Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My Minnesota hometown celebrates summer with its famous chicken, dancing in the street & more June 14, 2012

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I’LL NEVER FORGET the summer the neighbor boy coaxed me into riding with him on the Octopus during V-Esta Daze, my hometown’s annual summer celebration. What was I thinking as I settled into the amusement ride with Keith? What was he thinking?

I screamed the entire dizzying ride, scared out of my teenaged wits.

The same chicken dinner sign goes up every year inside the Vesta Community Hall. The price is updated when necessary.

While a carnival is no longer a part of V-Esta Daze, one aspect of the Vesta Commercial Club-sponsored celebration has remained constant. Since 1963, the Club has served its “famous barbecued chicken.”

It’s considered “famous,” I suppose, because V-Esta Daze became known for its chicken, just like Sauerkraut Days in Henderson is noted for its sauerkraut and Barnesville Potato Days is known for its potatoes.

The chicken dinner I enjoyed last summer at V-Esta Daze.

It is such comfortable familiarity, the same year-after-year offering of savory chicken grilled by the same volunteer men over a long pit of coals next to the old brick Vesta Community Hall that keeps locals and natives and those from neighboring towns returning.

This Friday, June 15, the crowds will be back, lining up at the hall between 5 – 8 p.m. for that famous chicken dinner.

The Lucan Community Band played under the shade trees outside the community hall and across the street from the elevator at last year’s celebration.

Outside the hall, members of the Lucan Community Band will settle onto battered folding chairs to entertain the crowd with old favorites while folks listen and visit, catching up on the latest.

Area residents brought their vintage tractors to town for a tractor and car show last year. This year the show has been expanded to include “anything with wheels.”

Over on Main Street, tractors and cars and more will line up for the “Anything with Wheels” show between 4:30 – 8 p.m.

My cousin Dawn’s son, Kegan, enjoyed a pony ride at the 2011 celebration.

The Vesta Vikings 4-H Club is sponsoring a petting zoo and will be selling root beer floats.

Kids picked up hoses in water fights at last year’s V-Esta Daze.

Kids will engage in water fights near the hall from 6 – 8 p.m. I remember, when I was growing up, how fire departments from neighboring communities competed against one another to push a barrel along a cable with water shooting from a fire hose. I can still hear the pounding of water against metal, feel the excitement as the barrel flipped and turned and rode the cable until one team slammed the barrel into a post.

The only contests this year are the bean bag tourney beginning at 6 p.m. and the pie eating contest at 10 p.m.

In between and after, from early evening until 1 a.m., two musical groups will entertain at the street dance. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like dancing on the pavement of your one-block-Main-Street hometown while drinking beer on a sweltering summer night.

At least that’s what I remember, from years ago.

The Vesta Community Hall, center of the V-Esta Daze celebration. To the left is the covered BBQ pit.

Along Minnesota Highway 19, this sign marks my hometown, population around 330 and home of the nation’s first electric co-op.

FYI: Vesta is located in southwestern Minnesota, half way between Redwood Falls and Marshall on State Highway 19.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Lucan Community Band: A photo essay August 6, 2011

The Lucan Community Band performs outside the Vesta Community Hall during V-Esta Daze.

IF I WOULD HAVE BEEN less concerned about sinking my teeth into grilled chicken at my hometown’s community celebration on a recent Friday evening, I’d know more about the Lucan Community Band.

The band performed from 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. under the shade trees outside the Vesta Community Hall, where diners lined up inside for a sumptuous meal of chicken, potato salad, beans and a dinner roll.

I wiggled my way right into the band section for some close-up photos and even inquired, between selections, about the vintage band music, before going indoors for that chicken dinner.

The music book on the left had a 1939 copyright.

Some of the music comes from the Chatfield Brass Band and Music Lending Library in Chatfield, a band member informed me.

The Lucan Community Band is based in Lucan, seven miles south of Vesta along Redwood County Highway 10. Not all of the band members hail from this town of 220, which is also home to Brau Brothers Brewing. (Check out their beer; Strawberry Wheat is my favorite.)

At least one, Tom Schmid, the tuba player who drew my attention with his German style red hat that differed from all the green caps, hails from Springfield. I snuck in a quick question to Tom. He’s been playing the tuba for only about 10 years, but has been playing an instrument since he was in high school in the 1940s. That’s all the information I got before he planted his lips back on that tuba mouthpiece and I headed into the hall to eat.

Tuba player Tom Schmid, also a member of the Minnesota Over 60 Band.

Schmid's hand on the tuba.

Lucan Community Band members play against a back drop of grain bins damaged in a July 1 windstorm in Vesta. Tractors line the street for the antique tractor show.

The band's play list for their one-hour concert at V-Esta Daze.

Green caps are part of the male band members' attire. Musicians' ages range from the young to senior citizens.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING about the history of the Lucan Community Band, its members, how often and where the group performs, submit a comment. I’d like to learn more about the band.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating summer in small-town southwestern Minnesota August 1, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:26 AM
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A chicken meal has been served for decades at V-Esta Daze.

Milt Marquardt

IF YOU GREW UP in a rural area, you likely also grew up with an annual small-town summer celebration.

A chicken/pork/burger/corn (whatever) feed, carnival, kids’ games, car show, crowning of Miss Small-Town, water fights between neighboring fire departments, softball tournaments, a parade…

My hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota has, for decades, celebrated V-Esta Daze. The town name is pronounced “Vest-a,” but for the celebration, the pronunciation rhymes with “fiesta.” Don’t ask me why. We’re mostly a bunch of Germans.

Anyway, heritage and linguistics don’t matter so much as the decades-long tradition of serving Vesta’s famous chicken. Guys like Milt Marquardt, my neighbor back when I was growing up on a dairy and crop farm, have been grilling chicken so long they can’t remember. Suffice to say that’s been more than four decades.

Milt and the crew grilled 280 pieces of chicken for the crowd that lined up in the Vesta Community Hall Friday evening for quarter or chicken halves, potato salad, beans, rolls, pickles and beverages. A few things have changed about the meal—the potato salad is no longer prepared by local women and the plastic-ware isn’t wrapped in a napkin (you grab your own). But you’ll still find my Aunt Marilyn monitoring the beverage station, the same job she’s held for some 40 years.

Diners still settle onto folding chairs pulled up to long tables in the old hall. Glass encased military uniforms and built-in wooden benches flank the sides of the hall anchored by a stage on one end. Little has changed in this building (except the addition of a kitchen), which has long been Vesta’s celebration-central—the place to celebrate weddings and anniversaries and the coming together of community.

The same sign goes up every year inside the Vesta Hall. The price is updated when necessary.

Diners eat in the Vesta Community Hall, where military uniforms hang on the walls.

This year the V-Esta Daze celebration was moved from a week night to a Friday night. Thank you, organizers. That happened to coincide with the annual Kletscher family reunion weekend. So I was there, lining up for that famous chicken and reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in years (and trying to remember their names).

Gone are the carnival, softball games and water fights between neighboring fire departments that were part of the event when I was growing up. Instead, there were pony rides and bean bag tourneys, an antique tractor and car show, a putting green, pie eating contest, water fight for kids, street dance and entertainment by the Lucan Community Band and the required beer served from the beer truck.

The Lucan Community Band played under the shade trees outside the community hall and across the street from the elevator around meal-time. Lucan is a town of about 200 seven miles south of Vesta.

Area residents brought their old tractors to town for a tractor and car show.

My cousin Dawn's son, Kegan, enjoyed a pony ride.

A view of the dashboard in a 1960 pick-up truck, looking toward some of the entries in the antique car show.

When I was growing up, members of Vesta's volunteer fire department engaged in water fights with departments from neighboring communities. Now the kids, not adults, participate in water fights.

I didn’t take in all of the events. I skipped the pie eating, bean bag toss and street dance. But I heard the band playing loud and clear a few blocks away when I left my Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Milan’s house around midnight Friday for my mom’s house a block away. Yeah, everything in Vesta, population around 300, is just a few blocks away.

HOW ABOUT YOU AND YOUR COMMUNITY? Do you have an annual summer celebration or return to your hometown for one? Submit a comment. I’d like to hear about these small-town gatherings.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling