Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

 

Montgomery revisited, Part I February 26, 2020

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A section of downtown Montgomery, Minnesota, with its many historic buildings.

 

I DOUBT I’VE WRITTEN about any small Minnesota community more than I’ve written about Montgomery. Located within a half hour of my Faribault home, it’s a quick drive away. And Montgomery offers just enough to keep me returning.

 

Signs always draw my eye, including this one. It’s simple, nostalgic…

 

Especially interesting is the downtown with eye-catching signage, aged buildings and home-grown shops.

 

Among the sweet offerings at the long-time, popular Franke’s Bakery.

 

An old-fashioned bakery.

 

Outside the entry to the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center located in Hilltop Hall.

 

A thriving Arts & Heritage Center.

 

Beer to go at Montgomery Brewing.

 

A brewery with outstanding craft beers.

 

The friendly young man I met while photographing downtown. He paused to let me pet Buddy.

 

Friendly people.

 

Everywhere downtown you’ll find signs promoting kolacky.

 

A deep appreciation for the area’s Czech heritage. Combine those and you have a small town that appeals to me.

 

Third-generation Franke’s Bakery is known for its kolacky.

 

I recognize that what interests me may not interest you. But there’s something to be said for small towns with a strong sense of identity and pride in that identity. For Montgomery, it’s the tag, “Kolacky Capital of the World.” The kolacky is a bun-like Czech pastry filled with a fruit or poppyseed filling. Risking the wrath of the Czech, I will tell you that it’s not a favorite of mine. I’d choose a doughnut before a kolacky. But then I am of German descent and was not raised in this area of Minnesota.

 

Stand in the grocery store parking lot and you can see the grain elevator in one direction, the brewery in another and the main street through downtown, too.

 

None of that matters really. What matters is that I like Montgomery. Unleash me with a camera in this town and I get excited about the photo ops, all the ways I can capture the essence of this place. If my creative work is anything, it has always been about defining place.

 

Spotted in the window of a downtown business. These handwritten signs give a place character.

 

I will always feel most comfortable in a rural town like Montgomery. I appreciate a place where I can view a grain elevator, spot handwritten signs on business doors and windows, chat it up with the locals, stop to pet a passerby’s dog and stand in the middle of Main Street to take a photo without worry of traffic.

Now that my photo essay about Montgomery has published in the March issue of Southern Minn Scene magazine, I am free to share more photos from my January day trip to this Le Sueur County community. Enjoy and watch for additional posts highlighting Montgomery as I, once again, define this place in images and words.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery, Through a SoMinn Lens February 24, 2020

A scene outside Franke’s Bakery in downtown Montgomery, Minnesota, on a recent Saturday morning. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo January 2020.

 

SEVERAL WEEKS HAVE PASSED since my last day trip to Montgomery, a small Minnesota town of some 3,000 about a 30-minute drive from my Faribault home.

Randy and I went to Montgomery specifically to view an exhibit of 1900s era photos of Native Americans by noted photographer Edward S. Curtis. The exhibit at the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center closes this Saturday, February 29. You can learn more about that show by clicking here and reading a previous post.

My reason for writing about Montgomery today is to share my latest Through a SoMinn Lens photo essay column, “Day trip to Montgomery, Kolacky Capital of the World,” which just published in the March issue of Southern Minn Scene. To see the current issue of this free lifestyle, arts and entertainment magazine, click here.

As always, I am delighted to showcase a small Minnesota community well worth your visit. As time allows this week (I’m trying to complete other writing projects with deadlines), I will share more Montgomery photos with you. Enjoy!

And if you have any suggestions of small towns (or attractions) in southern Minnesota that I should visit, please pass along your ideas.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sample billboards along Interstate 90 in Wisconsin February 19, 2020

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Drive Interstate 90 between La Crosse and Madison, Wisconsin, and you’ll see lots of billboards around the larger cities and in the area by the Dells. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

BILLBOARDS CAN CLUTTER the landscape. Too many words. Too many materialistic messages. Too much visual imprint when I’d rather see the natural surroundings.

 

As you would expect in Wisconsin, there are lots of signs for cheese places along I-90. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

But I understand the value of signs, large or small, in drawing people into businesses, to destinations, to detour off the interstate. That said, I noticed a lot of vacant billboard real estate while traveling Interstate 90 from La Crosse to Madison, Wisconsin, this past weekend. I can only speculate that in a tech driven world, this form of marketing to the masses is declining.

 

Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots. Anyone know the story behind this billboard?

 

Still, I pay attention to roadside signage and noticed a billboard with a simple and profound message: FORGIVE and BE KIND. I photographed the sign within 10 minutes of Exit 69, the road to Mauston and Oxford. A LAMAR Advertising credit runs along the bottom.

FORGIVE and BE KIND. The words are simple enough. But forgiveness and the added directive to “be kind” can prove a struggle when the pain and hurt run deep. Yet, both can be achieved. It takes work. Time. Healing.

 

Another cheese sign along I-90 in south central Wisconsin. Edited photo by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

 

I’d like to hear your thoughts on the FORGIVE and BE KIND billboard and/or on billboards in general.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Welcome to Wisconsin February 18, 2020

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An ice fisherman photographed at the La Crosse, Wisconsin, rest stop.

 

I OFTEN WONDER, what do outsiders think? And, by outsiders, I mean those of you unfamiliar with a Midwest winter, specifically with the sport of ice fishing.

I mean, let’s say you’re from Miami or LA or Dallas and you’ve never seen a village of fish houses atop a frozen lake let alone vehicles driving onto and across the ice. For Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, scenes like this are simply part of our winters.

Or let’s say you pull off the interstate, like we did on Saturday along I-90 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and you spot two guys loading fishing equipment onto a sled in a rest area parking lot. Randy and I saw exactly that.

The scene seemed so Midwest Norman Rockwell-like. Bucket and fishing gear atop a simple pull-behind sled. Fisherman layered in warm outdoor outerwear topping a red-and-black buffalo plaid flannel shirt. Paul Bunyan fashion at its finest.

As we exited the parking lot, I managed a photo. Iconic. A guy on his way to ice fish in the backwaters of the Mississippi River on a Saturday morning in mid-February. Love it.

TELL ME: Have you ever been ice fishing, or even observed an angler ice fishing? And, yes, I’ve fished through a hole in the ice on a frozen lake. Just not in recent years.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How a small Minnesota town celebrates the arts & its Czech heritage February 4, 2020

The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center in small town Minnesota.

 

IN THE HEART OF CZECH COUNTRY, in the small southern Minnesota community of Montgomery, population 3,000, the arts thrive.

 

Photographed in the arts center gift shop.

 

That’s a testament to the devotion of those who care about the arts and about preserving Czech culture and heritage in this self-proclaimed Kolacky Capital of the World. (Kolacky are a Czech pastry.)

 

Beautiful Hilltop Hall with the arts center on the right and a floral and gift shop on the left. A performing arts space is located on the second floor.

 

In a section of historic Hilltop Hall—yes, appropriately named for its hilltop location in the heart of downtown—the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center centers the arts. I love this place, where I’ve attended theatrical performances and viewed exhibits, most recently vintage photos of western U.S. Native Americans photographed by Edward S. Curtis.

 

The Edward Curtis exhibit in the foreground and the gift shop in the back.

 

Czech glassware in the gift shop.

 

After touring that exhibit, I walked toward the back of the narrow room to the gift shop which features Czech, handcrafted and other goods.

 

Portraits of past Masopust kings in Montgomery.

 

There I also spotted portraits of Masopust kings, young men crowned at the community’s annual Czech Mardi Gras. That celebration is set for noon – 5 p.m. Sunday, February 23, at American Legion Post 79 and includes a costume ball, polka music, silent auction and Czech food.

In April, the Legion hosts an Escape Room Experience fundraiser for the Arts & Heritage Center through Tri-City United Community Ed.

I love how people in small towns work together and support one another. At different times from March into May, the arts center will exhibit the artwork of local elementary, middle and high school students.

The arts center is also honoring Montgomery’s rural-ness with a “Celebration of Farmers and Agriculture” exhibit of art at local businesses from mid-May to the end of October. Work from artists, in any 2D or 3D medium, is being sought with a March 1 registration deadline. To entice entrants, there’s a top prize of $1,000. That’s substantial. Prizes will be awarded during Kolacky Days weekend July 24-26.

 

A sampling of Kolacky Days queen portraits.

 

Jane shows me a group photo of Kolacky Days queens.

 

Czech words I inquired about.

 

As I meandered through the Arts & Heritage Center, I noticed portraits of Kolacky Days queens rimming the room near the ceiling. Jane, volunteering her time to staff the center on the day of my visit, pulled down a group photo of past queens riding together on a Kolacky Days float. She’s of Czech heritage. But she couldn’t translate a posting of Czech words I spotted. Not that I, of German heritage, could translate German words, even if I studied German for six years. I understand.

 

Volunteer Jane stationed near the front door.

 

Jane presented a warm welcome to this exceptional small town Minnesota center for the arts and preservation of the community’s Czech heritage. I encourage you to visit Montgomery. Stop at the Arts & Heritage Center, walk through the main business district, shop the small shops, grab a bite to eat, maybe even a beer at the local brewery. There’s so much to appreciate about Montgomery. (Keep in mind that this is a small town and places are open limited hours.)

 

Quilt art honoring Montgomery’s Czech heritage hangs in the gift shop.

 

This community is the focus of my monthly Through a SoMinn Lens photo essay, publishing soon in Southern Minn Scene magazine.

 

 

FYI: The Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center is open from 2-5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 9 a.m. – noon on Saturdays. It is supported primarily by memberships, fundraisers and donations. Visit the center’s Facebook page for more info on events mentioned in this post.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A snapshot of Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city January 27, 2020

Wisconsin’s capitol sits atop a hill in the heart of downtown Madison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

MADISON, WISCONSIN, is, if anything, a capital city of vast green spaces. At least that’s my observation after visiting several times. Two of my three adult children now live there. So I’m exploring, getting to know this place that doesn’t feel all that much like a large metro area.

 

Downtown Madison, around the capitol, is one busy place on a Saturday morning during the Farmers’ Market. The way some of the streets come together reminds me of the squares in greater Boston. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I’m comfortable here without skyscrapers defining the cityscape. The lovely domed capitol, set atop a hill, centers the walkable downtown. I’ve been to the Dane County Farmers’ Market there, albeit on a rainy Saturday that didn’t lend itself to lingering. We ducked inside the capitol to avoid the rain.

 

Randy stops to check a photo he took inside the Olbrich Botanical Gardens conservatory. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

Madison edges two lakes. Parks along the lakes and elsewhere make this city feel welcoming to someone like me who prefers open spaces. I’ve already visited Olbrich Botanical Gardens three times.

 

Me, thrilled to see my first Andy Warhol original. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Miranda, December 2019.

 

And last trip here, I toured the massive Chazen Museum of Art where I delighted in Andy Warhol’s depiction of Marilyn Monroe. The museum, on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, has no admission fee but a donation box.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

 

But something else grabbed my eye while out and about—a pedestrian with a bicycle wheel strapped to his back. Madison is a bike-friendly place with trails throughout the city. So seeing this should not have surprised me. But, still, it did and caused me to laugh. As a back seat passenger in my daughter’s car, I didn’t have the best spot to get a good photo. But you get the idea.

 

During an October visit, I walked along this recreational/bike trail near my daughter’s home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2019.

 

I love this aspect of Madison, this embracing of bicyclists on a great trail system.

TELL ME: Have you been to Madison? What would you recommend I see next visit? I’ve been to the capitol, dined at several restaurants, patronized a cheese shop, but have yet to visit a brewery.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling