuratively speaking) and nearly sprinting the other direction.

And that direction would be toward the porta potty which my kind, kind husband spotted way over yonder on the far end of a park, by the ball diamond and next to…the cornfield.

As close to a cornfield as it could be without being “in” the cornfield.

I started heading that way until my thoughtful spouse suggested we drive over there since it was too far to walk in the heat of the morning. That worked for me.

Around the corner and down a gravel road he drove to the edge of the cornfield. I handed my camera to him (I always have my camera out) and nearly rocketed out the door and into the porta potty next to the cornfield.

When I flung open the outhouse door while simultaneously buckling my belt (Hey, would you stay inside a porta potty any longer than you had to?), I realized I had made a major mistake.

After stepping out of the porta potty and before realizing the paparazzi was snapping pictures. I was reaching up to buckle my belt, just in case you are wondering whether I’m examining my hand.

That error would have been handing my camera over to my husband after carrying on about peeing in a cornfield. He most definitely recognized a photo op when he saw one.

And that, dear readers, is my peeing (almost) in a cornfield story and I’m sticking to it.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Honoring our soldiers at a rural Minnesota cemetery May 29, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:46 AM
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Walking into the Cannon City Cemetery for a Memorial Day program.

CANNON CITY on Memorial Day is about as grassroots Americana as you’ll get.

Here locals and those rooted to this land gather in a country cemetery for an annual observance which began some nine decades ago as “Decoration Day.”

The cemetery entrance.

While a Death March and marching students and lilac wreaths and a school picnic are no longer a part of the observance, it remains firmly patriotic, firmly established as a tradition in unincorporated Cannon City near Faribault.

I came here with my husband on Monday because we’d come here last Memorial Day and were so impressed and moved by the experience that we wanted to attend again.

A snippet of those gathered for Monday’s program, including Jean Pederson, seated left, who recited “In Flanders Fields,” and others who led the program.

It is the simple, unpretentious, down-to-earth patriotic feel of this under-the-trees, between-the-tombstones, informal program that appeals to me.

Here Steve Bonde blasts “The Star Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America” and 40 voices sing “America, the Beautiful,” “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Don Chester sets up his guitar and music before the program.

You cannot help but feel connected to your fellow Americans and to those who fought for freedom while you stand here, wind whipping song sheets, singing “Let music swell the breeze, ring from all the trees Sweet freedom’s song…”

All eyes are on the American flag.

You cannot help but feel American pride as you place your hand across your heart, turn your eyes toward the American flag flying high above the cemetery gate and recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.”

A star marks a veteran’s grave.

You cannot help but ponder the deep sorrow of families, the sacrifices of so many as the names of soldiers are read: Samuel, Ezekiel, William, Walter…

Kathleen Kanne plays a soulful song by J.S. Bach.

You cannot help but sense the spirits of the dead as 18-year-old Kathleen Kanne slides a bow across her violin in a soul-touching rendition of “Gavotte in G Minor” by J.S. Bach.

And then as Kathleen reads a tribute she’s written, you contemplate the wisdom of her words: “Cannon City Cemetery is a patch of land that lives because of the dead.”

And later, when you talk to this college freshman, you admire her determination to become more involved with the cemetery association after attending the Memorial Day service for the first time in 2011. She was visiting her father’s grave then—he died unexpectedly at age 58—and was impressed enough by the program to return and participate.

You cannot help but appreciate Cannon city native Jean Pederson who presents a history of “In Flanders Fields” before reciting “In Flanders Fields the poppies blow between the crosses row on row…”

One of many soldiers’ graves in this cemetery. Twenty-two Civil War soldiers are buried here.

You cannot help but feel grateful for freedom as Cannon City Township Board member Preston Bauer, on the spot, steps up to read The Gettysburg Address: “…these dead shall not have died in vain.”

You cannot help but place yourself in the shoes of a young soldier at war as Deb Moriarity reads the “Soldier’s Psalm,” Psalm 91: “…He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day…”

Steve Bonde, right in the distance, plays the taps.

Then, as Steve Bonde, stands at the edge of the cemetery next to a tilled field and closes the program with the mournful sounding of taps, you cannot help but feel a deep sense of grief rush over you in remembrance of all who sacrificed themselves for their country, for freedom.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Thank you, Mr. Postmaster, for finally hearing the voice of rural America May 14, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:33 PM
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FINALLY, AN IDEA that makes sense for continuing postal service in parts of rural America.

The United States Postal Service revealed a plan last week that could keep thousands of small-town post offices open by reducing hours. That’s certainly better than the alternative for places like Hope, Minnesota, an unincorporated community just off Interstate 35 south of Owatonna in Steele County. Last summer Hope’s 120 residents learned that their post office, like thousands of others across the country, likely would close in a cost-cutting measure.

Under a proposal, the Hope Post Office will remain open with daily window hours cut from eight to two.

Residents of Hope didn’t simply give up and accept their fate.  Instead, they circulated petitions and attended meetings and voiced their opinions and filed an appeal. To no avail. The postal service announced in April that the Hope Post Office would close. But now it appears the Postal Service has had a change of heart about closing thousands of small-town post offices nation-wide.

Postmaster General and CEO Patrick R. Donahoe said in part last week: “…we’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear—they want to keep their post office open. We believe today’s announcement will serve our customers’ needs and allow us to achieve real savings to help the Postal Service return to long-term financial stability.”

So what does all that official talk mean? Some 13,000 post offices are now on “a preliminary list (for modified hours) that requires additional review, analysis, and verification and is subject to change.” Of those, 407 are located in Minnesota.

Well, the Postal Service is certainly covering all of its bases with that language, leaving room to tweak proposals and change plans/minds. I suppose one can never be too careful and cautious when one is a government entity. Meetings will be held in the affected communities to review options, which could take more than two years to implement.

Additional alternatives, according to the Postal Service, include mail delivery to affected customers via rural carrier or highway contract route; contracting with a local business for a village post office; and offering service from a nearby post office.

In a news release issued May 9, Postal Service Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan says: “The post offices in rural America will remain open unless a community has a strong preference for one of the other options. We will not close any of these rural post offices without having provided a viable solution.”


The post office in Randolph is facing reduced hours, dropping from eight daily to four.

This certainly comes as welcome news to the folks in Hope and in many other Minnesota communities. In my region, post offices in Morristown, Warsaw, Kilkenny, Webster, Nerstrand, Dennison, Hampton, Castle Rock and Randolph are facing possible reduced hours.

My hometown of Vesta 120 miles to the west, along with nearby Wabasso, Wanda and Wood Lake, also made the modified hours list.

In every corner of Minnesota and hundreds of places in between, you’ll find those 407 small-town post offices where window service is likely to be trimmed. The Minnesota list fills slightly more than eight pages on a 260-page document that includes some 13,000 post offices across the U.S. To read that list, click here.

The Mantorville post office, where this photo was taken, is on the preliminary list of southeastern Minnesota post offices slated to have daily hours cut from eight to six.

It’s never a good thing, to reduce service in a small town. But closing the post offices would be worse.

I sometimes wonder if the decision-makers have ever set foot in these small towns, if they grasp the importance of a post office as an integral fiber in the fabric of community. Post offices are more than a place to pick up mail, to purchase stamps, to send a package. In these small towns, they are also community gathering places, a locale to exchange news, a spot to reach out to neighbors and a symbol of community identity.

I’ve witnessed, first-hand, how losing a school, a church, a business, can impact a rural community. In Vesta, for example, the town’s 330 residents can’t even buy a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk; they must travel some 20 miles for those staples. I remember when my hometown’s Main Street was lined with businesses, including a grocery store, two hardware stores and more.

Yes, times have changed. We are a more mobile society. We communicate via cell phones and e-mail and Facebook and other social media. But not everyone. In these small towns—the ones where the Postal Service initially considered shuttering post offices—many elderly residents don’t own computers, relying instead on old-fashioned mail delivery to pay bills and send letters and hear from loved ones. The post office is vital to their system of communication.

That the U.S. Postal Service finally heard the loud and clear voice of rural America, and perhaps understood that voice, pleases me as it should thousands of other Americans.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling