Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An outsider’s quick look at, & visions for, downtown Sleepy Eye, Part II March 9, 2018


WHEN I SEE A COMMUNITY like Sleepy Eye with so many architecturally-pleasing historic buildings, I wish I could wave a financial wand.



If I could, I would sweep away the metal, the wood, the stucco, the fake fronts that hide the bones of these beautiful, mostly-brick, structures. I would restore them to their grandeur, drawing the interest of motorists passing through this southwestern Minnesota community. I would give people a reason to stop, to check out the architecture, the unique small town shops and eateries. Many do. More could.


Details like this curved, ornate railing on city hall add visual interest and charm.


I would also make this busy main street more pedestrian and visually-friendly with bump-out corners graced by public art and lovely flower planters.  I would replace concrete sidewalks with brick, or at least edge them in brick. I’d buy some paint and repair windows and fix unsafe and run-down buildings…if only I held a magical wand of unlimited finances.


This map, from a vintage Orchid Inn promo, shows Sleepy Eye’s location in southwestern Minnesota.


With US Highway 14, a major east-west roadway running right through Sleepy Eye, heavy traffic is already here. And the bonus of this route as the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway adds to the potential.


These architecturally detailed buildings hold Sleepy Eye’s history in dates and names.


You have to look upward to see the true beauty of these historic buildings.


A rooster weather vane drew my interest atop city hall, housed in a former bank.


If I had unlimited financial resources, I would do all of these things for this Brown County community west of New Ulm. But magical wishes differ from reality. It takes money to make these improvements. And I expect the merchants here, like those in so many small farming communities, are simply happy they’re still in business given competition from regional shopping centers, Big Box stores and online sources.


In numerous buildings I noted lovely tile, inside and out.


Yet, small towns like Sleepy Eye offer an alternative, a welcome break from the sameness of mass everything. Places like Sleepy Eye Stained Glass draw customers from all over to purchase stained glass supplies or to get stained glass windows and more restored. Three local antique shops, other shops and the friendliness and service of small town proprietors are additional draws. Schweiss Meats is a popular place for those who appreciate small town meat markets.


The old Pix Theatre needs lots of work inside and out. The intention is to save and restore the marquee, according to EDA Coordinator Kurk Kramer.


Within a year or so, two local physicians hope to reopen the abandoned Pix Theatre as a nano-brewery and coffee shop, according to Sleepy Eye Economic Development Authority Coordinator Kurk K. Kramer. He also runs K & J Antiques and Collectibles. If all goes as planned, the former Orchid Inn motel and event center will become AGlobal, a STEM-based learning center with a focus on agriculture. Additionally, the Orchid would house a language immersion institute.





Those plans show me people are working hard to keep this community thriving, with businesses that distinguish Sleepy Eye from other small Minnesota towns. EDA Coordinator Kramer noted that Sleepy Eye is also home to a business (Mark Thomas Company) which serves the funeral home industry by producing such products as handcrafted wooden urns. Who knew? Not me.


Sleepy Eye honors its namesake on its water tower.


But I do know that Sleepy Eye is named after Chief Sleepy Eyes, buried at a monument site marking his grave. Everywhere you will see the respected Dakota leader’s portrait. He brings historical interest and identity to Sleepy Eye. Those are existing strengths.



Perhaps some day these historic downtown buildings will all be restored. I appreciate that some already are. Funds are available through the Sleepy Eye Downtown Rehabilitation Incentive Program to make improvements. So perhaps my vision for this small Minnesota town will evolve into more than simply a wish…


FYI: Highway 14 improvements in downtown Sleepy Eye this summer call for sidewalk replacement, pedestrian flashers at ped crossings and more. Click here to read details.

Please check back next week for “The Art of Signs in Sleepy Eye, Part III.”


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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46 years of serving pancakes for a cause on Super Bowl Sunday February 2, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 8:10 AM
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THEY’RE SYNONYMOUS in Faribault—the Super Bowl and pancakes.

For 46 years, the Faribault Lions Club has sponsored a pancake and sausage breakfast on Super Bowl Sunday, raising funds to support projects that adhere to the club motto: “We serve.”

Let me repeat that. Forty-six years. Wow. You have to admire an organization so committed to helping others. The Faribault Lions expect to feed 1,200 – 1,500 and raise $5,000 at their Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast.

Now I’m no fan of pancakes (ranking them right alongside liver) or of football, but I may have to eat pancakes this Sunday simply to support a worthy cause. I’ll skip the football except for the commercials.

The Faribault Lions provide funding for college scholarships, dictionaries for third graders, food for children in need, and assistance for the visual and hearing impaired, among other projects.

While all are worthy causes, the club’s effort on Sunday to collect used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids and to raise dollars to assist those with visual and hearing impairments resonates with me.

I’ve worn glasses since age four, after undergoing surgery to correct crossed eyes. Without that surgery, I would have gone blind in my “lazy eye.” I value my vision and know that without corrective lenses, I would struggle to see.

Lions Club International’s commitment to helping those with vision issues stretches back to 1925 when Helen Keller presented this challenge during a speech to the Lions:

Will you not help me hasten the day when there shall be no preventable blindness; no little deaf, blind child untaught; no blind man or woman unaided? I appeal to you Lions, you who have your sight, your hearing, you who are strong and brave and kind. Will you not constitute yourselves Knights of the Blind in this crusade against darkness?

And so with that challenge, the Lions became “Knights of the Blind,” collecting and distributing prescription eyeglasses through clinics world-wide. Can you imagine the joy of giving someone the gift of sight?

I just rummaged through a dresser drawer and found four eyeglasses that I can donate to the Faribault Lions Club on Sunday.

The prescription eyeglasses I'm donating.

Faribault Lions have also connected with the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault, supporting numerous projects there, including an apartment to teach independent living skills.

My community is home to the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf, perhaps another reason local Lions take such a strong interest in helping those who are hearing impaired.

I am among those with a hearing impairment having lost 70 percent of the hearing in my right ear last March in an episode defined as “sudden sensory hearing loss.” (Click here to read about that.) Unfortunately, a hearing aid will not help with this type of near-deafness.

But for most who suffer from a hearing impairment, a hearing aid will help. The Lions are committed to collecting used hearing aids for distribution to those in need. Can you imagine the joy of giving the gift of hearing?

It’s impressive, isn’t it, how so many worthy causes have evolved from two powerful words: “We serve.”

FYI: The Faribault Lions Club Super Bowl Pancake Breakfast will be held from 7:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m. on Sunday, February 5, at the Eagles Club, 2027 Grant Street Northwest. Cost is $6 for adults and $4 for those 12 and under.

The Lions are also selling Super Bowl snacks—8-ounce packages of nuts for $5 – $6—to raise monies for their Backpack Blessings Program which provides local children in need with food for the weekends.

It should not go without stating here that many local businesses and volunteers (within and outside of the Faribault Lions Club) contribute to the annual Super Bowl breakfast.

Bring your used prescription eyeglasses and hearing aids, your money and your appetite on Sunday to participate in the “We serve” endeavor.

Click here to learn more about the Faribault Lions Club.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling