Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Advice to a Faribault teen: Be kind. Be honest. Be real… January 24, 2022

One of my favorite natural places in Faribault, River Bend Nature Center. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

A CHANCE ENCOUNTER while hiking at Faribault’s River Bend Nature Center in late November led me down the rabbit hole of internet surfing on a cold January afternoon. How did I get there and what did I discover? Here’s the backstory and then the story. Sit back and enjoy.

The story begins with me and my camera. I carry my Canon EOS 20-D with me nearly everywhere, especially to natural spaces like River Bend. Another photographer—a young man—happened to notice and inquired about my camera. We talked equipment for a bit before I continued down the woods-edged trail and he returned to senior portrait photography.

My first glimpse of the colorful art car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Later, while walking across the parking lot, I spotted a colorful car covered in messages. I put two and two together and determined this vehicle belonged to the young photographer I’d met earlier. I liked the car, a work of art really, enough to snap a few frames.

A loving message on the back of the car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

Well, those car photos and that chance meeting were forgotten until I rediscovered the file images recently. “I really ought to post those car pictures,” I thought to myself. That led me to Google “Curtis Pecore-Kotek.” I learned he’s a high school senior from Faribault who specializes in photography and videography. Yes, he’s on YouTube and that’s how I ended up watching his video, “How to Get a Girlfriend,” posted a year ago. Note that I rarely watch YouTube.

Identifying messages on Curtis Pecore-Kotek’s car. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo November 2021)

The video title intrigued me, mostly because I wondered where Curtis would go with the topic. I quickly found out. He went to Walmart. And then to Hy-Vee Grocery Store. There he randomly asked shoppers and staff for tips on getting a girlfriend.

Many of them, much to my surprise, responded to the teen thrusting an over-sized microphone toward them. Only one seemed concerned about what Curtis would do with the recording…before giving a lengthy, thoughtful answer.

And what did the fine folks shopping for food and other goods or working advise this teenager about getting a girlfriend?

Be kind. Be nice. Be gentle. Be honest. Be real. Be confident. Be a “good person.” Be yourself. Be the best version of yourself.

Have a sense of humor. Tell a few jokes.

And then there’s this one: Hang out in the right spots (although “right spots” were not defined).

Curtis ends the video by interviewing a girl who wants to be just a friend, not a girlfriend. I sensed her uncomfortableness in the questioning.

I found the video entertaining, interesting and insightful. Interviewees offered great tips, many sharing the same advice. Curtis handled himself well. He seems real, confident, nice, kind and possessing a sense of humor. I’d say he’s got it covered in the qualities he needs to find a girlfriend. Whether he’s connected with a young woman beyond friendship in the year since crafting this video, I don’t know. He’s young, there’s plenty of time for relationships…


TELL ME: What tips would you give Curtis about getting a girlfriend? Or about life in general?

NOTE: In watching this video shot a year ago, I noticed something I rarely see in Faribault now: people wearing face masks to stop the spread of COVID. At the time, a state-wide mask mandate was in place.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


How faith families are adapting, connecting, reaching out… March 22, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


ON A TYPICAL SUNDAY MORNING, I would be awake by 6:45 am, showering, grabbing breakfast, preparing to leave for 8 am church services.

This morning I awoke a half hour later, followed the regular Sunday morning routine, then sat down at my computer to watch live-streaming of the Trinity Lutheran, Faribault, church service. I expect many of you did the same—utilizing technology for worship.


The original microphone used in 1948 for Trinity’s radio broadcasts on KDHL radio, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Trinity has had a video ministry for years. And a radio ministry for more than seventy. I am thankful those outreach ministries were already in place, making it much easier to connect with people during this global pandemic.

Difficult times call for us to be creative and to adapt. Our family ministry leader also brought Sunday School to our kids in a YouTube video. Click here to view that.


From the Trinity, Faribault, Facebook page.


During the past week, I’ve worked, from my home, with a team that’s expanding Trinity’s ministry via social media. Daily uplifting and encouraging scripture has been added to our Facebook page. And our pastor is penning daily devotionals, which I am editing and proofing. I’m happy to use my talents to help.

At Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company where I am the paid blog coordinator and a blogger, we’ve launched a weekly series, “Scriptures of Hope,” to encourage and uplift people during this COVID-19 crisis. I encourage you to check out that first post by clicking here. Members of our Warner Press family selected bible verses that carry them through difficult times, sometimes adding their personal insights. We are committed to doing our part, through our blogging ministry, to bring hope.

I’d like to hear from you. How are your faith families connecting and continuing their ministries? Together we can learn from and support each other. Now, more than ever, we need to share our ideas and to connect.

FYI: Click here to reach the Trinity Radio and Video website to view today’s worship service and the Sunday School video (click on YouTube).

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Every life matters to a social media savvy small town Minnesota police chief July 13, 2016

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander. Photo from Kenyon Police Department Facebook page.

HOOLIGAN BY DEFINITION means violent young troublemaker.

And although Lee Sjolander is officially a hooligan, as in the percussionist for the Goodhue County rock and country variety band The Local Hooligans, he’s not by any standards a troublemaker. That’s his part-time after hours band gig title.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Downtown Kenyon, Minnesota, during the 2014 Rose Fest, always held on the third weekend in August. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Full-time, Sjolander serves as the police chief of Kenyon, a small southeastern Minnesota community of about 1,800.

But he’s more than your average small town police officer. He’s also a social media celebrity with a world-wide Facebook following that numbers in the thousands. He recently returned from an invitation only 21st Century Policing conference at the White House. And he’s appeared on a Twin Cities television station and has been referenced by Minnesota Public Radio.

Yet, despite all of the notoriety, Sjolander keeps doing what he does best—caring about the good folks and animals (yes, he picks up strays) of Kenyon and writing about his work, his community, social issues and even the personal struggles he faces.

Sjolander is refreshingly positive. If there’s a problem or need in his community, he seeks out solutions. He helps families find housing, pays for groceries, distributes donated monies to locals who are going through tough times and more. In summary, he cares.

He sports a sprawling tattoo on his upper right arm inked with the words: Every Life Matters. Those same three words are stitched onto his bullet proof vest.

Sjolander has an open book, down-home personal writing style infused with compassion and humor that resonates with the masses. If you aren’t following the Kenyon Police Department Facebook page, I’d encourage you to do so. You will be a better person for having read the chief’s words.

And if you’re interested in meeting the chief and his officers, attend a Friday, July 22, open house starting at 4 p.m. at the Kenyon VFW. It is an opportunity, say organizers, to thank and recognize the police department for its work.

That’s how things roll in small town Kenyon under the policing of Lee Sjolander.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Kenyon: How a small town police chief connects via Facebook December 3, 2015

Kenyon's Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60.

Kenyon’s Boulevard of Roses cuts through Minnesota Highway 60. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

ABOUT 15 MILES TO THE EAST of Faribault lies the town of Kenyon. Other than roses planted along the boulevard of Minnesota State Highway 60, Kenyon appears your typical southern Minnesota farming community. Hardware store. VFW. Restaurants. Grocery store. Municipal swimming pool. Police station.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its recent Rose Fest.

Kenyon, Minnesota, welcomes visitors to its annual August Rose Fest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But look a little closer, online closer, and you discover that things operate a little differently in Kenyon. Specifically in the police department. Police Chief Lee Sjolander, according to a recent story in the Kenyon Leader, “highlights the positive, human side of law enforcement with Facebook.”

And that he does, so I confirmed after checking out the Kenyon (MN) Police Department Facebook page penned by the Chief. With introspective, encouraging and uplifting words, often mixed with humor, this policeman shows care and compassion for those in his community of around 1,800.

Don’t just take my word for it. Read the Chief’s thoughts on thankfulness, safe driving, the challenges of his job and more. Read his encouraging words to a commenter who feels like an outcast. Read how his department is helping those in need at its annual Garage of Goodness, a give-away event set for noon to 4:30 p.m. December 5.

View the photos and read the stories in the Chief’s “My hands, my story” series.

Laugh at the postings in his “Life with my teenage daughter” series.

Cats roam the farm and kids chase after them.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo used for illustration only (not photographed in Kenyon).

See how he cares for wandering dogs and cats in Kenyon.

His posts get hundreds of likes.

In a day when law enforcement officers are less and less appreciated, it’s refreshing to see the support given to the Kenyon Police Department, to read the words of a police chief who cares deeply and passionately for those he serves.


Check back on Friday to read another story that originates in Kenyon.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Kudos from MPR for Minnesota Prairie Roots March 29, 2011

OK, I’M NOT EVEN GOING to apologize for tooting my horn here today. It’s not something I’m all that comfortable doing. But, hey, every once in awhile it’s alright to let everyone know you’ve been recognized.

That latest recognition for me as a writer comes via Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins. He publishes a popular online MPR weekday column, News Cut. He’s a professional blogger, meaning he gets paid for blogging, which I aspire to accomplish.

I’m a News Cut fan, and not just because Collins has referenced my Minnesota Prairie Roots posts numerous times. I sincerely enjoy reading the content he pulls together and comments and encourages discussion on.

MPR Public Relations Manager Christina Schmitt interviewed Collins about News Cut for an article published in the Plugged In Minnesota Public Radio highlights section of Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. The “Behind the Blog: Bob Collins” article titled “Looking Sharp,” runs on pages 6 and 7.


This two-page spread in Minnesota Monthly's March issue features an interview with MPR's Bob Collins in which Minnesota Prairie Roots is mentioned.

And that’s where I’m mentioned, on the second page, when Schmitt asks Collins which online sources he trolls for information.

He taps into Twitter. And, like everyone else, Collins says he checks the BBC, National Public Radio and The New York Times. But then Collins shares that he also reads blogs like…ta-da, drum roll here, please…Iron Ranger Aaron Brown’s Minnesota Brown and Audrey Kletscher Helbling’s Minnesota Prairie Roots.

I’m honored, humbled and more than a tiny bit giddy that Collins would single the two of us out from among the hundreds, if not thousands, of writers out there in the Minnesota blogosphere.

Such an endorsement from a well-respected entity like MPR means a lot to me as a professional writer. It validates that I can blog, and blog well, or at least blog well enough to grab Collins’ attention and interest.

In the interview, Collins tells Schmitt that Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots “are intimately tied to what’s going on in their parts of Minnesota. They’re not news sources per se, but they quite often touch on a topic that is interesting and give me ideas to expand it a little bit.”


Right here, in the fourth paragraph, Collins talks about Minnesota Brown and Minnesota Prairie Roots.

So there you have it. Direct from News Cut.

To read the full story, track down Minnesota Monthly’s March issue. I’m looking for copies now as I only learned several days ago about this article. Gotta show my mom, you know. So…, if you have any extra copies of the magazine, send them my way.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling