Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My Minnesota hometown celebrates summer with its famous chicken, dancing in the street & more June 14, 2012

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I’LL NEVER FORGET the summer the neighbor boy coaxed me into riding with him on the Octopus during V-Esta Daze, my hometown’s annual summer celebration. What was I thinking as I settled into the amusement ride with Keith? What was he thinking?

I screamed the entire dizzying ride, scared out of my teenaged wits.

The same chicken dinner sign goes up every year inside the Vesta Community Hall. The price is updated when necessary.

While a carnival is no longer a part of V-Esta Daze, one aspect of the Vesta Commercial Club-sponsored celebration has remained constant. Since 1963, the Club has served its “famous barbecued chicken.”

It’s considered “famous,” I suppose, because V-Esta Daze became known for its chicken, just like Sauerkraut Days in Henderson is noted for its sauerkraut and Barnesville Potato Days is known for its potatoes.

The chicken dinner I enjoyed last summer at V-Esta Daze.

It is such comfortable familiarity, the same year-after-year offering of savory chicken grilled by the same volunteer men over a long pit of coals next to the old brick Vesta Community Hall that keeps locals and natives and those from neighboring towns returning.

This Friday, June 15, the crowds will be back, lining up at the hall between 5 – 8 p.m. for that famous chicken dinner.

The Lucan Community Band played under the shade trees outside the community hall and across the street from the elevator at last year’s celebration.

Outside the hall, members of the Lucan Community Band will settle onto battered folding chairs to entertain the crowd with old favorites while folks listen and visit, catching up on the latest.

Area residents brought their vintage tractors to town for a tractor and car show last year. This year the show has been expanded to include “anything with wheels.”

Over on Main Street, tractors and cars and more will line up for the “Anything with Wheels” show between 4:30 – 8 p.m.

My cousin Dawn’s son, Kegan, enjoyed a pony ride at the 2011 celebration.

The Vesta Vikings 4-H Club is sponsoring a petting zoo and will be selling root beer floats.

Kids picked up hoses in water fights at last year’s V-Esta Daze.

Kids will engage in water fights near the hall from 6 – 8 p.m. I remember, when I was growing up, how fire departments from neighboring communities competed against one another to push a barrel along a cable with water shooting from a fire hose. I can still hear the pounding of water against metal, feel the excitement as the barrel flipped and turned and rode the cable until one team slammed the barrel into a post.

The only contests this year are the bean bag tourney beginning at 6 p.m. and the pie eating contest at 10 p.m.

In between and after, from early evening until 1 a.m., two musical groups will entertain at the street dance. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like dancing on the pavement of your one-block-Main-Street hometown while drinking beer on a sweltering summer night.

At least that’s what I remember, from years ago.

The Vesta Community Hall, center of the V-Esta Daze celebration. To the left is the covered BBQ pit.

Along Minnesota Highway 19, this sign marks my hometown, population around 330 and home of the nation’s first electric co-op.

FYI: Vesta is located in southwestern Minnesota, half way between Redwood Falls and Marshall on State Highway 19.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Guess the pig’s weight and other farm stories from New Richland July 29, 2011

VENTURE INTO RURAL MINNESOTA—and we’re talking the small farming communities here, not what metro folks call “Greater Minnesota” or “outstate Minnesota”—and you’ll connect to our state’s agrarian roots in some interesting ways.

Take New Richland, for example, a town of 1,200 in southeastern Waseca County. Drive into town and you’ll see the usual grain bins and elevator and other farm-related businesses you would expect in an agricultural community.

A cluster of grain bins in the heart of New Richland.

But then explore a little more and you’ll discover just how much this town values its agricultural heritage. Take the post office. Peek around the corner…

A corner of the New Richland Post Office. Note the grain bins a few blocks away.

Around the post office corner you'll find this mural which reflects the connection between city and country.

A snippet of the country portion of the mural. I wonder how the artist decided what type of tractor to feature?

Country connects to city in this detailed mural.

and you’ll find a mural depicting farm and city.

Now I’ve seen many a mural in my day, and I’d rate this as among the best. I wish I knew who to credit for this detailed artwork that draws the eye along the winding country road, down the train tracks to the grain elevator or along city streets to downtown. But I couldn’t find any information about the mural in a quick online search.

However, I did learn more about New Richland and the pride this community takes in its agricultural roots. Just a few weeks ago the town celebrated its 28th annual Farm & City Days. Events included the usual parade, street dance, bingo, antique car show, medallion hunt and such.

But I found a few activities that definitely say country through and through.

Teams of two competed in the  second annual Chore Boy Race. (Just for the record, girls can participate, too; the winners were Molly Flor and Brandon Mullenbach). Anyway, it’s a contest that involves eggs, milk, hay, grain and wheelbarrows. You can learn more about the competition by clicking here and reading this story in the local newspaper, The Star Eagle.

I found a Chore Boy Race contestant application online and one Farm & City Days Facebook page photo and these rules (some in boldface):  “You must wear all your chore clothes at all times. This includes but is not limited to Boots, Hat, Bibs & Gloves.”

OK then, got that?

If you’d rather use your brain than your brawn, Farm & City Days offers a “Guess the weight of the pig” contest at $1 a guess. The person with the closest guess wins the pig and processing at Morgan’s Meat Market. This year two entrants correctly guessed the exact weight of 208 pounds and agreed to split the hog, according to the Farm & City Days Facebook page.

If you didn’t win the pig, you could still eat pork by buying a pork sandwich meal from the Waseca County Pork Producers at the city park.

Two other agricultural-themed activities included a kids’ tractor pull and a Farm vs. City 3-person Scramble at a golf course.

I’m disappointed I missed Farm & City Days because it sounds like one heckuva good time, as small-town celebrations typically are. But I wouldn’t even have known about this annual farm-city event if I hadn’t been poking around New Richland last Sunday, spotted that mural on the side of the post office and then gone online to learn more about it, which I didn’t, but I did.

This John Deere tractor was parked outside the funeral home in New Richland on Sunday afternoon.

My husband and I stopped in New Richland while on a recent Sunday afternoon drive. Check out my July 24 blog post from this community and watch for future stories and photos from New Richland.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rock ‘n rolling in Hamburg June 18, 2011

LAST SUNDAY MY HUSBAND and I drove into Hamburg, just because we’d never been there. It was along the meandering path we chose for our trip back to Faribault from west central Minnesota.

We didn’t hang around in Hamburg, simply went into town, turned around and drove back out. As we passed the community hall in this town of around 500, I snapped this photo. I appreciated the vintage look of the building and wondered how many times locals have gathered here to celebrate.

I imagined dance feet scuffing oak floors, brides launching bouquets, crepe paper streamers sagging from the ceiling, gray-haired ladies sipping coffee, accordions weaving in and out.

I did not imagine Rock ‘N Roll Wrestling. Who would?

But when I later did an online search of Hamburg, I discovered wrestling at the community hall. Surprise. Tonight wrestlers will rock the walls of the community hall as pro-wrestler Rock ‘N Roll Buck ZumHofe brings his wrestling show back to his hometown beginning at 7:30 p.m.

So much for my contemplative visions of a wedding reception and dance or a 50th wedding anniversary party, although I expect those are also part of this building’s history.

Tonight it’s all about wrestling, which I may have watched when I was a kid (and even as recently as 30 years ago.) Vern Gagne, Dr. X, The Crusher, and, yes, even Rock ‘N Roll Buck ZumHofe, are names I remember.

No, I won’t be in Hamburg tonight to relive my days of pro-wrestling devotion at this town’s annual Zummerfest celebration. My interest has vanished and is now limited to the occasional glimpse I catch of wrestlers when the guys in my house are flicking television channels.

However, I expect plenty of faithful fans to fill the old hall. If you wish you could be there but can’t make tonight’s gig, Rock ‘N Roll Wrestling will be in nearby Glencoe on June 25 and in Wabasha on June 26.

According to ZumHofe’s website, you’ll be treated to “old fashion fun wrestling in a format that is nostalgic as well as new and highly entertaining.”

DO YOU HAVE MEMORIES of watching pro-wrestling on television or in person? Do you still watch/attend these wrestling bouts?

AND IF YOU HAVE memories of the Hamburg Community Hall or know anything about its history, please submit a comment. I’d like to hear your stories.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling