Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating the Sunday afternoon drive June 29, 2013

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Checking out the crops near Moland Lutheran Church in Steele County, Minnesota.

Checking out the crops near Moland Lutheran Church in Steele County, Minnesota.

ONCE UPON A TIME, I thought Sunday afternoon drives were reserved for farmers checking out the crops or for old people with nothing more important to do.

In Merton Township, Steele County, Minnesota.

In Merton Township, Steele County, Minnesota.

No longer do I think that. I now welcome these day trips into the country for the solace, the beauty, the discovery, the photo ops, the joy of whiling away an afternoon with no specific destination.

Along Rice County Road 21 south of Faribault.

Along Rice County Road 21 south of Faribault.

I love wide skies and open fields. I love old barns and gravel roads and cows grazing and tidy rows of corn. I love country.

Making hay, along old U.S. Highway 14 west of Owatonna.

Making hay, along old U.S. Highway 14 west of Owatonna.

In this crazy fast-paced world of scheduled activities and rare free time, such impromptu rural jaunts are to be embraced.

Near Clinton Falls in Steele County, Minnesota.

Near Clinton Falls in Steele County, Minnesota.

If you have not discovered the Sunday afternoon drive, you are missing out on one of life’s simplest and most soul satisfying pleasures.

Northwest of Owatonna along Steele County Road 17.

Northwest of Owatonna along Steele County Road 17.

On a farm site west of Owatonna.

On a farm site west of Owatonna.

A vineyard along Steele County Road 17.

A vineyard along Steele County Road 17.

Southwest of Faribault.

Southwest of Faribault.

FYI: The edited photos featured here are from a recent Sunday afternoon drive south and east of Faribault and then west and north of Owatonna looping back to Faribault. All images were shot from the passenger seat of our van at highway speeds, or slightly under.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of country churches June 26, 2013

Fine craftsmanship defines the sanctuary.

Fine craftsmanship defines the sanctuary.

STEP INSIDE AN AGED COUNTRY CHURCH anywhere and you will be drawn in by the history, the craftsmanship, the holiness of a house dedicated to God and the fellowship of the faithful.

A poster board with photos and well wishes stands in the church entry.

A poster board with photos and well wishes stands in the Moland Lutheran Church entry.

You need only pause and look, really look, to see the care, the love, the devotion, which fill such a sacred place.

Moland features architecture common in country churches.

Moland features architecture common in country churches.

Join me on a photographic tour of Moland Lutheran Church, 7618 Northeast 84th Avenue, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. The church, built by Norwegians in 1884, still holds Sunday morning worship services, currently led by the Rev. Nancy Edwardson.

Worship service is at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

Worship service is at 9 a.m. on Sunday. These photos were taken during the congregation’s June 23 strawberry festival.

From 25-30 worshipers fill the pews each week. And if that number seems too few to keep these doors open, do not underestimate the strength of a congregation rooted deep in this place, connected to this church building, this spot of land in rural Minnesota.

A verse from Matthew graces the altar.

A verse from Matthew graces the altar.

A full view of the altar painting done by A. Pederson and based on Matthew 28 - 30.

A full view of the altar painting done by A. Pederson and based on Matthew 28 – 30.

One can only imagine how many faithful kneeled at this altar railing.

One can only imagine how many faithful have knelt at this altar railing.

Or how many pastors have occupied this chair.

Or how many pastors have occupied this chair.

Stunning stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Stunning stained glass windows grace the sanctuary.

Suspended from the ceiling is this incredible historic light fixture.

Suspended from the ceiling is this incredible historic light fixture.

Stats, posted in a corner behind the organ at the front of the church.

Stats, posted in a corner behind the organ at the front of the church.

And more stats posted on paper just outside the sanctuary.

And more stats posted on paper just outside the sanctuary.

And, on the edge of the church property, this sense of community.

And, on the edge of the church property, this sense of community.

TO VIEW A PREVIOUS post about Moland Lutheran, click here. And then click here for another post.

To view my post about the Moland Lutheran Strawberry Festival, click here.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Finally, a woman on the Steele County Board April 4, 2012

CONGRATULATIONS, STEELE COUNTY, Minnesota. You’ve finally elected a woman to serve on the County Board of Commissioners. It’s about time.

I could hardly believe the news when I heard it this morning on an Owatonna radio station. It wasn’t the election of a female that surprised me. It was the fact that it’s taken this long.

For the first time in its history, this southeastern Minnesota county will have a woman serving on its county governing board. She is Nina Huntington, a dental hygienist from Owatonna, who beat out opponent Doug Hughes in a special election on Tuesday to represent the Fifth Commissioner District.

Huntington won with 250 votes, or 60 percent, compared to Hughes’ 164 votes, according to an article in the Owatonna People’s Press. Only 10.25 percent of the district’s registered voters cast ballots.

Interestingly enough, Steele County also made headlines on Tuesday as Minnesota’s healthiest county in ratings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. That study considers mortality, morbidity, health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, and physical environment. Click here to read those study results.

So there you have it—Minnesota’s healthiest county now has a woman helping to govern it.

Huntington’s election in Steele County leads me to wonder this:

How many other Minnesota counties have never had a female serve on the county board of commissioners? If you have the answer or can direct me to that information, I’d like to hear. I would guess that number to be quite high.

Also, what do you think a woman can bring to county government that a man may not?

CLICK HERE to read an interview with Huntington published in the Owatonna People’s Press after she filed for office.

CLICK HERE to read the election results story in the OPP.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Sunday morning with The Hope Feline Patrol July 31, 2011

The Hope Feline Patrol lounges on the porch of Hopefull Treasures.

VISIT HOPE, MINNESOTA, late on a Sunday morning and you might feel like you’re in a ghost town. Except for the cats. The Hope Feline Patrol, I’ve dubbed them.

When my husband and I pulled into this Steele County town because that’s what we sometimes do on Sundays after church—hop in the car and drive to places we haven’t been to before—not a soul was in sight save those two cats.

They lounged on the porch of Hopefull Treasures, aka Wilker’s Antiques, all stretched out as if they had not a care in the world. Until I appeared.

The long-haired orange cat stirred, on alert, jumped off a weathered wooden box and wound around my leg. The tabby stayed put, flicking eyes toward me, then, satisfied that I presented no threat, resumed cat napping.

The orange cat, however, plopped down on the sidewalk in front of the antique store, rolled around for awhile and then assumed a leisurely pose with a watchful eye on the single main route through this town of 120 residents.

The orange cat almost immediately sat up and assessed the situation when I arrived.

The napping tabby left patrol duties primarily to the orange cat.

Hopefull Treasure's orange cat keeps an eye on the single road that runs through Hope.

All the while I kept taking pictures of the cats and the antique store I wished was unlocked. It’s open only from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays or by chance or appointment. Apparently I wasn’t drawing a chance card on this day.

I knew I’d love poking around inside this place, scrounging for more story and photo treasures, plus antique and collectible treasures.

Every place, every person, every animal, every thing holds a story. And at Hopefull Treasures I’d found my story in The Hope Feline Patrol.

I had to peer into the windows of the closed antique store to check out the treasures.

Vintage postcards and coffee cups I spotted through the front window of Hopefull Treasures.

When I moved on down the street, the orange cat was still lying on the sidewalk in front of Hopefull Treasures.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Zip code 56046 July 26, 2011

THE NEXT TIME YOU’RE traveling Interstate 35 south of Owatonna, instead of whipping by the Hope exit at 70 mph, pull off the freeway and check out this unincorporated community of 120 residents, probably best-known outside of Steele County for Hope Creamery butter.

Unless my husband and I missed the signage, we never saw a sign marking the creamery and simply guessed that the butter-making operation is housed in an old brick creamery on the edge of town next to a farm.

But we discovered several other places of interest after parking our car along the one main road that cuts through Hope. Yes, you need to park your vehicle, get out and walk, rather than simply driving through town thinking, “There’s nothing here.”

You would be wrong, oh, so wrong.

First point of interest: 56046. That would be the Hope Post Office. With a street front facade resembling the general stores of yesteryear or perhaps a building from a western movie set, this old-style structure charms.

The Hope Post Office sits along Main Street. The elevator complex in the background is just across the train tracks.

Take in the details: the red and blue bench, the double front doors, the rock out front, the welcoming porch...

Even the lettering on the front window has old-style charm.

Maybe it doesn’t take much to impress me, but I appreciate buildings with character. I quickly determined that the post office serves as Hope’s community hub. I pulled open the screen door and stepped inside a closet of an entry, the door to the post office to my left, the door to a gift shop to my right. Smack in front of me, I found business cards and signs, church festival notices and other information tacked onto a bulletin board. A clutch of rubber-banded newspapers lay on the floor in front of the post office door.

The community bulletin board inside the post office entry.

A clutch of bundled newspapers outside the locked interior post office door.

From inside the post office entry, a view across the street of the bank and an antique store.

Since I was there on a Sunday afternoon, I had to settle for standing outside, peering through the large, cracked and taped front windows to view the customer service area that is smaller than most bathrooms. But it serves the purpose and I’m sure Hope folks are happy to still have their post office.

I always figure once a community loses its school, its post office and its bank, well then, you may as well close up the town. So far, Hope has only lost its school.

Today the U.S. Postal Service releases a list of 3,600-plus post offices under consideration for possible closure in a cost-cutting effort. I hope Hope is not among them.

Post office hours are listed on a cracked and taped front window.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts out of Hope and other area communities I recently visited while on a Sunday afternoon drive. It’s my philosophy that most of us are missing out on the treasures of small-town U.S.A. because we fail to get off the freeways, park our vehicles on Main Street and explore. Either that or we’re “too busy” to slow down and notice the details worth noticing in our small towns.

If anyone knows about the history of the Hope Post Office, submit a comment. I would like to learn more about this building.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling