Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Top Minnesota Prairie Roots posts honor “strong women” December 31, 2010

GARRISON KEILLOR, in defining the residents of his fictional Lake Wobegon, characterized all the women as strong.

The same could be said for four women I met this past fall while pulling together a series of stories that I’ve selected as my most memorable posts of 2010 here at Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I had no difficulty choosing my favorite posts, because, hands down, the eight stories I wrote in the aftermath of devastating southern Minnesota floods were clearly the most powerful, emotional and heart-wrenching stories I shared in 2010.

A Zumbro Falls home destroyed by the late September flood.

These posts, interestingly enough, evolved by accident. My husband and I were on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors when we drove into Zumbro Falls, a Wabasha County town of some 200 that was inundated with late September floodwaters. Everywhere we looked, we saw damaged homes.

That’s where I met Zumbro Falls resident Tracy Yennie, who lost her home in the flood. This hard-scrabble young woman willingly shared her story, as did Jackie (I didn’t get her last name), Susie Shones and Katie Shones of nearby Hammond.

Tracy Yennie hangs out in downtown Zumbro Falls 2 1/2 weeks after floodwaters destroyed her home..

These women spoke openly, honestly and frankly about their frustrations, their fears and their concerns about the future. Yet, despite that, they, Yennie especially, maintained a semblance of humor. When Yennie pondered my question about life returning to normal, she replied: “What’s normal? Normal is a setting on a washing machine.”

Throughout their ordeal, Zumbro Falls residents maintained a sense of humor, like that seen in this sign I photographed on the garage of a flood-damaged split-level house along Water Street.

If you have not read these powerful interviews with the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond, then go to “Archives” on my home page, click on “October 2010” and scroll to my October 11, 13 and 14 posts.

You will be impressed by the strength of these women.

In addition to these four, I will also remember a family that was cleaning up their flooded Zumbro Falls property. I asked to photograph them, but the mother lashed out at me, refusing my request. In that moment and in the next moment, when I saw the blank, sad look on her young daughter’s face, I realized the personal, emotional depth of this tragedy.

I was forever changed by that encounter.

The flood-damaged garage of the Zumbro Falls resident who refused my request for a photo.

My stories also brought out the goodness in others. Gary Schmidt of the Twin Cities responded to a November 12 appeal for help in the flooded region. He offered to bring some 10 volunteers to Hammond for several days around January 20. He’s with a church group that has assisted flood victims during the past six years in New Orleans, Rushford, Iowa City and Indiana.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery in Hammond, where a portion of a building once stood. The building was lying in a heap in the street.

When I last heard from Schmidt, he was coordinating with a Woodbury church group that helped earlier in Hammond and with Katie Shones, the Hammond resident I interviewed.

You can expect me to follow-up on that volunteerism.

And, next fall, you can expect me to revisit the strong women of Zumbro Falls, Jarrett and Hammond. I’ve promised them I’ll return.

A sign of hope in Zumbro Falls, next to a gas station, on my visit there less than three weeks after the flood.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




Worry, uncertainty prevail in flood-ravaged Zumbro Falls October 11, 2010

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Jackie demonstrates how her 2-year-old great grandson scrubbed muck from the side of Rod's Service & Motel after floodwaters inundated downtown Zumbro Falls.


LONG-TIME ZUMBRO FALLS resident Jackie sits on a bench outside her son Rod’s combination motel, car wash, convenience store and service station along Minnesota Highway 60, the town’s main drag in this flood-ravaged community.

“It (the late September flood) took away their whole livelihood,” she says, noting the ruined tools and machines inside the water-damaged complex. A horizontal black line and the word “water” mark the floodwater depth, about seven feet high inside this building.



Just to the left of the motel sign, a black line marks the water height.


Her son and his family lost their home, too. Jackie still has a home as she lives outside the flooded area.

“It (the floodwaters) took the whole town,” she concludes. “I don’t think anyone was spared.”

Not even her. A six-bedroom, two-story apartment building that she owns next to Rod’s Service, was filled with water. She had the apartment sold; final papers were due to be signed on September 30.



Jackie was set to close on the apartment building in the background, next to her son's service station complex, just days after the flood. The water rose to the point where the siding color changes. Jackie also noted that the dairy trailer (left) floated from behind the station and slammed into a fence to the left in this photo.


Surprisingly, 77-year-old Jackie isn’t bitter. “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she says.

She’s lived here since 1958, never seen anything quite like the September 23/24 flooding of the Zumbro. Other times, the river “doesn’t quite get in your door,” she remembers. “But this time, boom!”

The flash flood gave residents no time to prepare.



A flood-damaged home along Water Street, a block off the main street.



Another home destroyed by the September flood.


Jackie appreciates the tremendous response from neighbors and volunteers—specifically naming high school juniors and seniors who came from nearby Lake City to help the residents of Zumbro Falls.



Flood clean-up volunteers are directed to the registration site in downtown.


Yet, the future of her community, of her son’s business, remains in limbo. “I don’t know at this rate if anyone knows where they stand.”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling