Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Let peace & love guide us August 26, 2020


It’s truly timely. The message posted in windows spanning the front of an historic building in Dundas.








And then in the windows to the right side of the front door:







And then above the door:


I spotted these powerful words while in this small southeastern Minnesota community on Saturday for a history cruise. And I felt compelled to stop and photograph the scene, to share this with you before continuing on to the tour.

As someone who grew up after and near the end of turbulent times—the Civil Rights movement (with its racial injustices) and the Vietnam War and an increasing awareness of environmental issues—I get it. The teenage me embraced the peace symbol, wrapped my wrist in a POW bracelet, wore Earth shoes. That was decades ago. Yet, it seems sometimes that little has changed.



And so those words resonate with me in their familiarity. I appreciate the gentleness of the selected words, yet the power behind them. Urging people to vote by calling them “dear ones” feels intensely personal and loving. Now, more than ever, we must exercise our right to vote. Men and women have died for our freedom, ensuring our democracy and the right to vote. Others have marched for the right to vote, including long-time Georgia Congressman and Civil Rights leader John Lewis, who died in July from cancer.

The quote from Lewis that peace and love should prevail is something we can all aspire to in this deeply divided nation in need of healing. I appreciate the positive message. The words uplift, rather than press down. They enlighten rather than oppress. They encourage rather than attack.



And, yes, black lives do matter. As does every life. I recognize the frustration, the anger, the desire for change. I don’t condone the violence, the looting, the destruction, which detract from the cause. Let peace and everlasting love be our guide.

John Lewis marched for voting rights for blacks across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965 and suffered a skull fracture at the hands of police. He organized voter registration drives and participated in lunch counter sit-ins. And here we are, so many decades later, with root cause issues unresolved, people still struggling, hurting, protesting.



If only we remember how “dear” we are to one another, how the words we choose, the actions we take, matter, affect others. Let peace and the power of everlasting love be our guide.



FYI: The building where these messages are posted was built of locally-quarried limestone in 1866 as the Ault General Store and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only remaining structure from Dundas’ original commercial district, which ran along Second Street. When the railroad came to town, businesses moved to the west side of the Cannon River near the new train station. That included the Ault Store.

The local newspaper, the Dundas News, was housed here from 1876-1979 as was the town’s first library on the second floor. Today the old store is in a residential neighborhood and a residence. But it still retains that feel of community, of centering knowledge and of expressing opinion.


© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A reminder to vote on Super Tuesday March 3, 2020

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped African Americans exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Stephen Somerstein photographed Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe. Simmons was wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn and wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This photo shows a section of Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons showcased in an April 2015 exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” at St. Olaf College. I photographed the photo with permission. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015


VOTE. I encourage you, if you live in one of 14 states with primaries today, Super Tuesday, to vote.

This is not a political post. This is simply a strong suggestion that you exercise your right in our democracy.

As I pondered this subject, I was reminded of an exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” which I viewed at St. Olaf College in Northfield in April 2015. The 45 black-and-white images of the 1965 Civil Rights Movement by photographer Stephen Somerstein and more impressed upon me the importance of the right to vote.

I’d suggest you read that initial post by clicking here.

And then, go to your polling place and vote. It’s your right and your responsibility.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Vote November 8, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped African Americans exercise their right to vote under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Stephen Somerstein photographed Bobby Simmons, a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe. Simmons was wearing zinc oxide to prevent sunburn and wrote VOTE onto his forehead. This photo shows a section of Somerstein’s portrait of Simmons showcased in an April 2015 exhibit, “Selma to Montgomery: Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail,” at St. Olaf College in Northfield. I photographed the photo with permission. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

DO YOU REMEMBER a time when elections were focused primarily on the issues? Minimal or no name-calling? When candidates acted like anyone mattered outside of themselves. When candidates treated each other with decency.

Yeah, I know. It’s difficult to remember that in a year dominated by such campaign negativity. On all levels, not just national.

I’ve read signs and bumper stickers and words I can’t repeat. Likewise with TV ads I’ve heard.

No matter where you stand, what you think, how frustrated you are, remember this. You have a voice. Use your voice today. Vote.

There was a time when not everyone in this country could vote. On Election Day 1920 women voted for the first time after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, giving them that right. And now a woman is on the ballot for President of the United States.

No matter which candidates you support today, remember, you are free to vote. And that is something for which you can be especially thankful. You have that democratic right. Use it. Vote.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Voting for a scarecrow November 1, 2016




WITCH (sic) ONE SHOULD I choose?




Is this one It? Looks like a shady character hiding behind that signature hair style.




This scarecrow stands out in the field. Just look at that perfect, practiced smile and that perfectly pressed plaid.




The artistry here is certainly something to crow about.




I’m struggling to wrap my head around the choices.




Is this unique scarecrow raking in the votes? If only there were exit polls.




I like this scarecrow entourage. But those signs bother me. BEWARE. Of what? And No crows. What’s wrong with crows? Yeah, I know they’re not robins…




On the surface, I thought, how clever to post a campaign sign. But then I reread the words. Turning Green with Envy Needs Money popped out at me. You can’t sway my vote with sympathy, excess advertising, confusing rhetoric or via deflection.




I hope the candidates will accept the outcome, respecting the democratic process that veils our votes in secrecy. No rigged polls here.




There are so many choices. But really, these are just scarecrows. I shouldn’t take this election so seriously. There’s a more important election on November 8.


FYI: These scarecrows are part of a Scarecrow Contest at the 100 Ladies and Gentlemen Craft Sale. That sale, located at 45986 Highway 56 just off Minnesota Highway 60 in Kenyon, continues from 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. November 3 -6 and November 10 -13. All items are handcrafted.

Disclaimer: There’s nothing political about the craft sale. It’s just that–a craft sale.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling




A look back at a 1951 graduation speech about communism June 5, 2011

I recently attended this graduation reception for my niece Hillary, who graduated from Wabasso High School.

A soon-to-be 2010 graduate of Westbrook-Walnut Grove High.

IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, you’ve received invitations to numerous high school graduation receptions. You’ll make the rounds, shaking hands with the new graduates, inquiring about their future plans, congratulating their parents and then grabbing something to eat (pacing your food intake) before moving on to the next reception.

If you’re like me, you also have not attended a single graduation ceremony, unless your child is graduating or you are invited to a small-town high school where seating is not limited to four spaces per graduating senior’s family.

Therefore, you probably have not heard a student commencement speech in some time.

About a week ago my niece graduated as valedictorian of  Wabasso High School, my alma mater, and gave a graduation speech, of which I’ve received a copy. Hillary spoke about the past and how it weaves into the future. “As we become the people we are meant to be, we can hold onto the memories of yesteryear and the hopes of tomorrow,” she said in part. “The one thing that will always remain constant is the change in our lives.”

Now compare that to the speech (see below) given by Hillary’s grandmother, my mother, at Wabasso High School 60 years ago. Class of 1951 valedictorian Arlene Bode spoke about “Our Part in the Fight Against Communism.”

When my mom first told me the title of her speech, I laughed. “Who gives a graduation speech about communism?” I asked, and laughed again.

An old fallout shelter sign on a building in downtown Pemberton in southern Minnesota.

Then my 79-year-old mother reminded me of the time period—the Cold War, the fear of the Soviet Union, the Korean War, fallout shelters—and I understood. She doesn’t recall whether she chose the topic or whether the subject was assigned. But the content gives some youthful, historical insight into the world six decades ago:

My father, a Korean War veteran, in Korea in 1953.

“WE, THE GRADUATING SENIORS, wish to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to our parents, teachers, and all others who have helped us obtain our education.


Communism is threatening the peace and security of our country. This is being brought more and more to our attention each day by the governmental leaders of the United States. We are sending our boys to Korea. We are conducting investigations to reveal any communist workers who may be in our government. We are sending Voice of America broadcasts behind the Iron Curtain to inform the people of how democracy works. But this is not enough. The tide of communism is moving ever forward. Most of Europe is communistic and it is spreading rapidly in Asia. This has happened just in the last few years. We must stop this tide before it is too late. It behooves us as graduating seniors to help in the fight against communism while there is still time.

Of course we must know what we are fighting against. The mere word communism is not enough. We must know what it means. The word communism is derived from the Latin word communis meaning common. It is said that communism is the distribution of income to each according to his need. They believe that all natural resources and most businesses should be owned by the government. They also believe in community ownership of property. This is the true meaning of communism, but it has an even greater meaning here in the United States. Senate hearings have shown that it is a politically controlled conspiracy, promoted by a foreign nation, for the overthrow of our government. If they should accomplish this overthrow it would be a decisive step toward placing the entire world under communistic government. According to Kenneth Goff, author of “Confessions of Stalin’s Agent,” the communist party has six main points in its program: Abolition of all governments, inheritance, private property, patriotism, family, and religion.

The communists strike first at the poorer class of people and at those who are not satisfied with present day conditions. They promise these people that under communism they will have all they want, such as rest, leisure, and social security paid by the State. But this is far from what really happens. What really happens is that these people lose their personal freedom and whatever they do is for the benefit of the communist party.

If we have an understanding of what communism means and how it works we can fight against it. Here are some of the things we can do.

Patriotism displayed on a rural Minnesota home.

We must at all times practice democracy. Democracy means a sharing of respect, a sharing of power, and respect for the dignity of man. Democracy is promoted by a balanced economic distribution and an enlightenment of the people. We should see that parliamentary procedure is used in all organizations to which we belong such as, church organizations, community organizations, and women’s clubs. It is important to secure the wishes of the majority of the people without wasting time.

We must set a good example by being democratic in our every day life and in our dealings with others by working toward a definite goal in life, setting up ideals to follow, being a neighbor to all people regardless of their race, color, or religion, showing good judgment in all we do.

In a few years we will have a voice in our government and we must do our best to keep communists out of it. We can do this by voting at each election, which is one of the privileges of living in a democracy and one which we must never lose. But just casting a vote is not enough. We should know who we are voting for by studying the policies of each candidate to see what he stands for.

If each and every one of us practices democracy wherever we are we have done our part in the constant fight against communism. The part we play may seem small, but every little bit counts if we are to win over communism.”

AFTER READING MY MOM’S SPEECH several times, I wondered how often we as Americans pause to consider the freedoms we likely take too much for granted.

“We must at all times practice democracy. Democracy means a sharing of respect, a sharing of power, and respect for the dignity of man.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE on this 1951 graduation speech? Are any of her comments relevant today? What particularly struck you about this speech? I’d like to hear your specific reactions.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Graduation speech © Copyright 1951 Arlene Bode Kletscher (Except for corrected errors in spelling, this speech is published here as originally written.)

2011 graduation speech excerpts © Copyright 2011 Hillary Kletscher


After the election comments and mud-slinging in Minnesota November 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:11 AM
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IN ALL THE POLITICAL NEWS and rhetoric that filled our Wednesday here in Minnesota, the most sensible sound-bite of the day, in my opinion, came during an on-air interview between FOX 9 television news anchor Heidi Collins and Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.

During the interview, with the two sometimes talking over each other, Collins became a bit testy and instructed Ritchie, quite curtly, that she was asking the questions and he was to answer.

So…, when Collins asked when we’ll have a new governor, Ritchie responded that Minnesota will have a new governor when the governor takes the oath of office.

All of us—my husband, 22-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son—watching the interview burst out in simultaneous laughter. Ritchie nailed that question with an answer that not even a politician can twist into a political statement.

Speaking of which, Minnesota GOP Chairman Tony Sutton has done nothing to endear himself to me with his snotty, snide, venomous comments that portray the ugly opposite of Minnesota Nice.

With words like “should be reamed” directed toward Ritchie, “something doesn’t smell right” aimed toward a Hennepin County vote reporting glitch  and promises to be “very, very aggressive” in the recount process, I already dislike the man. Honestly, I just wanted him to shut up.

For the record, I don’t specifically align myself with any particular party. I evaluate candidates based on their views, stands on issues, personalities and character. Through the years, I’ve voted Republican, Democrat and Independent.

Whatever the outcome of the expected gubernatorial recount, I hope that both political parties can maintain civility and stop the mud-slinging that has already begun, by the GOP, in this process. Enough already.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Post-election observations from Minnesota November 3, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:47 AM
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I’VE ALWAYS HELD to the idea that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. So…, I hope you voted yesterday.

I know. I know. You can tear/rip/shred that first statement apart into a mix of fragmented phrases or individual words because, in this country, you can complain. No matter how you voted, or whether you even voted, you have the right to express your opinion. How blessed are we to live in a country like ours, with such freedom?

Given that, why would I hold that don’t vote/can’t complain opinion? I should really add these two words to that sentence to more clearly define my position: If you don’t vote, you can’t complain too loudly.

In my voting precinct, at least one election official expected 60 to 70 percent of registered voters to turn out at the polls yesterday. Based on numbers I just gleaned from Faribault, Precinct 6, unofficial voting results on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web site, his prediction was spot-on correct. I figure around 915 people voted in my precinct. The same official told me that polls opened with 1,357 registered voters and that about 50 more registered on Tuesday.

That’s a good percentage of voters expressing their opinions via the ballot box in a non-Presidential election year.

If you ever think your vote doesn’t count, you need only look to the 2008 Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken and the resulting recount to realize the importance of every single vote.

From media reports I’ve heard this morning—including an apparent computer software problem in Hennepin County—Minnesota is likely headed for another recount, this time in the too-close-to-call governor’s race. According to information posted on the Secretary of State’s Web site at 8:30 this morning, with 96.74 percent of the precincts reporting, Mark Dayton had 43.67 percent of the votes; Tom Emmer, 43.20 percent; and Tom Horner, 11.92 percent.

In my precinct, unofficial gubernatorial race results show Dayton getting 45 percent of the vote; Emmer, 39 percent; and Horner nearly 15 percent.

Who will become our next governor? It appears we may need to wait awhile for that answer.

ALL OF THAT ASIDE, here are several other observations I made yesterday while voting around 7 p.m. The stream of voters was so steady that I had to sit at an open table to vote—no cardboard tri-fold or curtain shielding my choices, not that I cared.

I noticed that on the ballot, the word “incumbent” is no longer listed with incumbents’ names, except for judges. When did this change occur? Why? And why do judges get the advantage of “incumbent” tacked onto their names?

When I went to insert my ballot into the ballot counting machine, no one was standing there to guide me, a major change from past years. I asked the election official who was sitting in a nearby chair why she wasn’t “right there” next to the machine. Officials need to be far enough away so that they can’t see how a voter voted, she explained. That’s understandable, but I can’t imagine anyone having eyesight good enough to see which ovals I darkened with my pen. But, I suppose…, just to be sure everything is done on the up-and-up…

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling