Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Memories of a long ago challenging Minnesota winter & more March 15, 2019

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I took this photo several years ago on the Minnesota Highway 19 curve just north of Vesta, my southwestern Minnesota hometown. White-out conditions can happen quickly in that wind-swept part of the state. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOME 50 YEARS AGO, getting to school each day during the winter months proved difficult. It was a particularly snowy winter with strong prairie winds drifting snow across and blocking many roadways. I lived a mile from Vesta on a crop and dairy farm. But I lived some 20 miles from the junior high school I attended in Redwood Falls.

In that late 1960s winter to remember, buses stopped driving into the country to pick up students. That pretty much covered everyone from the Vesta area. Nearly all of us lived on farms.

 

A bus I photographed near Morgan, Minnesota, in May 2018. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

If we could get into the cafe in Vesta, we could board a bus that would then travel Minnesota State Highway 19 to our school in Redwood. But getting there took effort and determination. My oldest brother and I climbed onto the John Deere tractor driven by Dad for the ride into town. And just to clarify, that tractor did not have a cab, only a canvas shield of sorts around the seat. And even though girls were banned from wearing pants at school, I slipped a pair of pants on underneath my dress.

I don’t recall additional details of those tractor rides. But I do recall the bus ride to Redwood along a state highway with snowbanks towering well above the bus. Single lanes cut into rock-hard drifts.

And then I recall the reactions of some teachers when all of us Vesta kids arrived two hours late. They were angry and told us so. Really? You try hopping on a tractor in the cold of winter to get to town to catch a bus and then ride another half hour to school. Be thankful we made it to class.

Kids now days certainly don’t face those challenges. And, if they did, they’d be tucked inside a heated tractor cab. More likely a pick-up truck. But Minnesota prairie kids still face canceled rural routes. “Buses on plowed roads only” is not uncommon during the winter in parts of Minnesota. And just yesterday, I read on the KLGR radio website out of Redwood Falls that buses in at least three schools—Lakeview, Echo Charter and, surprisingly, Redwood—would travel on paved roads only.

Muddy gravel roads and flooding can also become a problem as winter transitions toward spring. And right now Minnesota is experiencing plenty of flooding of roadways and streets.

 

The Faribault American Legion and Heritage Place businesses, a block from downtown, are surrounded by flood waters in September 2010. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2010.

 

And more. In Faribault, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

SANDBAGS: The City of Faribault will be providing to city residents sand and bags if, and when, flooding occurs. If sandbags are needed now because of a localized flooding event (like backyard flooding into a door in a walkout basement, for example) contact the Faribault Fire Department at 507-334-8773.

 

A broad view of Wabasso’s Main Street. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the small town of Wabasso (where I attended high school) in my home county of Redwood, the city issued this statement on its Facebook page:

The city of Wabasso recommends turning your sump pump discharge outside. This means either into your yard, the street, or on top of the snow.
The water flowing through the sanitary sewer has been elevated since this afternoon.
When the sewer is overloaded, there is a risk that residents will have sewage back up into their homes.
Please turn your sump pumps to the surface as soon as you are able.

This winter of too much snow and now a too quick snow melt with too much rain is challenging all of us. But eventually conditions will improve. And we can look back and remember the difficult winter of 2019. Like I remember that late 1960s winter of riding the John Deere tractor to catch the school bus.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Hey, Faribault, can we stop & let kids cross the street? May 14, 2018

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While there are no stoplights along the street referenced in this post, I use this illustration to make a point: Please stop for pedestrians. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I LIVE ON A BUSY STREET, an arterial route through Faribault that sees a high volume of traffic, especially during the morning rush hour, after school rush and evening rush. Laugh if you wish. But I’ve lived here long enough—nearly 34 years—to know. Good luck trying to pull from a side street or back out of your driveway onto Willow Street during those times of day. It’s nearly impossible.

That brings me to the issue I wish to discuss. Pedestrian traffic. What if you were a kid trying to cross this high traffic roadway to reach your bus stop or to walk to school or back home?

On a recent Thursday morning, I observed a teen a block away waiting for a lull in traffic so she could cross Willow Street. She waited and waited and waited. And then waited some more. Why wouldn’t anyone stop? It was clear she needed to cross given her poised position at the edge of the curb and at an intersection.

 

A biker squeezes around a bus in busy Davis Square. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.

 

If this was Boston, she would have stepped right into the traffic lane regardless of oncoming traffic, regardless of anything. I wouldn’t advise that. When visiting Davis Square two years ago, I waited for the light to turn green rather than disobey the traffic signal. All the other pedestrians swerved right around me, crossing against the light. Clearly I did not understand that pedestrians claim the streets of Boston. But Minnesota is not Boston. So we wait, yielding to motor vehicle traffic.

Even with a crosswalk law in place in Minnesota, I don’t see much change in drivers’ attitudes toward pedestrians. The Minnesota Safety Council notes key parts of that law, which you can read by clicking here. The Council suggests a common sense approach to determining when/if it’s safe to cross a roadway.

Common sense. As I watched a steady stream of vehicles pass the student hoping to get to school on time, I wondered if anyone would ever stop for her. Finally, a school bus stopped, a signal for southbound traffic to also stop. Finally, after five-plus minutes of waiting, she could be on her way.

There was a time when walking across Willow Street was a bit easier, a bit safer. Before an elementary school just blocks away closed, an overhead crosswalk sign with flashing yellow lights signaled drivers to slow down and stop for kids. Shortly after Garfield Elementary shuttered decades ago, that signage was removed. I’ve often wondered why given the many kids and other pedestrians who still attempt to get across this high traffic street.

 

 

I have a personal reason for feeling strongly about this issue. In May 2006, my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing Willow Street on the way to his bus stop. He escaped with only minor injuries. Granted, he was crossing in the middle of a long block rather than in a crosswalk, not the best idea. Still the driver of the car that hit him never stopped and has never been found, despite multiple witnesses.

In the 12 years since, nothing has changed. The high volume of traffic remains. Kids still struggle to cross this busy roadway on their way to and from school. I suggest drivers in Faribault practice some Minnesota Nice, just like that school bus driver who realized that a teen waiting on a corner needed to cross the street on a Thursday morning.

FYI: Additionally, here are Pedestrian Safety tips from the Minnesota Safety Council. Click here.

Also click here to read about a Faribault student who was struck by a vehicle while crossing another busy city street on her way to school in October 2017. Lul was seriously injured.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Showcasing the talent of Faribault’s student artists March 14, 2017

The art exhibit threads along hallways, into corners and into a room on the second floor of the Paradise.

 

EVERY TIME I VIEW the annual Student Exhibit at the Paradise Center for the Arts, I want to snatch several pieces from the walls for my art collection. I’m that impressed by the student art. And I’m not just saying that because I want to be nice and tell the kids they do a great job. My praise is genuine.

 

Gracie, a sixth grader from Faribault Lutheran School, created this cat art.

 

The soulful eyes drew me to this drawing by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Victoria.

 

Variations of a block print by Adreanna, a student at Roosevelt Elementary School.

 

From block prints to paintings to collages to weavings to drawings done in a range of mediums, this art is diverse, introspective, often colorful and worthy of showcasing.

 

Abstract art created by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

Twelfth grader Derek from the Faribault Area Learning Center drew this fox.

 

Lincoln Elementary School students created this art.

 

What I especially appreciate about this second floor show is the opportunity for students to put their art out there in a public venue. I expect one day the works of some of these artists will hang in the Paradise’s main floor galleries or in other galleries.

 

This photo shows part of high school student Audrey Petersen’s “Peacock Feathers” acrylic on canvas. Her art is currently displayed in the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery.

 

Already the Corey Lyn Creger Memorial Gallery in the Paradise is devoted to artwork by a high school student artist.

 

Student artist Faith created this cartoon style character.

 

Lots of variation in the art showcased on this wall.

 

Roosevelt Elementary fifth grader Jose painted this portrait.

 

It’s reaffirming for young people to have their talents validated and appreciated, whether on the floor of a basketball court, the stage of a theater or in the hallways and rooms of an art center. All too often the arts lag behind sports in societal importance. Arts are to be valued, too.

 

Art angles into a corner.

 

A streetscape by Brooklyn, Faribault Lutheran School fourth grader.

 

I angled my camera upward to photograph this floral art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Baylee.

 

To the students from the nine Faribault schools—Roosevelt, Jefferson, Lincoln, Faribault Middle School, Faribault Area Learning Center, Faribault Lutheran School, Cannon River STEM School, Divine Mercy and the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind—with artwork on display, thank you. I enjoyed your creativity.

 

So much creativity…

 

This skull art by Faribault Middle School eighth grader Bailey features symmetry.

 

The variety of subjects and artist styles and mediums impresses.

 

I see a lot of potential as these artists continue to grow and learn.

 

Bold, vivid art by students from Divine Mercy Catholic School.

 

FYI: The Student Exhibit will be on display until April 1 at the Paradise, 321 Central, in downtown Faribault.

Please check back for a story on art created by students from the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.

© Text copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork is the copyright of each artist and photographed with permission from the Paradise Center for the Arts.

 

Should this Minnesota country schoolhouse be saved? June 24, 2016

 

The Le Sueur School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

The Le Sueur County School District 18 schoolhouse, located at 35278 141st Avenue, rural Montgomery, Minnesota.

THE WEATHERED SCHOOLHOUSE sits on a slight rise along the gravel road, surrounded by a clipped lawn bordered by farm fields.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

Hardy daisies thrive next to the schoolhouse.

On this Sunday summer afternoon when I’ve discovered the aged building just off Le Sueur County Road 26 two miles east of Montgomery in Montgomery Township, the wind is rippling grain fields and bending daises nestled into an exterior corner of the schoolhouse.

Windows need repair/replacing.

Windows need repair/replacing.

As I brace myself against the wind, I notice shingle debris scattered across the grass. I notice the weathered grey of unpainted siding, the rotted boards, the barn swallow and wasp nests. I notice how much this schoolhouse needs care and upkeep.

A rear shot of the country school.

A rear shot of the country school.

In 1888, Wencel and Mary Petricka sold this parcel of land to Le Sueur County School District 18 for $1 to build this school. In 1957, when the Le Sueur district consolidated with the Montgomery School District, the little one-room country school closed.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

Consider the hands that once turned this knob opening the door to an education.

And here it stands, a year shy of sixty years after closure, seemingly abandoned. Except for that mowed lawn and that patch of daisies. Someone still cares. And that gives me hope. Hope that someone will find the money and the inclination to save this piece of rural Minnesota’s educational history. Before it’s too late.

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Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

Three rooflines: entry, classroom and bell tower.

IT’S EASY FOR ME TO WRITE, Save the School. But the issue of financing often blocks the path to such endeavors. Do you have any creative ideas to fund a repair and restoration project? Perhaps I should first ask, should the schoolhouse be saved? I don’t even know who owns it.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

Perhaps an American flag will fly again some day on the corner of the schoolhouse.

In September of 2015, Le Sueur County School District 18 held its first ever reunion. With 31 alumni and guests in attendance (including a former teacher), there’s clearly an appreciation for this Minnesota country school.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How you can make a difference in one Minnesota kindergarten classroom August 24, 2013

Looking to the front and one side of the school.

Long gone are the days of ink well desks, blackboards and Big Chief tablets.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Little Prairie School, rural Dundas, Minnesota.

MY ELDEST DAUGHTER’S friend, Laura, teaches at Earle Brown Elementary School in the north metro, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, Independent School District 286.

I’ve met Laura once. Mostly I “know” Laura because I follow her “These are a Few of my Favorite Things” blog. Click here to reach her blog and you will meet a young woman who is passionate about life, about teaching, about helping others (she’s been on summer mission trips to Africa), about photography, her faith and more.

Laura is the kind of person you would hope would teach your children or grandchildren. She cares. Deeply.

Presidential portraits grace the blackboard by the teacher's desk.

Technology long ago replaced the blackboards of my youth. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

That said, this passionate teacher is looking to buy two iPad minis for her classroom to use in literacy and math centers. Her school district, she says, doesn’t have the monies for such purchases. She needs about $900 and has set up a donation venue at DonorsChoose.org. Click here to reach her Donors page, where you will find more details.

Laura writes in part:

My kindergartners start school already behind academically. Many of them have never set foot in a school environment. Others don’t come to school with clean clothes or proper school supplies. A third of my class doesn’t speak English as their first language.

But the thing is, my kids don’t know they are behind. They don’t realize the challenges they are facing. They are five, and this is life as they know it. They come in my door ready to learn, EXCITED to learn. I want to capitalize on this eagerness and provide them the best environment with the best tools at their fingertips. My goal is to have them leave kindergarten at or above grade level. My goal is for each of my students to know that they matter and they are loved. I want my students to know that they have what it takes to accomplish something in this world.

Can you sense this teacher’s enthusiasm and love for her students? I can. She wants (let’s reread this) her kids “to know that they have what it takes to accomplish something in this world.”

You should also know that the label of “high poverty,” based on the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunches, is attached to Earle Brown Elementary.

Please consider donating. For the sake of those five-year-olds.

Click here to link to Ms. Karsjen’s project and give.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No first day of school tears here September 6, 2011

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My oldest daughter and my son in a photo taken in May.

MY YOUNGEST STARTED his first day of his final year of high school this morning.

I feel as if I should be crying or something. But I’m not.

By now, by the third child, after 20 years of first days of school, it’s not such a big deal any more. The excitement and the anticipation just aren’t there.

It’s not that I’m a negligent mom who doesn’t care about her child or her child’s education. Rather, the first day of school novelty wore off long ago.

Last night in our house, there was no last-minute packing of the backpack, no pre-school-day jitters. Rather my concern leaned more toward making sure the 17-year-old got to sleep at a reasonable hour.

He is a night owl. If my teen had his way, classes would start around 11 a.m. So today, really, begins the battle of trying to get him to get enough sleep. This issue causes much strife in our household. Next year, at college, he’s on his own.

My focus right now is directed in guiding my son toward selecting a college. He has the smarts—an ACT test score of 32 and nearly a 4.0 GPA—to get in anywhere. But he certainly doesn’t have the money. However, I’ve encouraged him to apply wherever he wishes because maybe, just maybe, he’ll get a financial aid package that will allow him to afford a school he couldn’t otherwise afford.

I’ve suggested he make two college lists: a dream list and a realistic list.

In the meantime, during the first semester of his senior year of high school, my boy is enrolled in a rigorous course of study: Introduction to Economics, Advanced Placement Calculus, Advanced Chemistry and CIS Anatomy/Physiology. He’s also taking speech and logic at the local community technical college. By graduation in June, my son should have more than a semester of college credits earned.

I’ve encouraged him to pursue these college credits. They’re free, I keep telling him. Why wouldn’t you? He understands.

And so these are my thoughts this morning as my last child, who is eight years younger than his oldest sister and six years younger than his other sister, begins his senior year of high school.

No tears shed in this household. But next year at this time, when my husband and I are dropping our youngest off at his dorm, or seeing him off at the airport—if he manages to get into a college on his dream list—I expect the tears will fall fast and steady.

IF YOU’RE A PARENT with school-age children, how did the first day of school go for you? Share your thoughts and/or experiences in a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflections on Independence Day July 4, 2011

A flag and portrait of George Washington at the former District 20 Millersburg School, now a museum.

“I PLEDGE ALLEGIANCE to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

As a child, my school days began with that pledge. My classmates and I arose from our desks at Vesta Elementary School, turned toward the American flag in the corner, placed our hands across our hearts, fixed our eyes upon the stars and stripes, and recited the pledge in unison.

I doubt we ever thought too much about the rote words we spoke. They were simply part of our routine, something we did, although I do recall feeling a sense of pride in speaking those words daily.

So much has changed in the decades since then. The Pledge of Allegiance, in most cases, has been banned from public schools in the name of political correctness. We are no longer one nation under God. While the U.S. remains one country, we as individuals are certainly divided in our views of anything and everything. That’s as it should be in a democracy. Liberty and justice have managed to prevail.

As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, it would be wise for all Americans to reflect on the Pledge and the words of other documents and songs that focus on the flag and freedom.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—The Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776

Vietnam veteran Joel Kukacka's patriotic garage in the hamlet of Heidelberg, Minnesota.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
—The Star Spangled Banner

An American flag painted on a shed in Dundas in southeastern Minnesota.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.—The Bill of Rights, Amendment I

Weeks after a devastating Sept. 2010 flash flood in Hammond, in southeastern Minnesota, an American flag marked a ravaged business.

God bless America,
Land that I love,
Stand beside her and guide her
Thru the night with a light from above;

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.
God bless America,
My home, sweet home.

Flags decorate a vintage tractor at the Rice County Steam & Gas Engines Show near Dundas.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling