Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesota Class Reunion in Poetry April 30, 2015

LAST SEPTEMBER THE WABASSO High School Class of 1974 gathered at the Wabasso Community Center for our 40-year reunion. That’s on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, in Redwood County.

I lived on a farm 15 miles to the north and west, just outside of Vesta, an hour’s bus ride away from Wabasso. It takes time to travel gravel roads, backtracking and weaving to farm sites to pick up all those country kids.

Forty years. I used to think people who’d been out of high school for four decades are really old. I don’t think that anymore.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Still, that’s a lot of years and much has happened since 89 fresh-faced rural Minnesota kids walked across the gym stage in May 1974 and received their diplomas. As you would expect, the reunion mixed nostalgia and reconnecting, sharing of memories and sharing of lives.

And for me, the gathering inspired a poem, “Class Reunion,” recently published in Poetic Strokes & Word Flow, A Regional Anthology of Poetry from Southeastern Minnesota, Volume 9. My other entry, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” was also published, among the 30 winning poems chosen from 157 submissions in the adult division.

I attended and read my poem, "Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion," at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening.

I attended and read my poem, “Wednesday Night Bingo at the Legion,” at an invitation only Poetry Bash at The Rochester Civic Theater on Tuesday evening. The event was a delight with some poets reading their works and Minneapolis poet Todd Boss as the featured speaker.

I am grateful to Southeastern Libraries Cooperating for publishing this annual collection of poetry from writers in the 11-county SELCO region. I’ve entered the competition eight times with 10 poems published in seven volumes.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at the Poetry Bash.

And because April is National Poetry Month, here is the poetic version of a rural southwestern Minnesota high school reunion:

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right. That’s me in the pink striped shirt, front right in image on the right.

 

Class Reunion

Bulbous red clown nose clamped onto face,
boa thrust around neck movie star style,
pirate hat tilted upon bald head,
skull patch positioned across left eye,
we cram into the photo booth, all smiles,
pretending to be someone we are not.

“How are you?” We pause, then hug,
hoping the response will be a lie
rather than the truth of the past forty years
chiseling our faces, greying our hair
(if we still have hair),
etching grief into our souls.

A classmate pulls the curtain tight,
shuts out reality for the lens.
Memories overtake us, filling the booth with laughter.
We remember when nothing seemed more important
than our anti-establishment defiance of choosing
“Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

The camera flashes again and we swap accessories—
Vikings horns for Peter Pan hat,
leather biker hat for Mickey Mouse ears—
the promise of never growing up
and living in a happily-ever-after fairytale world
almost Disney believable if we didn’t know the truth.

In this moment, all seems right with the world.
No husbands dead. No children buried. No cancer battled.
No eyes blackened. No marriages broken.
The future lies before us, full of promise and hope
and all that is good and wonderful and perfect.
Except it isn’t and wasn’t and never will be.

The camera flashes for the third, and final, time.
A classmate draws back the curtain.
We drop props into a basket, revealing receding hairlines
and sagging necks and worry lines edging our eyes.
Then we chat about our children and our grandchildren
and our dreams, as if our entire lives lie before us.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Poem reprinted with permission from SELCO (Southeastern Libraries Cooperating), Rochester, MN.

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Wabasso High Class of 1974 celebrates 40 years since graduation September 16, 2014

FORTY YEARS AGO, my Wabasso High School graduating class voted “Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road” as our class song.

But our senior class advisers nixed the choice and “We May Never Pass This Way Again” became our theme song instead.

We never were a class to follow the norm, to keep quiet, to go along with whatever the adults desired. We were outspoken teens—some more than others—challenging authority, growing into adulthood in the turbulent early seventies. Kids who’d just missed sending our male classmates off to fight in Vietnam.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion.

The Wabasso High School Class of 1974 fortieth year reunion group photo. That’s a teacher seated in the front row, right. I’m in the back row near the middle with the pink, white and black striped shirt. Photo by Randy Helbling.

This past Saturday we gathered at the community center (and then moved to the Roadhouse Bar & Grill) in the southwestern Minnesota prairie town of Wabasso to reminisce about our school days and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our graduation in May 1974.

Forty years. How do four decades pass that quickly?

WHS reunion pic 7 and 8

Maybe we haven’t grow up so much. Or perhaps it’s just that we still like to have fun.

So much has changed, yet so little. We’ve grown up and reached the point in our lives when we realize life is too short, that the years we shared are worth celebrating.

In responding to questions for a reunion book I helped pull together, nearly every single classmate wrote that the best thing to happen to them since high school was getting married and having children. There was not a single answer like “I’m rich, live in a mansion and run a Fortune 500 company.” Not a single person placed wealth or career above family.

One other question—What has been the most influential book you’re read since high school?—also garnered a single most popular response—the bible. Many classmates wrote of their spiritual growth and the importance of God and faith in their lives.

On the right are the three of us from Vesta who attended the reunion.

On the right are the three of us from Vesta who attended the reunion. Micki, Dallas and I grew up on farms within a mile of each other. That’s a V, for Vesta, that we’re shaping with our hands in the top image.

This was, by far, the best class reunion of all I’ve attended. And I believe I’ve missed only two.

We mingled and laughed and talked about our kids and grandkids (those who have them) and all sorts of things and simply had a really good time. There was no cornering off of friends, no division, none of those issues that seem to plague classes even decades later.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

How many classmates can cram into a photobooth, left, and four members of the reunion committee, right.

As one of my 88 classmates noted, we were always a class that got along. He’s right. At one point Saturday evening, we crammed as many people as possible into a photo booth (New Ulm-based Up All Night Photobooth) contracted for the event. I was an initial naysayer on the photo booth. But I’d recommend it. The photo sessions got us out of our chairs and totally mixing it up.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

My husband and I pose for a photo that I told him will be our Christmas card. In the photo to the right is Lindsey, right front, whom I have not seen in 40 years. He promised to return for the next reunion.

I saw classmates I have not seen in 40 years. And, yes, I had to sneak a sly peek at several name tags to identify people. But for the most part, I recognized my 29 classmates and the single teacher in attendance.

One classmate told me I still looked the same. I took that as a compliment. Obviously, he didn’t notice the gray hair, the creases in my face or the pounds added since I was a hip hugger, mini skirt, hot pants, go-go boot wearing teenager.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Voting for Minnesota’s most unique high school mascot & insights into other team names in our state February 26, 2013

A gym at Wabasso High School, home of the Rabbits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A gym at Wabasso High School, home of the Rabbits. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

MY ALMA MATER, Wabasso High School, has a white rabbit as a mascot. As you would rightly expect, a rabbit does not conjure up an image of athletic prowess. But I do not care. Rabbits reflects the name of the community, Wabasso, a Dakota word, I’m told, meaning “White Rabbit.”

The rabbit mascot also stands out among all the Eagles and Tigers, the most common high school team names in Minnesota, and the country in general, according to Terry Borning, author of MascotDB.com, a free searchable database of team names and mascots. (More on that later.)

Rabbits, though, was not unusual enough to grab the attention of USA TODAY’s High School Sports staff which is sponsoring a competition to find the nation’s most unique high school mascots. Staff chose five mascots from each state and Washington D.C. in the first round of the contest.

Tom Ressler created Blooming Prairie's logo, a black-and-white Awesome Blossom , in 1979.

The Awesome Blossoms logo from the school website.

Now the public will choose their favorites, via online voting, to advance to the second round. One winner from each state and D.C. will move on to regionals and the opportunity to win prizes ranging from $100 to $2,000 for their high school athletic departments.

In the running from Minnesota are the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms, Roosevelt Teddies, Jordan Hubmen, Sauk Centre Mainstreeters and Winona Winhawks.

I’ll admit to a fondness for Blooming Prairie’s Awesome Blossoms, for several reasons. Any school strong enough to sport the name Blossoms deserves to win. Second, Blooming Prairie, a farming community of around 2,000 located 15 miles south of Owatonna, is the smallest of the Minnesota communities vying for this honor. I will always pick the smallest, most rural town and root for the underdog. (Plus, I really like the “Prairie” part of the town’s name.) Third, my second daughter first introduced me to the Blooming Prairie mascot when she was in high school and attended an Awesome Blossoms basketball game with a good friend. It was also the first night she failed to get home at a reasonable hour. Enough said on that.

Apparently, the Blossoms got their name from an area newspaper more than a century ago, according to one source. “Awesome” was later added by locals.

A seen from Main Street in Sauk Centre, home to the Mainstreeters.

A scene from Main Street in Sauk Centre, home to the Mainstreeters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Now, if I had to choose my second favorite from the Minnesota five, I’d select the Mainstreeters for the sole reason that I love Sauk Centre native Sinclair Lewis’ satirical book, Main Street.

So there, if this interests you, click here and go online to vote. Voting for the state winners continues through March 5. Those 51 winners then advance to second round regional voting from March 6 -14. Six regional winners then enter the finals March 15-25.

Terry Borning with TC Bear, the Twins mascot.

Terry Borning with TC Bear, the Twins mascot. Borning attended Concordia College in Moorhead, home of the Cobbers.

NOW, LET’S DELVE DEEPER into Minnesota high school mascot names via Terry Borning of the earlier mentioned MascotDB.com. Just a note, Borning, of Billings, Montana, and a computer science adjunct faculty member for an Arizona college, is my cousin. He has 43,799 sports team names and mascots in his database covering U.S. and Canadian high school, college and professional teams, past and present.

Borning’s interest in team names stretches back to high school, when he played nine-man football for the Hendricks Huskies. Hendricks is about as close as you can get to South Dakota in southwestern Minnesota without actually living in our neighboring state.

Hendricks and nearby rival Ivanhoe have since consolidated, becoming the Lincoln H I Rebels. Lincoln references Lincoln County where the schools are located while the “H” and “I,” obviously, stand for the separate communities. Adds Borning: “The UNLV Runnin’ Rebels were a dominant NCAA basketball team at the time the schools consolidated in the early 1990s. The teens of that time considered themselves rebellious, so the moniker fit.”

That led me to ask my cousin how schools choose mascots and to specifically cite examples in Minnesota. He notes the popularity of Vikings here (11 high schools with this mascot) and the once common Warriors and Indians (no longer used), plus names like the Flying Dutchmen, all traced to ethnic heritage.

Agriculture and local industries also factor into names like the Moorhead Spuds, Austin Packers, Bemidji Lumberjacks and Crosby-Ironton Rangers.

Team names can extend, too, from the school’s name such as Lindbergh (Hopkins) Flyers, Robbinsdale Robins, Red Wing Wingers and Burnsville Blaze.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

In the past, animals, such as my beloved Rabbits, were common as mascots.

Recent trends during school consolidations are to forge a new identity such as the Northern Freeze Nordics comprised of students from the small northwestern Minnesota communities of Newfolden, Viking and Holt. (Yes, I had to check a map.)

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the otter.

The Otto the otter statue in Adams Park in Fergus Falls. The Otter Tail River runs through this city where the Fergus Falls High School mascot is the Otters. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Naturally, I wanted to know what mascots Borning might have selected for that USA TODAY contest had he been given the opportunity. He suggests these stand-out Minnesota names: Moorhead Spuds, Esko Eskomos, Thief River Falls Prowlers, Edgerton Flying Dutchmen, Two Harbors Agates, Grand Meadow Superlarks, McGregor Mercuries, Mahtomedi Zephyrs, Blackduck Drakes, Fergus Falls Otters and Barnum Bombers.

Just reviewing that list, I can see the connections between many of the mascots and their respective communities.

Borning also points out some unique Minnesota team names that have been lost to history such as the Jasper Quartziters, Tyler Danes, Walnut Grove Loggers, Granite Falls Kilowatts, Hendricks Midgets, Tracy Scrappers and Freeborn Yeomen.

I photographed this logo a year ago at Randolph Public Schools, home of the Rockets.

I photographed this logo a year ago at Randolph Public Schools, home of the Rockets.

Finding information on past high school sports team names has proven challenging for Borning, so he continues to research information for MascotDB, the only searchable online database of U.S. and Canadian high school, college and professional team names/mascots. “Reading up and discussing great and interesting team nicknames and mascots has always been a fun pastime for me,” he says. That led him to develop MascotDB.

Given the sheer amount of research he’s done, my cousin was able to tell me that only three U.S. high schools have Rabbits (not to be confused with Jackrabbits) as their mascots. Those are in Atlanta, Texas; Delta, Utah; and Wabasso, Minnesota.

Go, Rabbits.

A water tower in Wabasso sports the school's mascot, a white rabbit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

A water tower in Wabasso sports the school’s mascot, a white rabbit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

FYI: Click here to visit MascotDB.

Borning also welcomes information and questions about sports’ names/mascots. Contact him at info at mascotdb.com

Also, click here to learn more about the origin of the Rabbits mascot at my alma mater.

© Copyright 2013 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.

OUR PART IN THE FIGHT AGAINST COMMUNISM

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

 

Reflecting on graduation speeches by three generations of Minnesota women May 27, 2011

Wabasso High School, where my niece will give a speech tonight as class valedictorian. My mom and I also graduated from WHS, although the building looks much different than when we graduated in 1951 and 1974.

Arlene Bode Kletscher's 1951 graduation portrait.

SIXTY YEARS AGO 18-year-old Arlene Bode stepped onto the stage at Wabasso High School and gave a commencement speech, “Our Part in the Fight Against Communism.”

While that seems an unlikely, unsuitable, topic for an address by the class valedictorian, my mom says you need to remember the time period in which she wrote and gave that speech.

This was 1951, at the height of the Cold War, the era of bomb shelters and fear of the Soviet Union.

My mom espoused patriotism, encouraging her southwestern Minnesota classmates “to be patriotic and vote…so we can keep our freedom,” she recalls. She has a copy of that speech tucked inside her WHS diploma.

She found the speech recently when pulling out her diploma to show her granddaughter, Hillary Kletscher, who graduates tonight, also from Wabasso High.

Hillary, like her 79-year-old grandmother, is the class valedictorian and will speak at commencement. When I texted Hillary early Thursday afternoon, she hadn’t yet titled her speech. But, she said, the “main subject is change and how it’s good but we have to hold onto what we learn from the past.”

I won’t be there to hear my niece’s address. But I intend to ask her for a copy, just like I plan to get a copy of my mom’s speech, which I’ve never seen. These are parts of our family history, words reflecting the time periods in which they were written, words of hope and wisdom and patriotism (at least in my mom’s case).

Hillary will step onto the WHS stage tonight and speak on change, yet remembering the past.

Audrey Kletscher Helbling, 1974 WHS graduate.

That my mom kept her speech through six decades impresses me. I say that specifically because I have no idea where to find the speech I gave at my graduation from Wabasso High School in 1974. It’s packed in a box somewhere in a closet in my home, but I possess neither the time nor energy to dig it out.

I remember only that, as class salutatorian, my farewell address included a poem. What poem and by whom, I do not recall.

In 2006, my daughter Miranda graduated as valedictorian of Faribault High School and gave a commencement speech. Given that occurred only five years ago, I should remember the content. I don’t. I recall only that she held up a test tube to make a point.

I am also making a point here. Thankfully much has changed in the 60 years since my mom spoke on “Our Part in the Fight Against Communism.” While the world today remains in turmoil, at least the intense fear, felt by the Class of 1951 during the Cold War, no longer exists.

We have also moved beyond the turbulent 60s and 70s, a time of rebellion, anti-establishment, and anti-war sentiments and discontent over the Vietnam War experienced by my class, the Class of 1974.

By 2006, when my second daughter graduated, we as a nation were beginning to recover from 9/11, yet we lived in an increasingly security-focused society.

Today my niece graduates in a day of continuing economic uncertainty, when young people are struggling to find jobs and when Baby Boomers like myself worry about our jobs and retirement.

Yet, through it all—the Cold War, Vietnam, September 11 and a challenging economy—we remain four strong women living in a free country where we, individually, spoke freely, representing the classes of 1951, 1974, 2006 and 2011.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet the new Minnesota FFA president May 5, 2011

I AM PROUD, so, so proud, of my niece Hillary Kletscher of Vesta.

On Tuesday, she was named the 2011-2012 Minnesota Future Farmers of America president. (Click here to see the announcement.)

That selection speaks volumes to Hillary’s leadership skills, character and commitment to a stellar organization. She is among 9,100 FFA members from 175 Minnesota chapters. Her home chapter is my alma mater, Wabasso High School in Redwood County on the southwestern Minnesota prairie.

Nearly 40 years ago I became the first girl to join the WHS FFA, blazing the way in a previously male-dominated organization.

The 1973 - 1974 Wabasso High School FFA chapter consists of mostly male students. I am among the few females featured in this yearbook photo. I'm seated in the second row, third girl on the right.

For that reason I am particularly, personally, pleased that my niece now holds the highest office in Minnesota’s FFA.

It is an accomplishment that will open many doors for this WHS senior who has been serving as the Region V FFA president and as her chapter’s president. Hillary is a leader.

But it takes more than strong leadership skills to garner the top FFA spot in the state. Hillary and the other 15 candidates for state offices (selected by a nominating committee of their peers and adults) were evaluated in the areas of communication, team player, knowledge, organization, character, passion for success, influence and critical thinking.

Whew, simply reading that list posted on the Minnesota FFA website makes me realize that this is a daunting process that includes a written application, interviews, a written test, round robin issues conversations and more.

My niece, I am certain, can handle the responsibilities that will come with her new position.

Hillary is also an academically-gifted student and will graduate in a few weeks at the top of her class, 60 years after her paternal grandmother, Arlene (Bode) Kletscher, also graduated as the WHS valedictorian.

(I graduated in 1974 as the WHS salutatorian and my own daughter, Miranda, graduated as the Faribault High School valedictorian in 2006.)

Wabasso High School's winning T-shirt design, front and back.But back to Hillary. Her list of accomplishments in FFA, if I knew all of them, would be lengthy. She’s excelled in soil competition. And last year a T-shirt she designed won the National FFA T-shirt Contest. The winning slogan: “Who needs a license…When you can drive a tractor!”

I never came close to doing what Hillary has done in FFA. I won the Chapter Farmer Scholarship Award, and that’s about all I remember other than my first-female member status.

Hillary will have a busy year ahead of her as she juggles her freshman year of college at Iowa State University and trips back to Minnesota to carry out her FFA presidential duties. But if anyone can handle the stress, the pressure, the demands, it is my strong, determined niece.

She will continue to live the FFA motto:

Learning to Do

Doing to Learn

Earning To live

Living to Serve

© Text copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

T-shirt graphic courtesy of Hillary Kletscher

Hillary Kletscher photo by Matt Addington Photography and courtesy of Hillary Kletscher

 

Reunion stories: A rabbit tale and a tale of murder August 30, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:23 AM
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THIS WEEKEND my husband, Randy, and I attended mini high school class reunions, albeit impromptu ones.

On Saturday afternoon I met a Wabasso High School graduate while touring Betsy’s house in Mankato. That would be Betsy Ray, as in Maud Hart Lovelace’s main character in her Betsy-Tacy books. Betsy is Maud, who really did live in the restored Center Street house now owned by the Betsy-Tacy Society.

But back to that reunion. Penny, our tour guide, asked where I grew up and I responded, “between Redwood Falls and Marshall” since few people have ever heard of my hometown, Vesta.

Imagine my surprise when Penny says she graduated from Wabasso High School, about 20 miles from my hometown.

“I graduated from Wabasso High School too.”

That led to a bit of reminiscing between me, a 1974 grad, and Penny, a 1964 WHS graduate. Because of our 10-year age span, we didn’t know each other during our school days. Yet, we share that common bond of attending the small-town high school with the white rabbit mascot.

“Another white rabbit,” Penny says several times. Just as an explanation, the town’s name originated in an Indian legend about the creation of the earth. Wabasso, a son of the mighty creator of nations, fled north and was changed into a white rabbit. He was considered a great spirit. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow even writes about Wabasso in his The Song of Hiawatha poem.

A white rabbit statue sits along Minnesota Highway 68 in Wabasso.

But I digress. Penny and I enjoyed our new-found white rabbit connection and our shared love for the Betsy-Tacy books. And then we discovered one more link. Penny taught German at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato. I attended the college and, at one time, intended to major in German.

Now, flash forward to Sunday afternoon, when Randy and I are at a reunion of The Trinity King’s softball team. It’s been a day of remembering root beer barrels (the team drink), belly bumps (exactly what you think) and an injured leg splinted with softball bats.

Then Jane and Larry show up. Larry subbed a few times with the team, so we never really knew him. But as the conversation ebbs and flows, we learn that Jane graduated in 1969 from Pierz Healy High School, Randy’s alma mater. Randy graduated in 1974 with Jane’s sister, Nancy.

Soon the two are tossing out family names and memories with the ease of those who grew up in the same geographical area.

Then I mention the murder. One day after classes, a school librarian used his necktie to strangle a student in the audio-visual room. Jane tells us her brother was working in the adjoining room at the time of the late 1960s murder, but heard nothing.

Revelation of this horrendous crime to outsiders always draws the same reaction—stunned disbelief. How could this happen in a school? But it did.

As the Pierz Healy High School graduates continue to discuss other common topics, I wonder: What happened to the murderer/librarian? Is he out of prison? Is he still alive?

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling