Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Honoring veterans in Luverne November 11, 2013

The Rock County Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse, Luverne, Minnesota.

The Rock County Veterans Memorial in front of the courthouse, Luverne, Minnesota. That’s a restored Civil War cannon.

FROM THE VETERANS MEMORIAL fronting the Rock County Courthouse to the next door Rock County Veterans Memorial Building—which houses the Herreid Military Museum and more—to the Minnesota Veterans Home and the town’s star role in the Ken Burns’ World War II documentary, The War, Luverne honors and respects veterans unlike any other rural Minnesota community.

That’s my impression, anyway, after a visit this summer to Luverne, tucked into the extreme southwestern corner of my state.

A flag hangs in a hallway outside the military museum.

A flag hangs in a hallway outside the military museum.

You cannot help but feel awed by the patriotism that exists here.

A statue titled "Poppies" personalizes this memorial as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers.

A statue titled “Poppies” personalizes this memorial as do the names of some 1,600 veterans engraved in pavers.

And because sometimes a picture is truly worth a thousand words, allow me to show you a snippet of the ways in which Luverne honors veterans:

The 1900 former Rock County Jail and sheriff's home today is the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building. It houses the Herreid Military Museum, the Brandenburg Gallery and the Luverne Chamber of Commerce.

The 1900 former Rock County Jail and sheriff’s home today is the Rock County Veterans Memorial Building. It houses the Herreid Military Museum, the Brandenburg Gallery and the Luverne Chamber of Commerce.

An overview of the Herreid Military Museum which pays tribute to Rock County residents who served their country in the military. A third-floor exhibit will open in 2014 featuring the story of war from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

An overview of the Herreid Military Museum which pays tribute to Rock County residents who served their country in the military. A third-floor exhibit will open in 2014 featuring the story of war from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan.

A model plane in the museum.

A model plane in the museum.

Another view of the military museum.

Another view of the military museum.

The memorable face of a veteran at the outdoor memorial.

The memorable face of a veteran at the outdoor memorial.

Equally memorable words.

Equally memorable words.

Today, Veterans Day, please remember our veterans and the sacrifices they made for our freedom.

FYI: Click here to learn more about the Rock County Veterans Memorial.

For more info on the Herried Military Museum, click here.

By clicking here, you will learn more about the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne.

Click here to learn more about Ken Burns’ WWII documentary, The War.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, check out this southeastern Minnesota small town July 27, 2013

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SMALL TOWNS INTRIGUE ME. Each possesses a unique character.

A snapshot of Hayfield's downtown business district.

A snapshot of Hayfield’s downtown business district.

For that reason, and because I favor rural more than urban, my husband and I purposely detour off highways, park our vehicle along Main Streets and explore.

This biker ran out of gas and pushed his motorcycle up to the pumps at Caseys in Hayfield, just off Minnesota Highway 56.

This biker ran out of gas and pushed his motorcycle up to the pumps at Casey’s General Store in Hayfield, just off Minnesota Highway 56.

Often we are the only ones walking about, especially since our stops are typically on Sunday afternoons.

However, even on a recent Monday morning visit to Hayfield, population 1,300, southwest of Rochester in Dodge County, the downtown was quiet enough that I didn’t have to worry about standing in the middle of the street to take photos.

Welcome to Hayfield. So...I'm wondering whether the town is named after a person or a hay field.

Welcome to Hayfield. So…I’m wondering whether the town is named after a person or a hay field.

And Hayfield offers plenty of photo ops, beginning with the welcome sign just off Minnesota State Highway 56. The “Where People Make Progress” slogan puzzled me, until I read this explanation on the city’s website:

Our community has had many projects which have been accomplished by grants, donations and countless volunteer hours.

Examples of that progress include the local pool, ball diamonds, the library, Meals on Wheels…

A sign in a window advertises the chicken dinner served during Hey Days.

A sign in a window advertises the chicken dinner served during Hey Days.

The annual community celebration of Hey Days, slated for July 26 – 28, also involves countless hours of volunteerism. That’s the thing about small towns. People don’t necessarily sit and wait for someone else to do something. They just do it.

Part of the impressive vets' memorial.

Part of the impressive vets’ memorial.

I bet volunteers planned, raised funds for and helped build the veterans’ memorial park next to First Presbyterian Church at the end of the business district. It’s one of the most impressive memorials we’ve seen.

First Presbyterian Church, next to the veterans' memorial.

First Presbyterian Church, next to the veterans’ memorial.

Inside that lovely old church.

Inside that lovely old church.

That memorial is definitely worth a trip into town as is the church. We found the door unlocked and so let ourselves into this beautiful sanctuary. I’m pretty certain the guy working on a school bus at the bus garage was watching us.

Font art at the former newspaper office.

Font art at the former newspaper office.

And more art on the former news office.

And more art on the former news office.

Across the street, the font and paintings on the former Herald newspaper office, now a home, caught my eye. The newspaper is now merged as the Star Herald based in nearby Dodge Center.

The library on the left, the former newspaper office on the right.

The library on the left, the former newspaper office on the right.

Next door I tried the door of the library, only to find it locked.

Like most small towns, you will find a Legion and a bar and grill in Hayfield.

Like most small towns, you will find a Legion and a bar and grill in Hayfield.

Yes, when I explore small towns, I’ll always try the doors. Always.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Near Faribault: Roberds Lake memorials honor veterans July 23, 2013

This boat was among two arriving for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony.

A boat arrives for the 2 p.m. memorial dedication ceremony at Roberds Lake.

THEY COME BY LAND and by lake Sunday afternoon to Geri Larson’s place along Roberds Lake near Faribault for the latest unveiling of a private veterans’ memorial, the third along the shoreline.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also lined a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the river bank to the read in this photo.

A portion of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. Attendees also line a mulch-lined path along the steep side of the lake bank. Jim Williams, who has two vets’ memorials on his property next door, starts the program.

Nearly half of the estimated 75 attendees are veterans, gathered here on Geri’s parcel of property between steep hillside and water, under the shade of trees, including a sturdy oak, to honor and remember.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson's cabin.

Flags from the four branches of the military fly next to Geri Larson’s cabin.

In a formal ceremony, while American and military flags waft in the breeze, folks listen to guest speakers and observe the protocols of a patriotic program—advancement of the colors by the Color Guard, a gun salute, playing of “Taps” and singing of the National Anthem.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Veterans arrive with flags and guns to start the dedication program.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play taps.

Lloyd Grandprey waits to play “Taps.”

Emmee Grisim steps up to the podium to sing "The Star Spangled Banner."

Emmee Grisim, of Lake City and the niece of Jim Williams, steps up to the podium to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” as the program gets underway.

The occasional drone of a motor, in air and by water, breaks the rhythm of the program. “I told you the Air Force was coming,” retired National Guard Lt. Col. Roger Williams jokes as he notes a plane overhead, pausing in his talk focused on remembering and honoring, as far back as his family’s involvement in the Civil War to the more recent war in Iraq.

Hands on guns.

Hands on guns.

Occasional laughter erupts. But the tone of the 45-minute ceremony remains primarily serious, aimed at remembering, honoring and thanking those who served.

Geri Larson prepares to slice the cake, served along with sandwiches and beverages, after the dedication ceremony.

Before the ceremony, Geri Larson slices the patriotic themed cake which will be served along with sandwiches and beverages after dedication of the new vets’ memorial on her land.

That marks Geri Larson’s purpose in erecting the newest Roberds Lake veterans’ memorial, right next door to the two memorials on the property of Jim Williams, brother of Roger. Larson says the “Window in Time” piece honors the fallen and all veterans, including three of her brothers who served in the military.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander Kirk Mansfield speaks before the unveiling.

Larson and Jim Williams’ neighbor, Faribault American Legion Post 43 Commander and Gulf War veteran Kirk Mansfield, was instrumental in establishing the Roberds Lake veterans’ memorials. He worked with others on the designs and then crafted “Window in Time” and “American Joe,” with his father, Dick, creating the POW/MIA memorial.

The "Window in Time" memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4x8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project.

The “Window in Time” memorial shows a current day Marine praying before a grave/memorial. The young man depicted in the 4-foot x 8-foot steel sculpture is carrying a heavy burden, Kirk Mansfield notes, with the burden on his back representing a simple thank you. The tipped helmet also symbolizes thanks. The weapons are representative of those from WW II and the Korean War. The piece carries a theme of honoring and respecting elders. Mansfield was joined by many volunteers in working on the project. It was installed on Saturday, dedicated on Sunday.

Mansfield tells the group gathered on Sunday that the newest memorial represents “a time for remembrance, solace and peace.”

He reflects on the numbers of Americans who have died in service to their country—some 1,500 since the “American Joe” memorial next door was dedicated in 2009 to 400,000-plus lives lost during WW II.

“The price of America’s freedom,” Mansfield notes, “is buried in the ground.”

BONUS PHOTOS:

Veterans participate in the program.

Veterans who participated in the program.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Friends greet friends before the dedication begins.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

Geri Larson with her friend, George LaRoche, who installed the poles for the military flags on her property.

The POW/MIA memorial on Jim Williams' lakeshore.

The POW/MIA memorial created by Dick Mansfield and placed on Jim Williams’ lake shore.

The "American Joe" memorial was crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who "sits at a computer all day" in his professional career,

The “American Joe” memorial crafted by metal artist Kirk Mansfield, who “sits at a computer all day” at his paying job. The memorial was dedicated in 2009. The soldier represented in the art is from the 1970s, Jim Williams says. His brother, Gary, served during that time, in Vietnam.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Montgomery, Part IV: The unique way this Minnesota town honors its veterans, plus a haven for some March 7, 2013

NEARLY EVERY COMMUNITY, from the smallest to the largest, has a veterans’ memorial. And that is good, for honoring those who have served our country is worthy.

Often, though, these memorials are costly. So individual bricks or pavers are sold, fundraisers held, donations solicited to cover expenses. This, too is admirable, to garner that personal and community involvement, support and ownership.

But sometimes it is the simplest idea, the one that does not cost a great deal of money, which most impresses.

Patriotism is evident in downtown Montgomery.

Patriotism is evident in downtown Montgomery.

In Montgomery, Minnesota, you will find Veteran’s Memorial Park with its soldier and eagle statues, granite monument, inscribed brick pavers, park benches, flags and more.

Veterans' photos and information in the window of Aging Services.

Veterans’ photos and information in the window of Aging Services.

But you will also find, in the vet’s park and primarily in the heart of downtown, the photos and stories of Montgomery’s veterans printed, framed and showcased.

It is a simple, but deeply personal and moving, way to honor hometown men and women who have served in the military.

If you look closely, you can see the veterans' tributes in the lower windows of Hilltop Hall.

If you look closely, you can see the veterans’ tributes in the lower windows of Hilltop Hall.

I happened upon the Montgomery Veteran’s Project on a recent Sunday afternoon visit to see Curtain Call Theatre’s performance of “On Golden Pond” at historic Hilltop Hall. (Click here to read a previous post about Hilltop.) On Hilltop’s lower level, in the windows of Posy Pantry and the Montgomery Arts & Heritage Center, I first noticed the framed veterans’ tributes.

In the lower left corne you can see veterans' tributes in the window of Sweet Repeats Resale Shop.

In the lower left corner you can see veterans’ tributes in the window of Sweet Repeats Resale Shop.

But not until after the play, on a tour through the downtown, did I realize the scope of this project. Everywhere—from business storefront windows to exterior building walls—I spotted veterans’ photos and information, 279 total.

Honoring veterans at the Monty Bar.

Honoring veterans at the Monty Bar.

Framed and secured to the brick wall below a window at the Monty Bar are the pictures and military backgrounds of Cletus C., Dale and Darryll A. Gregor; Edward D. Pexa; and Sylvia A. Pexa Relander.

Veterans photos and info posted at Dvorak Accounting & Taxes.

Veterans photos and info posted at Dvorak Accounting & Tax.

Propped against a window at Dvorak Accounting & Tax, framed memorials reveal that George O. Dvorak was among the first troops sent to Europe in 1917. George H. Dvorak serviced communications equipment while supporting the 35th Tank Division in Korea.

More tributes on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar.

More tributes on the exterior of the Happy Hour Bar.

Over at the Happy Hour Bar, I learn that Milo Kadlec, part of the 10th Infantry Division, received the Korean Service Medal with four Bronze Stars and the United Nations Service Medal.

To see these photos, to read this information, truly allows me to view these veterans as individuals, as hometown men and women who left rural Minnesota to serve in the U.S. and abroad.

More personal memorials grace the windows of La Nette's Antiques.

More personal memorials grace the windows of La Nette’s Antiques’n Lace.

But how did this project come to be, I wondered. When interviewing Montgomery entrepreneur and Hilltop Hall owner John Grimm, I asked him about the framed veterans photos. Grimm, an Air Force instructor pilot in Texas during the Vietnam War, had seen a similar tribute at a veterans’ memorial in his hometown of Wautoma, Wisconsin, and suggested that Montgomery establish such a personalized memorial. That was nearly three years ago.

Several vets' photos hang on the exterior of the local newspaper office, The Montgomery Messenger.

Several vets’ photos hang on the exterior of the local newspaper office, The Montgomery Messenger.

Initially coordinated by Mobilize Montgomery, the installation of these individualized memorials is now handled by local American Legion Post 79. For a suggested $25 donation to defray printing, frame and display case costs, families can honor their loved ones via a personalized tribute.

That’s not a lot of money for the front and center memorials embraced by a patriotic community proud of those who served their country.

A portion of the promotional brochure from The Harbor. Courtesy of John Grimm.

A portion of the promotional brochure from The Harbor. Courtesy of John Grimm.

THAT’S NOT ALL. Grimm, who says he has a passion for helping veterans, recently undertook another project aimed at assisting aging veterans and others in need. He bought the former Cottagewood Resort along Minnesota Highway 13 between Montgomery and New Prague last May and has converted it into The Harbor, advertised as “a serene haven for veterans and individuals with unique needs.”

The Harbor features three log cabins and a central facility which can house a total of 14 on the 20-acre wooded, lakeside property.

His goal, Grimm says, is to negotiate individual rental rates based on whatever is reasonable and affordable to the renter and will work for him to keep the haven financially solvent.

This Vietnam War era veteran, who previously operated a Montgomery area assisted living facility, tells of a call he received about a 52-year-old homeless veteran while The Harbor was in the beginning of renovation. He thought about the housing request for awhile and decided if the vet had to choose between living under a bridge and living in a mess, he’d likely choose the mess. Turns out the vet had been a sheetrocker, so he moved into The Harbor in July to help tape and seam sheetrock.

THERE, DEAR READERS, are two feel-good stories from one small Minnesota town, stories I discovered because I took the time to really look at Montgomery, to see the veterans’ tributes, and then to inquire about them. These discoveries await you at every turn. Just slow down, and you will see them, too.

Watch for one more story in my five-part series from this southern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling