Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In Owatonna: Showcasing the work of fashion designer Spencer Versteeg May 9, 2017

Two of the dresses Spencer Versteeg designed, now on display at the Owatonna Arts Center.

 

HIS PASSION FOR FASHION is evident. It shows in his work, in his enthusiasm, in his energetic vibe.

 

Spencer answers questions about his fashions during his OAC gallery reception.

 

I observed all of that Sunday afternoon at an Owatonna Arts Center reception honoring Spencer Versteeg who returned to his hometown for his first ever gallery showing. He’s an apparel design student heading into his senior year at the University of Minnesota.

 

The exhibit features notebooks and pages of Spencer’s design sketches.

 

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing.

Spencer has known since age seven that he wanted to design clothing. He pursued that interest early on via local theatre and a high school internship at Kristi’s Clothing Boutique.

 

 

 

Already Spencer is making an imprint on the fashion scene. Last fall his work was showcased in the noted Envision Fashion Show at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. And this summer he’s interning at Target, working on a floor set that should land his women’s clothing designs in Target stores.

 

 

 

Front dress details drape.

 

Spencer’s clothing designs hang high on a gallery space wall.

 

Asked to describe his design style, Spencer paused, then responded with a single word: vibrant. That seems accurate when I consider his fashion designs beyond hue and pattern. His clothing possesses a vibrancy in a sense of motion, in the flow of fabric, in the impression it exudes.

 

Spencer talks with a gallery guest about his fashion designs. He invited visitors to page through his sketchbooks.

 

And then there’s Spencer himself, engaging family and friends with a notable appreciation for their support and with a deep love for the creative process of fashion design.

 

Rows of sketches by Spencer are taped to a gallery wall.

 

When I inquired about his future, he provided an honest answer. “That’s a good question,” Spencer said, offering no hint at the direction his life may take after graduation from the U of M.

 

The bodice of a particularly creative dress shown at the Envision Fashion Show.

 

“New York?” I asked.

 

 

He’s been to New York, Spencer said, enough to understand he needs space, open physical space. But I expect if opportunities present themselves in the New York fashion scene, this Owatonna native will embrace them.

 

 

 

Clothing patterns are tapped to gallery windows.

 

 

 

I know next to nothing about fashion, although I sewed my own clothing (from purchased patterns) while in high school. But I understand the need, the desire, the passion to create. Just like Spencer.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Faribault mural honors Heisman Trophy winner & native son Bruce Smith November 3, 2015

ATTEND A FOOTBALL GAME in Faribault, and you’ll cheer from Bruce Smith Field.

Peruse the Rice County Historical Society, a short distance from the football field, and you’ll discover an exhibit about Bruce Smith.

In mid-June, pop over to the Faribault Golf Club for the annual Bruce Smith Golf Classic.

Head downtown to Buckham Memorial Library and you’ll find a locally-produced DVD titled Bruce “Boo” Smith #54: 1941 Heisman trophy winner.

Faribault's newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Faribault’s newest mural honors native son and Heisman Trophy winner Bruce Smith.

Now Faribault has added one more item to its Bruce Smith list—a mural. Last Friday the Mural Society of Faribault installed a downtown mural honoring Smith, who won the 1941 Heisman Trophy for most outstanding college football player. He was the first Minnesotan to garner that prize from the Sportswriters and Sports Broadcasters of America. Smith, a team captain and All-American halfback for the University of Minnesota Gophers, received the award on December 9, 1941, in New York City. That’s two days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

Bruce Smith, as painted by Dave Correll of Brushwork Signs.

After college, Smith would go on to serve his country as a Navy fighter pilot during WW II. He also played football with the Navy.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith, a nice addition to the mural.

The mural includes substantial information about Bruce Smith. Click on the image to enlarge.

While researching Smith, born in Faribault in 1920, I learned that he:

  •  played professional football for four years—for the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
  •  starred in a 1942 Columbia Pictures movie about himself, Smith of Minnesota.
  •  nearly died of a ruptured kidney during a 1947 football game.
  •  retired from football at age 29.
  •  co-owned a sporting goods store in Northfield and worked in sales for a clothing store and a beer distributor. (Perhaps F-Town Brewing,  Faribault’s new craft brewery, could name a beer after him; makes marketing sense to me.)
  •  died of cancer in August 1967 at the age of 47.
  •  was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
  •  had his number, 54, retired by the Gophers, a first for the U.
The mural honors Faribault's most-renowned athlete.

The mural honors Faribault’s most-renowned athlete.

Probably the most interesting fact I uncovered is Smith’s 1978 nomination for sainthood in the Catholic church. A man of strong faith, he prayed before and after games and also ministered to young cancer patients. I find this nomination especially notable given today’s often less than saintly behavior among many football players. But from all accounts I’ve read, Smith was a wholesome hometown boy, much beloved by his community. And that, in my opinion, holds an honor as great as winning the Heisman Trophy.

The mural is tucked away on the back of an historic downtown building.

The mural, comprised of panels rather than painted directly onto brick, is displayed on the back of a flooring business.

FYI: The Bruce Smith mural is located on the back of Floors by Farmer at the corner of Central Avenue and Fifth Street Northwest in historic downtown Faribault. The latest mural joins murals of town founder Alexander Faribault (directly across from the Smith mural), Fleck’s Beer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, Ice Skating on the Straight River, historic downtown Faribault overview and the annual Pet Parade. Faribault based Brushwork Signs designed, created and installed the murals.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Sources:

http://heisman.com/roster.aspx?rp_id=8&path=football

http://www.minnesotaalumni.org/s/1118/content.aspx?pgid=1307

http://rchistory.org/exhibits/

https://www.facebook.com/rchistory/

http://selco.ent.sirsi.net/client/en_US/far/search/results?qu=bruce+smith&te=&lm=FAR_LIMIT

 

U of M study on teen texting and driving targets rural Minnesota February 25, 2013

WE’VE ALL HEARD the warnings about texting and driving. You’ve likely even spotted someone texting and driving. I haven’t.

Interstate 94 sometimes seems to run right into the sky as you drive west.

Interstate 94 in western Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But a brother-in-law, who is a trucker, recently shared a story about watching a young woman lose control of her car along Interstate 94 in western Minnesota while texting. Somehow she managed to keep her car on the road and avoid a crash. My brother-in-law claims the incident happened so fast that the driver never took her eyes off her cell phone.

Stories like that scare me.

Now researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Institute are undertaking a study of young drivers and texting practices in 18 Minnesota communities, most of them rural and Faribault among them.

I first learned of the study in a news brief published in the Faribault Daily News soliciting 20 newly-licensed 16-year-olds from the Faribault area to participate in the year-long study. Intrigued, I contacted Nichole L. Morris, a research associate in the U of M’s HumanFIRST program in the ITS Institute. She is working on this project, funded by the ITS Institute and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, along with a team of researchers.

My phone, not a smart phone, but with an important message.

My phone, not a smart phone, but with an important message.

The 300 teens selected for the study will be equipped with smartphones to collect and transmit driving data in real-time for their first full year of independent driving. Researchers will collect data until May 2104 with group data reported to MnDOT and then made public in early 2015.

“These results will hopefully shed light on what areas are most problematic for teen drivers, what can be done with our technology to improve the safety of teen drivers and what changes, if any, should be implemented to our teen driver laws to prevent more teen driving fatalities,” Morris says.

Eighty percent of teen fatal crashes occur in rural areas, Morris says, explaining why the project is targeting 18 mostly rural Minnesota communities. Faribault was selected for the study because of its population and low commuting rate. She declined to name the other 17 communities or any hypotheses to avoid adding bias to the study.

But, says Morris, “My hope is that we find some key answers to reduce crash and fatalities for teen drivers in Minnesota and nationwide. This is such an important issue because traffic crashes are the leading cause of fatalities for teens. The rate at which we lose our sons and daughters on the road is unacceptable and it is a charge to all citizens to help to become the solution to this problem.”

The passion Morris, who holds a Ph.D. in Human Factors Psychology, possesses for this project is palpable. “It is an exciting opportunity for parents and teens to be a part of the solution to end teen traffic fatalities.”

Eighteen communities in rural Minnesota are included in the teen texting and driving study.

The study is targeting rural Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

As of Friday morning, 216 Minnesota teens from the selected communities had been recruited for the study. About 10 more are needed from the Faribault area.

To apply, a teen must be 16 years of age, currently have a driver’s permit, receive provisional licensure between now and April 30, start the study within a month of getting licensed, drive at least 2-4 times a week, have no physical limitations that prevent driving and have parental permission.

Qualifying teens should contact Morris via phone at 612-624-4614 or email at nlmorris@umn.edu

Besides offering teens an opportunity to help find solutions to teen traffic fatalities, the project is also paying a $25 monthly incentive ($300 to be paid at the end of the year-long study) and providing smartphones with free monthly data, text and talk plans for a year.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling