Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

So many reasons to value the arts in southern Minnesota & beyond October 26, 2022

“Rain” by Ivan Whillock priced at $3,000 and exhibited at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

TO HAVE ACCESS TO THE ARTS, whether visual, literary or performing, here in southern Minnesota is such a gift. The arts enrich our lives, open our minds to new ideas and experiences, feed our souls, entertain us and, for me, also inspire.

As someone who grew up in rural southwestern Minnesota with minimal exposure to the arts, I especially value galleries, theaters, libraries, and any place that gives me access to creativity. Creating with images and words is my passion and my life’s work. I embrace the work of fellow creatives, who, like me, must create.

Woodcarvings fill the main gallery at the Paradise. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Recently, I stopped by the Paradise Center for the Arts in historic downtown Faribault. The PCA centers the arts in my community with four galleries, theater, music, art classes and more. Here in this space, creatives converge. And we as a community are the better for that. I hope those in neighboring Northfield, Owatonna, Waseca and even small town Montgomery, feel the same gratitude for their arts centers.

“Eileen” by Ivan Whillock, priced at $1,500. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The arts broaden our perspectives, make us think, laugh, cry, ponder… When I write and photograph, I feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment if my work resonates, prompts emotions, stirs interest and more. I expect the artists currently exhibiting at the Paradise feel the same. There is joy in getting art out there into the community, joy in connecting.

Marv Kaisersatt specializes in caricatures such as “Portrait of a Pig,” displayed but not for sale. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

As I meandered through the Paradise’s current exhibits, I observed incredible talent and variety in the art displayed. Inside the largest gallery, I meandered among woodcarvings by three Faribault artists, two carving for more than 40 years. Ivan Whillock and Marv Kaisersatt, are award-winning long-time carvers, nationally and internationally-recognized. Their work is decidedly different, but their creative skills decidedly the same—excellent. Both are quiet, humble men.

“Wood Spirit” by Chris Whillock, priced at $40. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

Chris Whillock, Ivan’s son, is a talented carver in his own right. The pair create at Whillock Studio in Faribault and operate the Whittling Shack, source for woodcarving supplies, their art and more.

The plant-filled installment by Shelley Caldwell. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In one of the most unusual installments I’ve ever seen is the art of Shelley Caldwell who lives in rural Faribault County near the Iowa border. Her artistic use of plants to shape art left me standing temporarily immobile, wowed by her imaginative creativity. Peace comes in connecting with nature and I felt that in the scene before me—all that green interspersed with light, air and a sense of movement. Her exhibit also includes mixed media drawings.

Photos of Autumn Carolynn line a gallery wall at the Paradise Center for the Arts. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

The images of Minneapolis-based travel photographer and writer Autumn Carolynn are displayed in another gallery. Studying the work of other photographers, especially one as talented as Autumn, helps me grow my skills, even if I’m not a world traveler. Her images take me to places I have never seen and never will. She expands my world through her photos and that, too, is an artful purpose.

This is an untitled acrylic and latex on canvas by Bethlehem Academy senior Tyler Hogate. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

In the final gallery, the art of selected students from Bethlehem Academy in Faribault is highlighted. I never fail to be impressed by the talent of these young people. I feel gratitude to their teachers, the PCA and others who support them in their creative pursuits. Now, more than ever, students need the arts as an outlet, a way to express themselves, a way to connect.

This shows a snippet of Ivan Whillock’s “He’s Late,” priced at $6,000. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2022)

And now, more than ever in these unsettled times, we as a community, a state, a country, a world, need the arts.

FYI: The exhibit by artists featured here continues until November 12.

TELL ME: What do you appreciate about the arts?

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reflections on Labor Day 2021 September 3, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
Portraits of industrial workers stretch along the Madison-Kipp building in the Atwood Neighborhood of Madison, Wisconsin. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

WITH LABOR DAY only days away, I’m reflecting on employment. Not the unofficial end of summer or the start of school. But on jobs.

I can’t recall a time when jobs seemed so abundant, when businesses can’t find enough workers.

One look at my local paper and shopper shows postings for transit bus drivers, sandwich makers, managers, truck drivers, construction workers, nursing assistants, housekeepers, maintenance people, a city finance clerk, sports reporter, mortgage banker, cylinder delivery driver, pharmaceutical researchers, direct care staff, meat market counter help, digital media specialist, appraiser, engineering tech, bilingual-Somali eligibility worker and more.

Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, free food, enticing benefits and better wages. Not that these higher wages are high enough to meet the ever-growing cost of living in a community like mine with a housing shortage. In both rental and home ownership. I expect many in Faribault struggle to manage monthly rent of $831-$1,315, for a two-bedroom apartment, for example.

Many, despite full-time employment, struggle also to put food on the table, to afford healthcare, and more. Life is not vacations and dining out and having the newest and the best for many. Rather, it’s about getting by and budgeting and shopping thrift stores and stretching dollars until they stretch no more. This is reality.

Strong, determined, skilled… Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots seems as wide as ever. And often that distance exists not for a lack of hard work, but rather in the differing values placed on jobs. Or disparities that exist due to greed. Or a lack of appreciation for the knowledge and skills of hands-on laborers, especially, versus white collar workers.

The pandemic, too, has challenged the work force in ways we’ve never experienced. I feel, especially, for those who work in healthcare (namely hospitals), who are overwhelmed by the stress and pressures of caring for COVID patients. I can only imagine how disheartened they feel as cases surge, when it didn’t need to be this way. I can only image how disheartened they feel when dying patients and their families continue to deny the realities of this deadly virus.

That each window focuses on one worker highlights their importance. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo September 2020.

I am grateful for all those “essential workers” who continued to go to work when others could stay home and work from the safety of their home offices. Workers like my husband, an automotive machinist. Workers like my cousin, a grocery store cashier. Workers like another cousin, a nurse. Workers like my second daughter, who lost her job as a contract Spanish medical interpreter early in the pandemic and now works as a full-time letter carrier.

Faribault’s newest mural, LOVE FOR ALL, created by Minneapolis artist Jordyn Brennan. Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo July 2021.

I appreciate, too, the creatives who continue to create during the pandemic. The writers. The artists. The poets. The photographers. The musicians. I think, in the midst of lockdowns and lack of direct access to the arts, we began to understand the value of the arts to our mental health. Art heals. Art provides an escape. Art encourages and uplifts. We need art.

And so this Labor Day, my gratitude for the workforce runs high. But I’m also grateful for the unpaid workers—the volunteers—who serve with compassion and care. They, too, labor, giving from their hearts and souls to help their communities.

I value workers. Paid. And unpaid. Thank you for all you do to make this world a better place.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Embracing Shattuck-St. Mary’s outreach into the Faribault community May 4, 2018

An arch frames Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


THURSDAY EVENING I ATTENDED a free concert by the Minnesota Sinfonia. At Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault.

This evening, if I choose, I can attend “The Wizard of Oz on Ice.” Again, at no charge and on the campus of Shattuck, a prestigious private prep school in Faribault. The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Skating Club show begins at 7 p.m. in the SSM Sports Complex.


The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Crack Squad performs in the 2015 Faribault Memorial Day parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Then, at 1 p.m. Sunday, I can attend a Town Drill. Again, at no charge, at Shattuck and at 1 p.m. in Johnson Gym. The Wooden Soldiers Drill Team, celebrating its 100th anniversary, performs along with The Crack Squad. That precision drill squad first performed in 1882.


In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I appreciate how Shattuck continues to open its doors to the community through free events like these and the annual Campus Christmas Walk and community Easter Egg Hunt. And I appreciate, too, the Fesler-Lampert and Acoustic Roots Performing Arts Series which brings musicians, theatre and more to this historic campus. I attended the St. Paul-based History Theatre’s “Sweet Land the musical” here in October. Had Shattuck not brought the production to Faribault, I never would have seen this show based on one of my favorite movies.


The Shattuck-St. Mary’s campus features beautiful stone buildings constructed in the 1800s, including Shumway Hall with its landmark bell tower. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


While the arts series events are typically pay-for shows, the Sinfonia concert on Thursday was free, as are all concerts by this Twin Cities-based orchestra. For someone like me who has only been to an orchestra concert several times in her life, this is an absolute gift. To listen to music ranging from soothing to barn dance raucous by professional musicians in such an historic theatre simply made me happy. Several times I tipped my head back to take in the wood-wrapped walls and ceiling, then turned to view sunlight streaming colors through clustered narrow stained glass windows. The cool of the evening wafted through open windows as did the chimes of the Shumway Hall clock tower bell. Musicians, in a quirky interruption, paused to let the chimes ring before continuing their concert.


The Chapel of the Good Shepherd on the Shattuck campus. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


As the Sinfonia director noted, Shattuck could be a setting for a Harry Potter movie. I agree. This place of massive, aged stone buildings has that look. It feels more like a college campus than a prep school excelling in academics, the arts and sports. I am grateful for its presence in Faribault. And I am grateful for a school that welcomes the community onto its campus.

If you’ve never been to Shattuck, I’d encourage you to attend an event there, to take in the historic beauty of this place on Faribault’s east side.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Why I appreciate the arts in Minnesota May 11, 2017

A snippet of the colorful and whimsical mural created by Lynette Schmidt Yencho for the Owatonna Arts Center library. Art surrounds these children.


GROWING UP IN RURAL southwestern Minnesota many decades ago, my exposure to the arts was minimal. I don’t recall attending a single art show, concert or theatre production outside of a public school. If such opportunities existed, I was either unaware of them or my parents had no money for such extras.


During a one-day fundraiser, the Owatonna Arts Center sold original serigraphs (silkscreen prints) produced by Alice Ottinger and Jean Zamboni of OZ Press in Owatonna. The press no longer operates. If you are interested in a print, contact the art center.


Opportunities to develop my creative interests did not extend much beyond English, music, art and home economics classes, except for the two weeks of shop class in which I crafted a linoleum block print. I always wished I could play piano or an instrument. But there was no time or money for either. I still cannot read a single note of music.


Fruit bowl art in the Owatonna Arts Center library.


I don’t begrudge my parents for not exposing me to the arts. They had to keep the dairy and crop farm running and a family of eight fed. Finances were tight.


The 65th Annual Steele County Art Exhibition is currently showing at the Owatonna Arts Center. Here’s a sampling of art in that show.


Early on I learned that, if I wanted new clothes, I would have to sew them. This was back in the day when sewing clothing was far less expensive than buying ready-made. If I got store-bought clothes, they always came from the sales rack. I loved the sewing process—paging through thick volumes of Simplicity, Butterick and McCalls patterns; perusing bolts of fabric; and then cutting and sewing the fabric into wearable clothing.

In some small way, I created art. Not of my own design. But I could express myself through fabric selection and pattern choice.


Another section of the Owatonna Arts Center library mural by Lynette Schmidt Yencho. My love of reading as a child spurred my interest in writing.


I also created art in my writing. No teacher encouraged me, other than to praise my near-perfect penmanship, spelling and excellent English language usage skills. My writing was limited to class assignments and later writing for the high school newspaper, The Rabbit Tracks. I attended high school in Wabasso, which means “rabbit” in Ojibwe. Our mascot was a white rabbit.


A room of books and art…in the Owatonna Arts Center library.


Why do I tell you all of this? I share this because my background explains why I have such a deep appreciation for the arts. That cliché of “absence makes the heart grow fonder” can be applied to the near absence of art in my life early on.


Doors open into the OAC gallery housed in an historic building.


Today, living 120 miles to the east of my hometown, I have many opportunities to enjoy the arts locally in Faribault and neighboring Owatonna and Northfield at arts centers, public schools, colleges and more. I am grateful that the visual, literary and performing arts hold such high value in Minnesota.


More art in the Steele County artists’ show.


Some would argue that the arts are not necessary. I contend that they are. We all have within us that innate need to connect with others. The arts offer that interconnection, that weaving together of creativity, of humanity, of a desire/need to express ourselves. I am grateful to be part of the community of artists through my writing of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction and blog posts and through my photography. I am thankful, too, for the art opportunities available to me right here in my backyard and throughout Minnesota.


TELL ME: Do you embrace the arts either/and or by creating or enjoying them? Please share specifics.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Artwork photographed with permission of the Owatonna Arts Center. Art is copyrighted by the artists and may not be copied and/or reproduced.


Thanks for great friends, a grandbaby on the way & no more mice November 26, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I created this Thanksgiving display in a stoneware bowl. My sister-in-law Rena created the Thanksgiving card.

I created this Thanksgiving display in a stoneware bowl. My sister-in-law Rena crafted the Thanksgiving card.

DURING THIS THANKSGIVING WEEK, thoughts naturally turn to, well, thankfulness.

Life has presented numerous challenges in recent years. But I still have many reasons to give thanks. Like most of you, the obvious food and shelter cannot be omitted from my list of blessings along with my family, my dear dear family.

The extended Kletscher family poses for a photo on the Fourth of July. Seven are missing.

The extended Kletscher family poses for a photo on the Fourth of July 2015. Seven are missing. My nephew’s wife, in the purple-and-white striped shirt, gave birth to a daughter in August. Hattie joins two other great nieces, Sierra and Evelyn, born this year. What a blessing to have all of these new babies on both sides of the family. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

In five more months, my immediate family will grow in size as my eldest daughter and her husband welcome their first baby, my first grandbaby. Excited? Yes, you betcha.

I just know that my husband, Randy, will be a wonderful grandpa. He’s not the most demonstrative with words or emotions. But when it comes right down to it, he’s as good as they come. He works hard. He’s loyal and strong and smart. And funny. He makes me laugh. That is a blessing. Plus, he’s great with kids. Our 2 1/2-year-old nephew Landon, who moved a year ago to rural Faribault with his family, considers Randy one of his “papas” (aka grandpas).

And then there are those close friends… Honestly, these are the people who are here for me through the ups and downs of life. They don’t judge. They don’t criticize. Rather they listen and encourage. They pray and support and show care and compassion. Life would be a lot harder without them.

A snippet of the stained glass window in the balcony.

One of my favorite depictions of Christ, this one in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Which brings me to my faith. Thank God for God.

This photo from March shows the basement project in progress. We removed Styrofoam insulation and paneling from the clay tile walls. I then painted walls white. We also removed Styrofoam sheets from the ceiling and I painted the ceiling boards white. Later, we also removed the rest of the paneling from the stairway and surrounding area, replacing it with sheetrock. That, too, was painted white.

This photo from March shows the basement project in progress. We removed Styrofoam insulation and paneling from the clay tile foundation walls. We brushed and scraped loose concrete and paint from walls before washing with Borax and painting white. We also removed Styrofoam sheets from the ceiling. I painted the ceiling boards white. Later, we also removed the rest of the paneling from the stairway and surrounding area, replacing it with sheetrock. That, too, was painted white. Floors are now covered with carpet tile. We installed a Beaver waterproofing system and a sump pump. (Yes, eventually I’ll post more about this project.)

And thank God we finally finished our basement project after more than a year. (OK, the steps aren’t carpeted yet, but I’m still calling the project done.) We now have a waterproofed basement with white walls and ceiling. The clean industrial look. Gone are the mold, dark paneling and red carpet. Totes are now neatly organized on a corner shelving unit. But the best part of all—the absence of mice after we uncovered, and sealed, their entry point. Everyone knows the arrival of cold weather in Minnesota brings mice inside.

Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display with thrift store art purchases and Scrabble letters.

Given my love of words, I created this Thanksgiving display in my dining room with thrift store art and Scrabble letters.

I’m not particularly fond of Minnesota’s cold and snowy months. But I am thankful to live in a state that embraces and supports the arts. In the past year, I’ve participated in three poetry readings, been published in two anthologies (poetry and creative nonfiction) and penned poems for a joint photo-poetry exhibit. All of these opportunities connect me to other writers. Minnesota truly is a great place to engage in all facets of the arts.

That's my post, labeled "Barn Memories," featured today on Freshly Pressed.

That’s my post, labeled “Barn Memories,” featured on November 30, 2013, on Freshly Pressed. Daily, WordPress editors highlight the best content from WordPress sites in a section now tagged “Discover.” My work has been showcased thrice on Freshly Pressed. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

I also count this blog as a major blessing. Through my writing and photography, I’ve connected with some pretty fantastic people both in person and online. And, as a blogging bonus, I’ve also sold photo rights to clients ranging from creative agencies to authors to an Austrian musician to a local funeral home and more. I’ve had an especially good year in photo sales, just at a time when the extra income is especially needed. (If you’re interested in buying rights to my photos, email me at audrey at mnprairieroots.com.)

Yes, I am thankful for you, dear readers. You are the best. Happy Thanksgiving!

I purchased this vintage turkey candle several years ago in a Redwood Falls thrift store. The candle has never been lit and never will be.

I purchased this vintage turkey candle several years ago in a Redwood Falls thrift store. The candle has never been lit and never will be.

Read a related story on NPR about gratitude being good for the heart and soul. Click here.

This concludes my three-part “blessings” series.  Click here to read my first blessings post and then click here to read my second.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Montgomery, Part II: Entertaining & inspiring the folks of South Central Minnesota in an historic dance hall March 5, 2013

A sign just off Minnesota Highway 13 welcomes travelers to Montgomery.

A sign near the Minnesota Highway 13 and 21 intersection welcomes travelers to Montgomery.

IN RURAL SOUTHERN MINNESOTA, in the heart of Czech country, in a community with a fading welcome sign noting local Miss Czech-Slovak U.S.A. queens Connie David (1989-1990) and Marisa Schleis (1998-1999), you’ll discover an unexpected treasure.

The red-roofed building in the distance is Hilltop Hall.

The red-roofed building in the distance is Hilltop Hall.

Historic Hilltop Hall sits on the north end of First Street in Montgomery, past the library and chiropractic office, the eateries and bars, the newspaper and accounting offices, the antique shops, even farther than the bakery which bakes ethnic kolacky, just two doors up from the meat market, source of homemade sausage.

Hilltop Hall was "falling apart," John Grimm says of the building he bought in the early 1990s. He reroofed, gutted and reconstructed and/or restored the interior.

Hilltop Hall was “falling apart,” John Grimm says of the building he bought in the early 1990s. He reroofed  the hall and gutted and reconstructed and/or restored the interior.

The red-roofed 1892 brick structure on the National Register of Historic Places represents a center of culture in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World, a farming town of nearly 3,000 notably proud of its Czech heritage.

A sign outside Hilltop Hall directs guests to the Curtain Call Theatre performance of "On Golden Pond." The area theatrical group also performs in neighboring New Prague.

A sign outside Hilltop Hall directs guests to the Curtain Call Theatre performance of “On Golden Pond.” The area theatrical group also performs in neighboring New Prague.

The community should also be proud of Hilltop, a rare small town gem which hosts once-a-year comedic performances by Curtain Call Theatre and monthly Hilltop Happenings Series variety shows in the second floor 75-foot by 45-foot vintage concert and dance hall. The main floor is home to the Montgomery Area Arts & Heritage Center—featuring rotating historic and artistic exhibits—and a floral/gift shop, Posy Pantry.

Native Wisconsinite John Grimm, 72, a retired airline pilot, entrepreneur and former Le Sueur County commissioner who has lived in the Montgomery area since 1992, represents the driving force behind this cultural center nestled into a hill across the alley from St. John’s Lutheran Church.

This composer and singer—by passion, not profession—and a team of equally enthusiastic musicians six months ago revived the variety shows which have been an irregular part of Hilltop since Grimm purchased and restored the building in the early 1990s. He bought the old hall, he says, “to save a significantly historic building” and “to create a place where local folks could perform.”

Except for a small section which was damaged by water, this wood floor is original.

Except for a small section which was damaged by water, this wood floor is original. Here volunteers stack chairs following the final performance of “On Golden Pond” while the cast enjoys pizza.

Now on Sunday afternoons, during the recently-resurrected variety shows, audiences ranging from 30 – 100 gather in the upper floor venue, feet planted on the restored wood floor, to hear next-door Lutheran pastor, Bob Kaul, strum his folk style guitar music or professional musician Craig Wasner of Northfield perform or Grimm present his Elvis impersonations (or other musical selections).

In a kicked back atmosphere where performers arrive two hours before the 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. show to rehearse, if necessary, and then sit among the crowd, the audience will hear a wide range of music from gospel to pop, folk, country, classical and more presented by regular troupe members from the Montgomery, Le Sueur, New Prague and Northfield areas.

Among the crowd favorites, Grimm notes, is 2012 Montgomery-Lonsdale High School (now Tri-City United) graduate Jesse Beulke, a gifted musician studying psychology and music at Minnesota State University, Mankato, with aspirations of becoming a professional composer. Beulke’s classical music selections on the piano have drawn standing ovations. “The audience recognizes his talent,” Grimm says.

Other regulars include musicians Wade and Mary Lou Fradenburgh, Maren Wasner and Wendy Zaske.

A view of Hilltop Hall's performance venue shows John Grimm and Fran Bohlke playing the lead roles in "On Golden Pond."

A view of Hilltop Hall’s performance venue shows the cast of “On Golden Pond.” John Grimm, center, plays the lead role along with Fran Bohlke of Shakopee, left in Curtain Call Theatre’s production. This marked Bohlke’s third time playing Ethel Thayer. She previously played the part during performances in Worthington and Luverne. Stenciling in the hall was either replicated or restored, depending on condition.

Grimm is planning to add original humorous skits to the monthly Sunday variety shows, tapping into his passion for performing. Fran Bohlke, who played Ethel Thayer opposite Grimm’s Norman Thayer Jr. in the Curtain Call Theatre’s recent performances of “On Golden Pond” at the Hilltop, will also sing at the March 24 show.

While Grimm and his troupe welcome guest performers, those entertainers must audition for what’s billed as “a unique mix of breathtaking talent, lighthearted entertainment and tasty snacks—all in one lovely historic place…that brings entertainment, enjoyment and inspiration to the folks of South Central Minnesota.”

Big Honza's Museum of Unnatural History.

Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History.

The snacks include freshly-popped popcorn from the popcorn machine tucked in the hall’s second floor corner kitchen and pizza from Pizzeria 201 just down First Street in the historic Westerman Lumber Company office and residence. Grimm also owns that 1895 building which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Next door you’ll find Big Honza’s Museum of Unnatural History, another project of the creative Grimm.

Big Honza' sprinkling can located near his museum.

Big Honza’ sprinkling can located nest to the Big Honza museum.

As Grimms tells it, the fictional Big Honza Giganticzech originated when he penned a musical for Montgomery’s annual Kolacky Days celebration, embellishing local history to create the town’s version of Paul Bunyan. That led to the museum where visitors will see items like Big Honza’s airplane/corn shredder, a chain driven concertina and more. The museum is open by appointment or ask the folks at the Pizzeria to let you in; they have a key.

A view of the set for "On Golden Pond" with Big Honza painted on the wall to the left.

A view of the set for “On Golden Pond” with Big Honza painted on the wall to the left.

At Hilltop Hall, a rendition of Big Honza is painted onto a wall of the stage where those Curtain Call Theatre comedies are presented each February. Grimm enjoys the intimate setting of the old dance hall which will seat about 100 during the dinner theatre shows. On a recent Sunday afternoon, dinner guests savored chicken breast with pasta and sauce, roasted cauliflower and fresh fruit in a meringue-topped shell catered by Pizzeria 201. Other audience members arrived later just for the show.

“People look forward to it,” Grimm says of the yearly winter plays first performed at the Hilltop in 1999 with “Bull in a China Shop.” Other shows have included “The Odd Couple,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” The Dixie Swim Club,” and more. “Bathroom Humor” is slated for February 2014.

Set requirements, due to limited space in the built-on stage area, are the biggest restrictions in selecting a play, Grimm says. He doesn’t worry about the number of performers as a spiral staircase hidden behind the stage allows actors and actresses to slip down to the first floor floral shop to await their cues. Grimm installed the staircase after removing the building’s original freight elevator, a decision he today regrets.

When Grimm purchased Hilltop Hall, site of a laundromat, he found 10 inches of lint covering these walls as dryers had been vented into the hallway. This hall runs between the heritage center and floral shop and leads to a stairway to the performance space.

When Grimm purchased Hilltop Hall, site of a laundromat, he found 10 inches of lint covering these walls as dryers had been vented into the hallway. This hall runs between the heritage center and floral shop and leads to a stairway to the performance space. The chandelier is not original to the building.

He’s never regretted, though, his decision to buy the old dance hall, although Grimm admits some people think he’s crazy. But his passion for singing and entertaining—he’s composed several hundred songs, made four CDs and authored a play, “It’s About Us”—for promoting Montgomery, and for offering this arts venue, drive him.

With annual taxes on the building at $10,000-plus and a monthly light bill of some $200, his Hilltop project is a “money losing situation,” Grimm says. He justifies the expense noting that he doesn’t take vacations, so his vacation money goes into his arts endeavor.

The ceiling plaster had crumbled, so an artist laid on his back to re-create this mural on sheetrock in the center of the performance space.

The plaster had crumbled, so an artist laid on his back to re-create this ceiling mural on sheetrock in the center of the performance space. The chandelier is antique but not original to the hall. The original lights could not be restored, Grimm says.

Grimm admits an ineptness at promoting and that Hilltop Hall is under-utilized. But he won’t compromise his conviction not to allow alcohol into the building which is also used for the occasional community meeting, piano recitals and exercise classes.

For now he’s focused on those monthly variety shows, bringing “pizza, performers & plenty of pizzazz” to the folks of South Central Minnesota at the historic Hilltop Hall in Montgomery.

These exterior doors open to the hallway leading to the performing arts center.

These exterior doors open to the hallway leading to the upstairs performing arts center. A handicapped accessible entry is at the rear of the building off the alley.

FYI: Upcoming Hilltop Happenings Series shows are set for 4 p.m. – 6 p.m. on Sundays, March 24, April 28, May 26 and June 30. Admission is free although donations are accepted to help defray production and overhead costs.

The 2013 billing promises “…popular favorites to concert hall classics; from costumes and comedy to inspirational gospel and harmonic collaborations.”

Hilltop Hall is located at 206 First Street North in Montgomery’s downtown business district.

To learn more about the people and places in this post, be sure to click on their highlighted names. I’d encourage you, especially, to click on Jesse Beulke’s link to hear two original compositions, “I Guess It’s Goodbye” and “Rise,” by this gifted young composer and musician.

CHECK BACK FOR MORE posts from Montgomery.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Beat: “In Minnesota, poetry matters” September 27, 2012

WHY DID IT TAKE ME until recently to determine that poetry is meant to be read aloud, preferably by the poet, and not just silently to one’s self?

I came to that realization in April after reading my poem, “Her Treasure,” to an audience gathered in an historic Zumbrota theater for Crossings at Carnegie’s “Poet-Artist Collaboration XI.”

That poetry-inspired art celebration proved pivotal for me, prompting a personal recognition that poetry is as much performance art as it is an intimate experience.

The Beat logo

And now the independent, nonprofit Northern Community Radio, with studios in Grand Rapids and Bemidji, Minnesota, recognizing the importance of poetry read aloud, is bringing poetry to the public via The Beat, broadcasting a poem a day by a poet with a Minnesota connection.

The Beat, according to NCR’s website is “Northern Community Radio’s daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets are proving that every day.”

I proved that on September 17 with the reading of my poem, “Her Treasure.” Because traveling hundreds of miles up north from southern Minnesota was neither practical nor cost effective for me, The Beat producer Steve Downing, himself a published poet, read my poem. You can listen to Downing’s fine rendition of “Her Treasure” by clicking here.

Minnesota’s 2011 Poet Laureate, Joyce Sutphen of Chaska.

Since early July, an assortment of about three dozen poets—from the well-known John Berryman, James Wright, Joyce Sutphen, Louis Jenkins, Will Weaver and Sean Hill—to the complete unknowns have been featured on The Beat.

Poet Sean Hill recently moved from Bemidji to Alaska where he is teaching creative writing at a university in Fairbanks. Milkweed Editons will publish his second collection of poetry in 2014.

The show airs weekdays between 7:30 – 8 a.m. and then again between 3:30 – 4 p.m. on 91.7 FM in north-central and northeastern Minnesota, 90.5 FM in north-central and northwestern Minnesota and on 89.9 FM in the Brainerd area. With 150,000 listeners under the NCR signal, coverage extends from Grygla on the north to Pierz on the south to Fertile on the west and Hermantown on the east.

And for those outside the coverage area, like me, The Beat can be heard via audio streaming from kaxe.org or via the KAXE online archives.

“Reaction from poets and listeners, including folks who thought they hated poetry, has been unconditionally affirmative, making us think this was a success story waiting to happen,” says producer/poet Downing, also a former high school English teacher, published essayist, arts administrator and lifelong musician.

Steve Downing, poet and producer of The Beat

He and two others—NCR’s program director, who interviews writers for her long-standing RealGoodWords show, and a design-artist NCR staffer who is also a poet and has taught English at the college level—have been evaluating the hundreds of poetry submissions coming in from across the state.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but no one thought we’d be swamped, which we are,” Downing says. “It’s a nice problem to have but a problem nevertheless.”

The three-person jury meets every Friday to look at/listen to submissions. “The jury looks for creative work that, first, sparks a positive ‘gut’ response; that demonstrates originality; that makes smart word choices; and that’s provocative, in the best sense of the word,” Downing explains.

He advises submitting poets to avoid the topics of partisan politics, religion and lost love and to remember that the Federal Communications Commission is listening.

The range of topics is “all over the place,” Downing says, although some poems are somewhat “Minnesota-centric,” covering subjects like family farms, old barns, and the state’s flora, fauna and weather.

Broadcasting these poems on its community-based public radio stations helps fulfill NCR’s overall mission “to build community in northern Minnesota by way of radio programming, cultural events and interactive media.”

The Beat is currently funded by a one-year $30,000 allocation from the Minnesota Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.

The history of The Beat, however, stretches back several years to The Beat Cafe, a live-on-air pledge drive program which, among other Beat content, featured Downing reading his poems, with live bass and percussion accompaniment. The success of that first show prompted discussion on how to make this happen again. So come spring 2013, The Beat Cafe fundraiser will be back with live-on-air poetry and music.

Says Downing: “Think berets, dark glasses, shawls, candles in wine bottles…”

Between now and then, though, Downing will continue to air selected poetry by Minnesota poets, known and unknown, and will apply again for state funding to continue the popular poetry program, The Beat.


FYI: If you’re a Minnesota poet and would like your writing considered for The Beat, email text or, preferably, audio versions (e.g. MP3) of your poetry to Downing at this address: sdowning@kaxe.org

A poem should take three minutes or less to read.

Once accepted for The Beat, poets have recorded their poems at KAXE in Grand Rapids, KBXE in Bemidji and at KFAI in Minneapolis or on their own devices. NCR also offers the option of Downing or others reading a selected poem if the poet cannot record his/her work.

I contacted Downing about writing this post after my poem was selected by the jury for airing on The Beat.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Artwork and photos courtesy of Northern Community Radio


A Minnesota arts collage, from theater to poetry September 15, 2012

FOR A FEW SECONDS THERE, I searched the dictionary of my brain for that word which temporarily eluded me. Collage. That would be it.

Remember when that art form was especially popular, when, as a school assignment, you had to scrounge up ten zillion magazines and then snip out images themed to a specific subject and glue it all in a jumbled mess onto a piece of paper?

Today I present a collage—not a jumbled mess, though—of art.

Let’s take the biggest focal piece first. A Hudson.

A Hudson, like this one I photographed several years ago at a Faribault car show, centers “The Car.” Do not expect, though, to see a real Hudson on stage, only the shape of one.

The Hudson centers the stage at the Paradise Center for the Arts during a production of The Car by Carol Wright Krause. My husband and I saw this play by the Faribault-based The Paradise Community Theatre Friday evening. I’d rate it as one of the best I’ve ever seen performed locally.

Here’s a summary of the play written by director Gabe Talamantes:

The Car is about a family’s car, which as Ed (a character in the five-person drama) puts it “is a miracle of modern American engineering.” This miracle car is a character in itself, a highly theatricalized version of a 1954 Hudson. It takes us on a journey into the lives of the Banners and the challenges an all American family faces as they struggle through two decades of change at home and abroad. We will see how they choose to overcome such difficulties.

Now, why am I so enthusiastic about The Car? Because it moved me to tears. When a theatrical performance can evoke such a strong emotional reaction from me, I will embrace it with unbridled enthusiasm.

That break-down moment for me came near the end of the play, when Vietnam War veteran Hal Banner (played by Todd Ginter), broke down in the arms of his father, Ed Banner (Chuck Larsen). He was no hero, Hal said, pointedly telling his father that he (Ed) would never understand the horrors of war. And then Hal got specific, talking about seeing the eyes of those he killed.

That’s when the tears trickled down by cheeks and I struggled mightily to keep from sobbing. In that moment, I heard my Korean War veteran father, not Hal/Todd. My dad, too, spoke of seeing the eyes of those he killed on the front lines in Korea.

Later, when I congratulated Todd on his performance, he told me that he had talked to several veterans in preparation for his role. And it was the eyes which they spoke of and which he knew he needed to emphasize in that heartrending father-son conversation. It is easily the most powerful moment in the play.

I wondered how many audience members might be veterans and at that moment suppressing war memories and feelings, as my father did.

But this play is about so much more than war. It also addresses the issue of prejudice when Hal brings home a Japanese wife, portrayed by Carrie Jendza whose mother came here from Korea some 40 years ago. Carrie presents a stunning performance as do Susan Dunhaupt as Ed’s wife, Geneva, and Faribault High School sophomore Emily Remmey as Beth Banner, Hal and Sumiko’s daughter.

The prejudice starts right away when Ed Banner insists on calling Sumiko the Americanized “Sue.” He slides in references to “slant eyes” (there’s the “eye” thing again) and other derogatory comments.

In real-life, prejudice is an issue in Faribault, home to many Latino, Somali and Sudanese family. It is no secret that prejudice exists in my community. You can read about it in a previous post by clicking here.

I didn’t spot a single minority in the audience Friday evening,  not unusual despite Faribault’s sizable minority population.

There, that’s all I’m telling you about The Car, other than to advise you to see this powerful and memorable production. It’s community theater at its best for the superb acting and the unforgettable messages delivered.

Faribault artist Vivian Jones created this watercolor, “It Was Grandma’s Car,” for the current “car pARTS” show.

Additional performances of The Car at the Paradise, 321 Central Avenue, Faribault, are set for 7:30 p.m. on September 15, 20, 21 and 22 and at 2 p.m. September 16. Call (507) 332-7372 or click here to reach the Paradise website. According to info published in the theater program, production of The Car is made possible through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support Grant.

While you’re at the play, be sure to check out the exhibit, “car pARTS,” in the Carlander Family Gallery.

The Beat logo.

NOW LET’S PLACE another piece in that art collage. On-air poetry.

In July, Northern Community Radio began airing poetry on its weekday morning show during a segment called The Beat.

On Monday my poem, “Her Treasure,” will air on 91.7 KAXE (89.9/Brainerd) and on 90.5 KBXE. Now I won’t be able to listen to whomever reads my poem between 7:30 a.m. – 8 a.m. and again between 3:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Faribault is well outside the coverage area which extends from Thief River Falls to Hermantown to Pierz. Eventually, though, I’ll be able to listen to the reading of my poem online.

You can listen to The Beat via online streaming. (I’m not smart enough to figure that out and my former in-house techie now lives at NDSU in Fargo.)

I’m in the company of some mighty fine poets, from novices to Minnesota’s 2011 poet laureate, Joyce Sutphen, to well-known Minnesota writer Will Weaver. You can check out the current listing of The Beat poems/poets by clicking here.

The poems chosen for airing were selected through a juried process.

Connie Ludwig, right, and I pose for a photo with her watercolor, “Pantry Jewels” (above my head) inspired by my poem, “Her Treasure.” This photo was taken in April at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota.

Just, FYI, “Her Treasure” is the same poem featured in “Poetry Artist Collaboration XI” at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota last April. To read my poem, click here.

I love this whole concept of The Beat, of Northern Community Radio’s “daily reminder that, in Minnesota, poetry matters, and Minnesota poets prove that every day.”

You can expect a forthcoming detailed post from me on this project funded by Minnesota’s Arts & Cultural Heritage monies.

The cover of last year’s The Talking Stick 20.

NEXT, LET’S PLACE the third piece in this arts collage. More poetry, plus fiction and creative nonfiction.

Today I’m missing out on a book release party for The Talking Stick 21 in the Park Rapids area. This anthology, published by The Jackpine Writers Bloc, represents some fine writing by Minnesota writers. You can, referencing back to The Beat, listen to the poetry of Sharon Harris, a Jackpine member and one of the key producers of the collection.

I’ve been published in two previous volumes of The Talking Stick (including receiving an honorable mention for my poem, “Hit-and-Run,” in volume 19) and will be published again in this newest volume. My poem, “Broken,” was chosen from among 275 submissions for publication.

To learn more about The Talking Stick, click here. To learn more about The Jackpine Writers’ Bloc, click here.

THAT’S IT. Now, go ahead, add your own pieces to this art collage via your comments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Poetic Strokes: Strong regional writing April 12, 2012

COULD YOU WRITE a poem about bacon?

Julie Hathaway of Rochester did. She penned “Bacon,” one of 30 poems selected for publication in 2012 Poetic Strokes: A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota.

When I saw the poem title, I had my reservations. How could bacon possibly be poetic?

Julie proves that bacon, bacon grease specifically, can certainly be poetic when connected to your past—to fried eggs and fried potatoes and a cast iron skillet—and to your life today. This unlikeliest of topics made for a nostalgic read in a volume that highlights some strong regional writing.

You’ll find poems like “Zumbro River Almanac” by Kevin Strauss of Rochester, where the Zumbro slices through the heart of the city. Other poems in the volume, such as “To the North” by Betty J. Benner of Austin, “Sunrise” by Nicole Borg of Wabasha and “Jacobs Lake” by John Chernega of Winona, also possess a strong sense of place.

And then there are poems like “Scottie’s Apple Pie” by Bev Jackson Cotter of Albert Lea. It’s perhaps the sweetest verse in this volume as Bev writes about the precious memories a mother tucks into her heart after baking a pie from the crab apples her four-year-old picks.

On the opposite end of youth, Peter C. Allen of Kenyon writes about his aged, dying father in a poignant poem.

Then, to lighten the mood, Riki Kölbl Nelson of Northfield compares a first snowfall to rollicking, out-of-control children slitting bed covers and spilling feathers from a sky castle. It is a playful image.

All in all, this sixth edition of Poetic Strokes, a project of Southeastern Libraries Cooperating and financed with Minnesota’s Arts and Cultural Heritage fund monies, is a delight to read. You will find copies of 2012 Poetic Strokes now available for check-out from libraries within the 11-county SELCO system.

FYI: My poem, “Writing Poetry as the Sun Rises,” is published in this 2012 anthology as one of 30 poems selected from 202 submissions.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


An enlightening, poetic moment and more January 21, 2012

SOMETIMES I’M A SLOW LEARNER, mostly in math and science. But this time my delayed learning applies to words, specifically poetry.

Dear readers, don’t stop reading now simply because I mentioned the word “poetry.”

I prefer to read and write poetry that is down-to-earth and not so open to interpretation or overloaded with big words that I cannot possibly comprehend the content.

With that perspective, consider this: Poetry is meant to be read aloud.

“Duh,” you say. “She just figured that out.”

Yes, I did.

Poet Derek Liebertz reads a poem during "The Image and the Word 2012" reception. The poems are displayed next to the photos that inspired them.

Thanks to Derek Liebertz and Yvonne Cariveau, organizers of “The Image and the Word 2012” exhibit at the Emy Frentz Arts Guild in downtown Mankato, I now fully grasp the importance of reading poetry. Out loud. To an audience.

You see, I attended a reception Thursday evening for the poets and photographers whose work is featured in an exhibit that pairs photos and poems. During that event, Derek and Yvonne read poems inspired by those photos and also invited other participating poets, me among them, to read their works.

Only once, many, many years ago, have I read my poetry in public, unless, of course, you count all those times I read silly “married life” poems at cousins’ bridal showers decades ago. Public reading was not the easiest thing for me to do, but I managed.

The atmosphere on Thursday evening was so relaxed and casual, however, that I nearly breezed through reading two of the three poems I’d written. In hindsight, my readings could have been much better had I practiced at home. But I didn’t, and what’s done is done.

Yvonne Cariveau reads a poem. To the left is a photo taken by Kay Helms and voted as the "favorite photo" during the Thursday evening reception. The landscape image was taken along Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

The other poets, though, clearly were accustomed to and comfortable sharing their poetry with a listening audience. I listened with a learning ear, picking up on the drama, the cadence, the tone, the volume, the movement of the hands, the facial expressions and every nuance that conveyed the meaning and depth of a poem.

I got it. Finally.

That does not mean I’m eager to read poetry in public again. But I understand how a poem can be more fully appreciated when read aloud by its author.

Why did it take me so long to figure this out?

BESIDES THE POETRY lesson I learned Thursday evening, I also met and learned a bit about several other “The Image and the Word 2012” participants. Derek, for example, works as a programmer at his wife Yvonne’s company, Voyageur Web. Who would expect techies to write poetry? Not me. Derek, the most dramatic of the readers, tagged his day job as his “Clark Kent” persona. You have to appreciate a guy with that type of humor, which weaves into his writing.

Then I met John Othoudt, a retired highway department employee turned photographer. His exhibit photo of farmers gathered at the tailgate of a vintage pick-up truck was taken at the Le Sueur County Pioneer Power Show. With a single click of his mouse, John edited the image into a pencil drawing style that makes the photo appear vintage 1950s. It inspired me to write “Taking lunch to the men in the field,” recalling the afternoons my older brother and I did exactly that on the Redwood County crop and dairy farm where we grew up.

"Lunch Time" by John Othoudt of Lake Crystal

I’d encourage you to click here and check out John’s photography. This man has talent. I share his passion for noticing details and photographing the often overlooked everyday and ordinary things in life. He shoots in the moment, he says. His “Lunch Time” photo, for example, happened as he was planning another shot. I understand. Some of my best photos have simply happened, unexpectedly.

Then I met Terri DeGezelle, whose credentials are even more impressive than those she shared with me Thursday. Click here to learn more about this woman who has written 64 nonfiction children’s books and is also an avid nature photographer. Her “Artist’s Colors,” a photo of colorful chalk, won the best paired photo-to-poem honor at the reception. Susan Stevens Chambers wrote the accompanying poem. I loved Terry’s enthusiasm and warm personality and the pure passion she exudes for the crafts of writing and photography.

As I was preparing to leave and thanking Yvonne for organizing the exhibit, I talked briefly with John Calvin Rezmerski, who encouraged me in my writing. His “Window” poem was voted as the favorite poem. Only until later, back home, did I learn that he is the League of Minnesota Poets current Poet Laureate and a well-known, established poet with 20 books, chapbooks and anthologies to his credit. He’s retired from teaching creative writing, journalism, literature, storytelling and more at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. Unlike me, he’s quite experienced at reading his work in public.

I met other delightful individuals, too, including Kay Helms, whose “The Witness Tree” was selected as the favorite photo at Thursday’s reception. The stunning sunset image was taken along U.S. Highway 14 between Waseca and Owatonna.

Helms’ photography will be displayed February 17 – March 18 at the Arts Center of Saint Peter in a collection of words and photos highlighting individuals who worked the land in south central Minnesota. Click here for details.

IN SUMMARY, Thursday’s reception proved invaluable for me. I learned that I could stand (or sit) before an audience and read my poetry without too much trepidation. I learned that poetry shines when read. And, finally, even though I was likely the most novice of the participating poets, I felt comfortable among all that talent. They are a fine bunch of poets, but more important, they are warm, kind and welcoming individuals with whom I enjoyed networking.

CLICK HERE TO READ a previous post I wrote about “The Image and the Word 2012.”

Click here to learn more about me, my writing and photography, including my published poetry credits.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

“Lunch Time” photo courtesy of and copyrighted by John Othoudt