Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Prayer request for Waseca Police Officer Arik Matson February 2, 2020

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I photographed this sign in downtown Waseca, Minnesota, late Saturday afternoon, February 1.


A BLOCK AWAY STANDS Church of the Sacred Heart, backdrop for the words, PLEASE PRAY FOR OFFICER ARIK MATSON.

From my vantage point, the towering church in the heart of downtown Waseca proved a powerful reinforcing visual to the message.

People throughout Minnesota and elsewhere continue to pray for the 32-year-old Waseca police officer shot in the head on January 6 while responding to a call about a suspicious person in a backyard. A suspect was arrested and now sits in prison on an unrelated charge. Matson remains in a metro hospital ICU. His condition, according to a January 21 entry on his Go Fund Me page, is “steadily improving.”

As of February 1, donors had contributed $194,314 toward a $250,00 goal to help the Matson family cover medical, grocery, gas, hotel stay and other expenses. The police officer is the father of two daughters.

After I read the PLEASE PRAY message, I noticed the BEER OLYMPICS banner below and the mismatched non-beer graphic…

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A fitting quote as we heal from the baseball field shootings June 15, 2017

This plaque marks a baseball player sculpture at Memorial Park in Dundas, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.


THREE YEARS AGO I photographed a plaque at Memorial Park Baseball Field in Dundas. It marks a woodcarving of a Dundas Dukes baseball player.


Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


Today, the day after the shooting of House Republican leader Steve Scalise, four others and a gunman on a baseball field near our nation’s capitol, these words by John Thorn seem especially fitting. Thorn is the official historian for major league baseball.


My great niece Kiera painted this stone, which sits on my office desk as a constant reminder to hold onto hope. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Now, more than ever, as attacks and tragedies like this continue in the U.S. and throughout the world, we need our spirits replenished, our hope restored, our losses repaired, our journeys blessed.


Batter up for the Faribault Lakers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.


We must continue to play ball. Violence can change us. But it cannot steal away the freedom we hold dear.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



An “end of innocence” & my thoughts after a deadly shooting in Wisconsin May 4, 2015

UPDATE THREE, May 6: A Facebook page, Hands Over the Fox, has been set up to unite the people of the Fox Valley in the aftermath of the tragic shootings. A National Day of Prayer Trestle Trail event is set for 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the site of the tragedy. Click here to learn more about this community gathering to remember, demonstrate compassion and show strength. Attendees will gather on the Trestle Trail Bridge for 15 minutes of prayer. A potluck meal will follow at Fritse Park.

UPDATE TWO, May 5: A Go Fund Me website has now been established for the family of shooting victim Adam Bentdahl to help them deal with the financial burdens related to his death. Click here to support this family. I just learned of Minnesota connections. Adam was born on August 21, 1983, in Mankato, Minnesota, which is 40 miles from my community of Faribault. He has family (a grandmother in Hanska and a brother in White Bear Lake) in Minnesota.  Click here to read Adam’s obituary.

UPDATE, May 5: Calvary Bible Church in Neenah, Wisconsin, has set up a Stoffel Family Love Offering. Click here to see how you can support and donate to this family as they deal with the tragic deaths of Jon and Olivia. 

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

An edited image of a Wisconsin lake, used here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

I AWOKE TO A NIGHTMARE so vivid this morning that I can still feel the icy waters of the black lake suffocating, pulling my second daughter and me into her deep, dark depths. We are dropping farther and farther from the surface, sinking to our deaths while I cry for my daughter to let go because it is the only way I can save her. Even though I cannot swim, I am determined to reach the surface.

But she won’t release me, no matter how I plead and scream. I gasp for air. My wool pea coat weighs and tightens around me like a straightjacket. My girl still clings to me. There is nothing I can do. And then I awaken, feeling the need to suck in air. I am so shaken by this dream that I don’t even tell my husband about my nightmare.

Hours later my phone bings with a text from my daughter: “There was a shooting in Menasha last night.” She lives in nearby Appleton, works in the medical field in the Fox Valley region of eastern Wisconsin with her office based in Menasha. I text and ask if I can call. She calls me.

Four are dead including gunman Sergio Daniel Valencia del Toro, a 27-year-old Air Force veteran and college student, who reportedly randomly opened fire Sunday evening on people crossing the Fox Cities Trestle Trail bridge. A 33-year-old father, Jonathan Stoffel of Neenah, and his 11-year-old daughter, Olivia, are dead. Their wife/mother was shot multiple times and remains hospitalized in critical condition. Two other children in the family were unharmed.  Adam Bentdahl, 31, from Appleton was also killed. The shooter shot himself. There were 75-100 people in the park/trail area at the time of the shooting.

This is the type of tragedy that stuns you, that hits especially hard when your daughter tells you she has used this very trail, when you’ve dreamed only hours earlier of drowning with that dear daughter in a cold, dark lake. There is no logical connection, of course, between my nightmare and the tragic shooting in Menasha. Still, the coincidence raises goosebumps.

Today I feel a profound sense of sadness that a young family and a young man simply out for a Sunday evening walk should suffer such loss at the hands of a man who’d reportedly just argued with his ex-fiancee. I don’t understand this type of unprovoked violence. Why?

At a news conference on Monday, Dr. Ray Georgen, director of trauma services at Neenah Theda Clark Medical Center and on duty Sunday evening, spoke of young mother Erin Stoffel’s arrival with three gunshot wounds, life-threatening injuries that required immediate emergency surgery. But I was struck most by Dr. Georgen’s statement that the random shootings mark “the end of innocence” for the Fox Valley region. Menasha Police Chief Tim Styka later concurred, saying that “Times have kind of caught up to us in the Fox Valley.” Violence like this can happen anywhere, he explained. Now it’s happened in his community in eastern Wisconsin.

The two also emphasized the heroism of Erin Stoffel. Despite three gunshot wounds, she got herself and her two surviving children, ages five and seven, off the bridge. That act, Dr. Georgen says, shows the power of the human spirit, of a mother determined to protect and save her children. What strength. What courage. What love.

FYI: A Go Fund Me fundraising site has been set up for the Stoffel family as Erin, Ezra and Selah deal with the deaths of their loved ones.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Black Friday shopping my way & a shooting November 25, 2011

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Amber's $10 vintage coat.

SO, DEAR READERS, did you shop today, on Black Friday?

I hadn’t intended to, but then my oldest daughter ran downtown to the bank and I decided to tag along. We, along with my other daughter, perused merchandise at The Clothes Closet, a used clothing store operated by the Faribault Senior Center.

Amber, the oldest, walked out with what she termed a “vintage” jacket. Price: $10. You can judge whether this qualifies as “vintage.” She’s happy, even though her brother claims she looks like Santa in the coat. (Brothers!)

As a bonus, the clerk threw in a free pair of $2 earrings on a “buy one, get one half price” special.

After lunch, during which my husband called from work in Northfield to tell me about a shooting last night near the Target store, Amber left to return to her Minneapolis home and Miranda and I headed to the Salvation Army Store. (Click here to read about the Target area shooting, which began with an armed robbery and reported shooting in Faribault.)

Yes, I realize that now you could care less about any purchases I made and you would rather hear details of that shooting. But, alas, I have nothing more to tell you about the crime or the waiting-in-line Target shoppers who heard the gun shots and saw the cop cars and helicopter.

At the Salvation Army Store in Faribault, signs of an earlier crime remained in a boarded up front window. Several weeks ago a man allegedly drove into the building then fled the scene. Why is it taking so long to replace that window?

All this crime aside—and honestly, we typically do not have shootings in Rice County or cars driving into buildings—the second daughter and I spent $9.21 at the Salvation Army. Miranda got a shirt and a dress. I got two vintage trays and an original painting.

No crowds. No rush. No shootings. No worries. Just bargains with the money going to a good cause to boot.

HOW WAS YOUR Black Friday? What did you do? If you went shopping, tell me about your experiences and deals.

A $4 dress and a $2 shirt from the Salvation Army.

I purchased two vintage trays for $1.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling