Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Focus on Minnesota Nice (Enough) October 19, 2020

Stickers span generations. Here my granddaughter, then two, looks at her Poppy stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

WHEN MY GIRLS, now in their early 30s, were growing up, sticker books were all the rage. They filled mini books with stickers. Peel stickers from sheets of glossy paper and adhere them to blank pages. Horses. Kitties. And much more. Cute and bold Lisa Frank designs mostly in a vivid rainbow of hues, strong on pinks and purples.

Park and other stickers grace the window of a 1959 Edsel Village Wagon at a Faribault Car Cruise Night, proving that even adults value stickers. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

My daughters loved paging through their sticker books. Stickers still hold universal appeal. For all ages. (The stickers of my era were lick-and-stick to scenes printed on pages of a sticker book.)

That segues to Minnesota Nice Enough, a Nisswa-based company that crafts weatherproof vinyl stickers that are not your kids’ mass-produced outsourced stickers. These are promoted as “made by real people who care about quality, art, beer, bicycles & dogs.” Now that appeals to me.

Babe the Blue Ox sculpture in Nisswa. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2017.

I first learned about this company during a September visit to Nisswa, a small tourist town located in Minnesota’s central lakes region. Randy and I were in the area, staying at a family member’s guest lake cabin. One day, we ventured into nearby Nisswa to check out the many shops that define this town. Those businesses include Zaiser’s Gift Shop, billing itself as “serving the Nisswa lakes area since 1947 with the most kick-ass products this side of the Milky Way!”

Small grassroots shops line downtown Nisswa.

Already I like this business. Humor and creativity rate high with me. And Biff Ulm, MN Nice Enough creative head who also owns the family retail boutique, obviously possesses both. One need only scroll through the sticker offerings (also sold on etsy) to confirm that. (The business also sells mugs.)

Paul Bunyan, carved into a totem pole at the Totem Pole shop in Nisswa.

Many stickers feature a decidedly northwoods Minnesota theme with buffalo plaid, Paul Bunyan, moose, pines, loons, canoes… Others highlight Minnesotans’ idiosyncrasies like calling pop “pop,” not soda. And calling hotdish “hotdish,” not casserole. And, as promised, beer gets some love in several stickers, including Minnesota and Wisconsin-shaped beer mugs. Yes, Wisconsin also gets lots of love from Minnesota Nice Enough. And, yes, you can purchase a Minnesota Nice Enough sticker, too.

The sticker that initially grabbed my attention.

But it was the oversized ALL WELCOME sticker in the front window of Zaiser’s that first grabbed my attention and led me to learn more about Minnesota Nice Enough (which also features products for adult, not kids’, eyes). That spotlight sticker proclaims that all are welcome. All cultures, beliefs, colors, sizes, ages and identities. And at a time when our nation is so divided, so filled with animosity toward one another, I appreciate this message. It gives me hope, uplifts and encourages me. Thank you, Minnesota Nice Enough.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Honoring Faribault’s history in a functional, public way July 28, 2020

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This shows a portion of Central Avenue, in Faribault’s historic downtown. Historic-themed benches now grace street corners.

 

MY COMMUNITY OF FARIBAULT is proud of its rich history, reflected most noticeably in our downtown historic district of primarily well-kept aged buildings. It is one of the aspects I most love and appreciate about this southeastern Minnesota city where I’ve lived since 1982.

 

This bench, on the south end of Central Avenue, is themed “Central Avenue, Heart of the City.”

 

 

The Central Avenue focused bench features a photo of a parade welcoming home WW I veterans.

 

Now another dimension has been added to the downtown with the street corner placement of park style cast iron benches that feature stories and photos on local history. Functional, educational and lovely.

 

A bench on the corner of Central and Minnesota State Highway 60/Fourth Street highlights government in Faribault, the county seat of Rice County, Minnesota.

 

Diagonally across the street, a bench focuses on milling in Faribault.

 

A close-up on the milling bench shows a flour mill that once operated here.

 

Sunday morning Randy and I walked along Central Avenue, pausing at each bench to read the brief text and view the accompanying images.

 

The Tilt-A-Whirl amusement ride was invented in Faribault and themes one bench. Two refurbished vintage Tilt-A-Whirls located downtown also provide photo ops for locals and visitors.

 

Details on the Sellner Manufacturing/Tilt-A-Whirl bench.

 

The restored Tilt-A-Whirl and themed bench are located by Burkhartzmeyer Shoes, a third-general family-owned shoe store, which includes a repair shop.

 

A project of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism and Faribault Main Street, the business-sponsored benches provide a quick lesson in Faribault’s history. I was curious to see what topics would be highlighted. None surprised me.

 

Peony farms are an important part of Faribault’s history.

 

Likewise, Farmer Seed & Nursery, a long-standing business icon now closed, focuses a bench.

 

The “Famous People of Faribault” themed bench includes Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith, Red Jackson and Marlo Brandon (who attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s School). The local athletic field is named after Smith.

 

From milling to manufacturing (of the Tilt-A-Whirl), from education to floriculture, from famous people to noted buildings and much more, Faribault’s history is well-covered. I noted, though, that the fur trade, brewing history and Women’s Air Force Service Pilot Liz Wall Strohfus (after whom our airport is named) missing. But benches are in the works for those.

 

A broader view of Central Avenue, where the benches are located. This one is of Bishop Henry Whipple and Shattuck-St. Mary’s School.

 

This bench honors Bishop Whipple, important in founding Shattuck-St. Mary’s School and construction of The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour.

 

Thomas and Anna Buckham gifted a library to the city.

 

For anyone new to or visiting Faribault or even those who grew up here or have lived here for a long time (like me), I’d recommend a stroll along several blocks of Central Avenue to view these 12 benches. History is such an important part of a community in defining its identity. Past and present link. And sometimes it’s good to review that history, to understand and appreciate a place.

 

The restored Security State Bank clock is also an important part of Faribault’s preservation efforts.

 

This local graciously moved so we could look at the WPA bench.

 

Works Progress Administration projects in Faribault highlight this bench. Those include noted local landmarks like the Faribault waterworks, the viaduct and the Rice County Courthouse.

 

Parents, grandparents, educators, take the kids downtown Faribault for a walk and a quick history lesson. Along the way, notice businesses and how diverse our community.

 

Faribault’s newest mural, left, honors Bishop Henry Benjamin Whipple. The one to the right features the Faribault Pet Parade and was placed on the Central Park Bandshell several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

This banner hangs in downtown Faribault as part of a branding campaign defining areas of our city. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Buckham Memorial Library. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Reflect on the stories you read on these benches and perhaps plan additional side trips to take in places highlighted. Also seek out the many historically-themed murals in our downtown core.

 

The talented artisans bench honors Grace McKinstry,internationally-known portrait painter, and woodcarvers Ivan Whillock and Marvin Kaisersatt.

 

Quarrying of limestone was once a major industry in Faribault and is evidenced in the many historic limestone buildings..

 

The WPA bench sits outside the local pawn shop.

 

I am grateful to those in our community who continue to preserve and showcase Faribault’s past. This bench project is just another example of how history is valued locally. History is, and always will be, an important part of our identity.

 

Several benches are currently unadorned, awaiting final art.

 

And today, the people who live and work here continue to write history for future generations as Faribault grows and changes.

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FUN FOLLOW-UP FACTS:

  • Local and regional businesses crafted the benches, including Jeff Jarvis of West Cedar Studio, Morristown, leading the art work; MRG Tool & Die, Faribault, crafting the steel seats; Mercury Minnesota, Faribault, painting and assembling, Alliant Castings, Winona, creating the bench ends; and Sakatah Carvers, Signs and Creations, Faribault, ordering and applying the decals.
  • The bench end design is based on a set of antique bench ends.
  • Faribault’s identifying brand symbol, the fleur de lis, is custom reverse engineered into the bench ends.
  • A ribbon cutting and history walk around the benches is planned once the project is completed.

Facts source: Kelly Nygaard, Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Updated at 7:40 am July 29, 2020

 

Congrats to these area groups for award-winning tourism promotion in southern Minnesota February 27, 2020

The historic Security National Bank building backdrops this banner in historic downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2019.

 

TRAVEL. When you read that word, what flashes through your mind? Travel abroad? Destinations within your region or state? A cross-country road trip? Whatever your answer, travel is a big industry on levels from local to national to international.

This week those involved in Minnesota tourism gathered in Alexandria to share ideas, to connect, to celebrate. Tourism, after all, ranks as a $16 billion industry here, according to the Explore Minnesota website.

During the 2020 Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference, individuals and organizations were recognized for their accomplishments. And that includes entities from my region.

 

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 north of town promotes attractions in my Minnesota community. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited photo April 2019.

 

To my friends at the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, congratulations on winning the Destination Marketing Award for best “Branding and Integrated Marketing Campaign.” The branding of Faribault as “Making American Stories” is catchy and timeless. As I see it, this theme engages not only our past, but also the present and future. I’ve witnessed our local tourism team working hard to get the word out about Faribault, to draw people and businesses here. For a day. For a life-time. I especially love the new banners around town that define areas like the historic district, the mill district and more.

 

This vintage wagon promotes tourism and the Minne-Roadtrip that includes the communities of Faribault, Northfield and Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

More kudos go to the Faribault tourism folks, and also to those in Owatonna and Northfield, for their tri-city marketing of “Minne-Roadtrip.” The group won the Destination Marketing Award in the “Special Project” category for their work in marketing the three neighboring cities as a destination. I especially appreciate their joint efforts to promote regional tourism. Often we can achieve more through cooperation than alone.

 

Signage in downtown Montgomery promoting Kolacky Days. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

Finally, my congratulations to the Montgomery Area Community Club for earning the Destination Marketing Award in “Niche Targeting.” You all know how much I love Montgomery as evidenced by my many posts about this town of some 3,000 in Le Sueur County. The Community Club focused on growing and promoting Kolacky Days, an annual summer celebration honoring the town’s Czech heritage. Montgomery is located in what is commonly known as Minnesota Czech Country.

 

A close-up of the banner posted outside Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.  Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Wherever you live—whether on the vast plains of the Dakotas or in the heart of a city dense with skyscrapers or in an historic community like mine—I hope you appreciate the place you call home. I value Faribault for its historic downtown, its natural beauty, its arts scene, its diversity…and for the friendships I’ve formed here, in this place where I write American stories.

Click here to read background details about the above referenced awards.

Disclaimer: I’ve previously written about Faribault for the local tourism website.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Another view of Pelican Rapids, Minnesota October 18, 2019

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A mural on the back of a downtown Pelican Rapids building.

 

VIEW A COMMUNITY ONLY from its public front face and you miss seeing the entire portrait of a place.

 

Pete the Pelican

 

On a recent visit to Pelican Rapids in northwestern Minnesota, a side pathway between buildings led me to the Pete the Pelican sculpture.

 

 

 

 

And more—a unique suspension footbridge

 

 

and art on the backs of businesses.

 

 

Pelican Rapids, as you might rightly guess, identifies itself with pelicans. An early history of the town states that enormous pelicans circled overhead as they moved towards their nesting area at the upper rapids.

 

 

And so the pelican became this town’s symbol…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Pelican Rapids: The symbolic art of the pelican October 17, 2019

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Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota

 

OVER-SIZED SCULPTURES, roadside kitsch—whatever term you tag to mammoth outdoor art, I’m a fan. Many Minnesota communities, from Fergus Falls’ otter to Rothsay’s prairie chicken to Garrison’s walleye, identify themselves with public art symbols.

 

The scenic early October drive to Pelican Rapids from Detroit Lakes.

 

Most recently I discovered Pete the Pelican in Pelican Rapids, a northwestern Minnesota town some 50 miles from Fargo, North Dakota. We made a day trip there from Detroit Lakes, where we stayed for a few days recently. Our eventual destination: Maplewood State Park to the east of Pelican Rapids.

 

The horses seem to be galloping off this painting by Marcella Rose, such is the movement she brushed into the scene.

 

Marcella Rose’s pelican art.

 

The varied art of Marcella Rose.

 

We parked downtown, walked around, popped into artist Marcella Rose’s studio and shop,

 

Pete the Pelican

 

Signage about Pete the Pelican.

 

and then looked for Pete the Pelican. The iconic symbol stands 15 ½ feet high and was built from steel, concrete and plaster in 1957. He sits on a concrete base at Mill Pond Dam along the Pelican River.

 

Walking toward the suspension bridge. More info coming in a second post.

 

A nearby park features a unique suspension bridge which also drew our interest.

 

 

 

 

Other, smaller, “friends of Pete” pelican sculptures are scattered throughout the downtown adding to the town’s artsy appeal.

 

Pete the Pelican from another perspective.

 

Pete the Pelican has become a tourist attraction in Pelican Rapids, providing lots of photo ops. This is a town I’ll long remember precisely because of the public pelican art.

TELL ME: Are you drawn to over-sized sculptures? Give me examples of such public art you’ve seen and like. What value do they add to a place?

Please check back for another post from Pelican Rapids.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

It’s all about stories in Faribault’s new branding campaign April 4, 2019

Faribault tourism’s newest billboard along Interstate 35 focuses on Crafting American Stories. Photo edited. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2019.

 

I CONSIDER MYSELF a storyteller, using images and words to share stories. Storytelling resonates with people, connects with them, builds a sense of community.

 

The home of town founder Alexander Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

Now my community of Faribault is embracing the same storytelling concept through a new branding campaign themed as American Stories. A collaboration of the Faribault Main Street Design Committee and the City of Faribault, including the park and rec department, this storytelling approach seems a good fit for my southern Minnesota city. We truly are a place of stories—from past to present.

 

The first in a series of banners to be placed throughout Faribault includes this one photographed outside the Paradise Center for the Arts. The historic Security National Bank building backdrops this image. See the end of this post for more details.

 

Already, this American Stories theme has launched on the Faribault tourism website, on a billboard along Interstate 35 near Faribault and in banners hung throughout the downtown historic district. We truly have a gem of a downtown with many well-preserved historic buildings. Now Preserving American Stories banners flag this historic area.

 

A photo I took inside the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store several years ago after the mill reopened. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

More banners are yet to come, according to Kelly Nygaard of the Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism office and the Faribault Main Street Coordinator. Those markers will include Experiencing American Stories to be posted near River Bend Nature Center, Crafting American Stories near the Faribault Woolen Mill and Shaping American Stories near the Minnesota State Academies for the Deaf and for the Blind and by Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. Additionally, Making American Stories banners will be placed throughout town.

 

This sculpture of Alexander Faribault trading with a Dakota trading partner stands in Faribault’s Heritage Park near the Straight River and site of Faribault’s trading post. Faribault artist Ivan Whillock created this sculpture which sits atop a fountain known as the Bea Duncan Memorial Fountain. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Says Nygaard: “America is often described as a melting pot, and Faribault has always had diversity with Alexander Faribault himself being part First Nations. We have a beautiful downtown, great industry, a wide array of educational options, and plenty of fun ways to experience the outdoors and fun events.”

 

One of my all-time favorite photos taken at the 2012 International Festival in Faribault shows the diversity of Faribault as children gather to break a pinata. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

 

I agree. This stories theme not only portrays the many unique aspects of Faribault, but it creates a sense of identity. And, I hope it also instills in locals a sense of pride in this place we call home. Individually and together we are Faribault’s stories.

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A close-up of the banner posted outside Buckham Memorial Library.

 

ABOUT THAT Preserving American Stories banner. The banner photo features the then Plante Grocery on Third Street which “offered customers a wide variety of household products and foods in baskets, barrels and boxes,” according to info on the Faribault Heritage Preservation Commission website. 

 

 

In my photo of the banner, you will see the top of the 1870 National Security Bank building. The HPC website provides this additional information about the historic structure:  “A Classical Revival-style brick facade covers a stone structure constructed originally by mercantile entrepreneur F.A. Theopold. The building was leased by Security Bank in 1899. The bank eventually purchased the building, and a fourth story was added in 1914, possibly the same year that brick was used to radically alter the structure’s appearance.”

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

An, oh, so Minnesotan celebration at Faribault Flannel Formal February 5, 2019

 

Me in flannel. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MINNESOTA STATE LEGISLATORS recently considered the Labrador retriever as our state dog. The loon is our state bird, the Lady Slipper our state flower. And so on.

Now, if our elected officials decided we also need a state winter dress code, I’d push for flannel shirt and jeans. That’s my outfit of choice from late autumn into spring, or whenever winter ends. Because I work out of my home office, Friday casual fits daily. And because I’ve never been pegged as a fashionista (ask my sister who got my childhood hand-me-down clothes and still reminds me to this day of my horrible fashion sense), I embrace comfortable attire. Like blue jeans and flannel.

 

Source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

So does my community. From 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. this Saturday, February 9, Faribault Main Street celebrates its annual Faribault Flannel Formal. It’s a fitting event for Minnesota, home of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan, typically dressed in red and black buffalo plaid flannel and sturdy jeans.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

To promote the event, locals have been wearing flannel to work and about town on Flannel Fridays.

 

Legendary Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox in Bemidji, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo.

 

The lumberjack theme is very much a part of the Faribault event at 10,000 Drops Craft Distillers and adjoining Corks and Pints in the heart of our historic downtown, just a block off Central Avenue. The dress code obviously calls for flannel with honors awarded to the best-dressed lumberjack and lumberjane.

 

A ticket to the Formal will get you a free commemorative jar. I love these. Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

Attendees can also get into the Paul Bunyan spirit by competing in lumberjack themed games—the giant beaver toss, hammerschlagen and duck the branch.

 

A wonderful blend of textures is presented in this hotdish. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Another Minnesota staple—hotdish (not casserole)—also is an integral part of the Faribault Flannel Formal. Folks are invited to cook up their favorite hotdishes for sampling and a $100 Chamber Check top prize. Who doesn’t love hotdish, the ultimate Minnesota winter comfort food? I’ll take Minnesotan Amy Thielen’s Chicken and Wild Rice Hotdish, thank you. She hosts Heartland Table on Food Network, among other accomplishments.

No Formal is complete without music. The Rochester Caledonian Bagpipers kick off the evening with the classic rock tribute band Horizontal Hero following.

 

Past Faribault Flannel Formal attendees. Photo compliments of Faribault Main Street.

 

While I’ve not attended a Formal yet, I’m pretty certain I’d enjoy it. I mean, I wouldn’t need to dress up. The challenge would come in choosing which flannel shirt to wear. Blue/gray/black? Red/black/gold? Green and black? Teal/black/subtle orange? Green and brownish? Yup lots of choices in my closet.

 

Photo source: Faribault Main Street Facebook page.

 

FYI: For more info on the Faribault Flannel Formal, including tickets, click here.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The holiday spirit comes to Faribault during Winterfest this week (end) November 28, 2018

This classic vintage pick-up truck decorated by Brushworks Signs rated as one of my favorite entries in last year’s Winterfest parade. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

MORE AND MORE, COMMUNITIES in greater Minnesota are discovering the value in creating holiday events that attract locals and visitors. That includes Faribault, which this week hosts Winterfest, an expansion of the long-running Hometown Holidays.

It’s a smart move on the part of host, Faribault Main Street. Anything that brings people into Faribault benefits tourism and businesses through exposure and sales. This marks the second year of Winterfest, highlighted last December by a Parade of Lights. This year fireworks precede the 5:30 p.m. Saturday parade along Central Avenue in our historic downtown.

 

Faribault’s version of the Polar Express. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

But before I expound on Saturday, there’s Thursday’s Hometown Holidays evening of family-oriented attractions and activities from 5 – 7:30 p.m. at Buckham Center. From greeting Santa and his reindeer to crafts, music, snacks, a holiday movie and more, families will find plenty to do. I wish my granddaughter lived closer. I’d take her.

 

Local merchants showcase the holiday spirit in window displays. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

A few blocks away in the heart of the business district, the holiday spirit prevails Thursday evening in a window decorating contest, horse-drawn wagon rides, ice carving, and caroling by Due North, a Minneapolis-based a cappella group. From 6 – 8 p.m. our local art center hosts the Paradise Center for the Arts Acoustic Gallery featuring music by Cannon River Currents and artisan gifts crafted by 20 regional artists at the Holly Days Sale. Downtown shops will be open, too.

That’s Thursday. Friday focuses on teens with open gym and swim, board games and other activities at the Faribault Community Center from 6 – 8 p.m.

 

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside Walmart. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Then comes Saturday, a day so jam-packed with events that I wonder how I can possibly get to everything. I’m also ringing bells for the Salvation Army for two hours.

 

The table set for Christmas guests at the Alexander Faribault house. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

Saturday at 10 a.m., the Rice County Historical Society opens the doors to the home of our town founder for a French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. That runs until 3 p.m. But if Saturday doesn’t work for you, the historic home will also be open on Friday from 4 – 7 p.m. It’s a fun way to learn about Faribault history in a festive setting.

 

The back of the parade as it heads north along Central Avenue in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2017.

 

History will also be on display along Central Avenue at the Faribault Sno-Go Club Vintage Snowmobile Show from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday. Then, as darkness settles, units start arriving for the 5:30 p.m. parade with the fireworks kick-off. A street dance follows from 6:30 – 10 p.m.

In between, you can take in Mick Sterling Presents “At Christmas,” a blended show of music and comedy opening at 7:30 p.m. at the Paradise Center for the Arts. Sunday brings another holiday show with the Paradise Children’s Theatre performing “The Nutcracker Prince” at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

That’s a lot happening in my community. And I’m sure there’s more, like the annual craft and bake sale and luncheon at Peace Lutheran Church on Saturday.

 

Crowds gather along historic Central Avenue as the sun sets before the 2017 Parade of Lights. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

I’m grateful to all who are working so hard to bring the holiday spirit to Faribault through Winterfest and other events. Thank you.

TELL ME: Does your community host any big holiday events?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Why I love Decorah, Part I November 26, 2018

Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum in downtown Decorah draws many visitors interested in learning about their heritage.

 

TWICE I’VE VISITED DECORAH in northeastern Iowa. It’s one of those towns that feels comfortable, inviting, an ideal destination for someone who prefers rural to urban.

 

Decorah is named after Ho-Chunk Chief Waukon Decorah. I spotted this portrait by noted artist Charles Philip Hexom on a stairway wall at the public library.

 

What makes Decorah so appealing to me?

 

 

 

 

The architecture.

 

“Doe and Fawn” sculptures by Victoria Reed stand in a public plaza near a downtown co-op.

 

Love this mural of “Irene” painted by Valerie Miller of Steel Cow.

 

A stone sculpture on the Nelson & Co. building.

 

The art.

One of my favorite spots in Decorah, the waterfall at Dunning’s Spring Park, site of a former grist mill and gifted to the city in 1946.

 

The natural beauty.

 

Valdres House, one of many authentic Norwegian rooted buildings at Vesterheim. This is a typical Norwegian landowner’s house, dismantled and shipped from Norway to Decorad in the mid 1970s.

 

The downtown shops and eateries. The city’s appreciation of its strong Norwegian heritage, even if I’m of German heritage.

And the people. While at Pulpit Rock Brewing, Randy and I shared a picnic table with a young couple and their daughter (and her grandpa). They were quick to answer our questions about places to eat, sleep and explore.

Upon their recommendation, we stayed at a new hotel on the edge of town and met a trio of college friends together for their annual girlfriends’ reunion. They welcomed us into their circle at a gas-fired campfire on a perfect early autumn evening. When did hotels start adding this amenity? I loved it. There’s something about fire…

 

The Upper Iowa River runs through the 34-acre Decorah Community Prairie and Butterfly Garden. This view is from a scenic overlook in Phelps Park.

 

And water. Water is part of the draw for me to this river town.

 

Magnificent stone work at Phelps Park, which also includes a fountain (not on at the time of my visit) crafted from stone.

 

Upon the recommendation of the family at the brewery, we sought out Phelps Park. There we found extensive stonework done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. I often wonder when I see such work, “How did they build this without modern equipment?”

Outside an historic downtown building with a corner tower, I chatted it up with an elderly man on a bench. He drives in from the farm every morning to meet friends for coffee and to sit and people-watch. He lives out by the supper club, he said, which meant nothing to me. But I pretended like it did. He’ll never see me again.

That’s the thing about travel. If you engage with the locals, you’ll learn a thing or ten about the place you’re visiting. Stuff you won’t find on a website, stuff best learned in conversation.

TELL ME: Do you chat it up with locals when you’re traveling? I’d like to hear your stories.

PLEASE CHECK BACK for more photos from Decorah. Have you ever visited Decorah and, if so, what appeals to you there?

NOTE: I took these photos during a mid-September visit to Decorah. The landscape obviously looks much different today. So if you’re not inclined to visit this Iowa city now, think ahead to next spring or summer.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling right at home at Seed Savers Exchange in rural Iowa, Part I October 18, 2018

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HAVE YOU EVER VISITED a place where you were so comfortably at home that you felt as if you’d been there before, but you hadn’t?

 

 

Seed Savers Exchange just north of Decorah, Iowa, feels that way to me. A nonprofit that preserves heirloom plants through planting and nurturing and seed saving, Seed Savers appeals to the farm girl in me. The peaceful setting. The red barn. The ruralness of it all. Iowa. So like my native southwestern Minnesota.

 

 

A tangle of plants, some towering, some not, drew me into a garden near the massive red barn where young women scooped seeds from ripe tomatoes during a mid-September visit. This is their work, this preservation of seeds. I thought of hippies and pioneers and how this tedious labor matters.

And I thought of biting into a sun-warm tomato plucked from the garden, juice trickling from the corners of my mouth. Memories from the farm.

 

 

 

 

I watch Monarchs and bees wend among towering stems of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate blossoms, their flight like words of poetry in Diane’s Garden.

 

 

 

 

There’s so much to love about this place. Berries in the back of a pick-up truck. Chicks clustered, safe behind chicken wire. A path that leads away from the farm site to narrow streams. Quiet as only quiet can be in the countryside.

 

 

 

 

 

And then a second garden on the other side of the Lillian Goldman Visitors Center. Here my favorite flower—the simple zinnia and corn drying to harvest and sunflowers heavy with seed. And more, oh, so much more.

 

 

Inside the visitors center, the results of it all—rows and rows and rows of stocked seed packets. Bull’s Blood Beet. Rat-Tailed Radish. Hungarian Heart Tomato. What to choose from among all the alliterations, all the words that write of bounty and beauty. I choose Sea Shells Cosmos Mix for myself, Gold Medal Tomato for a niece with a passion for gardening.

 

 

I wish I could stay here, far from the stresses of life. I feel a peace in being here, sequestered from reality, from noise, from the world. There’s something about Seed Savers Exchange that feels comfortably familiar to me. Like I lived on this land once, walked below this blue sky, wandered among the waving blossoms of Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate. Yet I’d not been here prior to this visit. Except perhaps in the poetry of words and of memories.

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© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling