Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Park art August 8, 2017

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THE POSTCARD STYLE MURAL pops color in to the mini shelterhouse at Lions Park in Waterville.

But it’s more than that. The painting by Kimberly Baerg also provides a snapshot glimpse of this southeastern Minnesota resort and farming community.

 

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Examine the details and you will see a tractor, a canoe, a buggy, a train. All important in the history of this town.

 

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This mini mural is an example of how a little artistic ingenuity, effort and paint can transform an otherwise plain cement block wall in to a canvas that promotes a place, shares history and pops with community pride.

Well done, Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A place of peace for the faithful in Waterville September 30, 2016

 

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I AM NOT of the Catholic faith.

 

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Still I appreciate the strong, artistic visuals that hold great symbolism for those who are Catholic.

 

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On a recent visit to Waterville, I discovered the grotto at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. While there’s no comparison to the renowned Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, this southern Minnesota grotto is worth appreciating.

 

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Here, in this farming community, field stones were harvested and crafted into a religious shrine in 1929 that honors Christ, Mary and the archangel Michael. One can only imagine the labor and love invested in creating this quiet space of prayer and peace.

 

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Nearly 90 years later, this parish still cares for this place. Plants ring the shrine. Stones remain secure. And in 1992, the walls and floors were constructed and a time capsule installed.

 

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Faithful devotion endures through the generations at Holy Trinity Grotto in Waterville. I see that in this shrine.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Up on the housetop in Waterville September 29, 2016

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THERE ARE VIKINGS fans and then there are Vikings fans.

 

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When I spotted this ginormous Vikings helmet atop a roof recently in Waterville, just a half block off Main Street, I thought it marked a bar. Waterville seems to have a sizable number of drinking establishments.

But, upon closer inspection, I determined this building is a residence.

There’s a story here.

What story would you spin from these photo prompts?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The place to be on a fall Friday evening in Waterville September 28, 2016

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VISIT THE HOMEPAGE of the Waterville-Elysian-Morristown School District and you’ll see team sports photos front and center.

 

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Sports are big in these southern Minnesota communities, as they are in most small towns.

 

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WEM is the home of the Buccaneers, a fitting mascot for Waterville situated on two lakes. Resorts, campgrounds and cabins ring the lakes, drawing locals and vacationers to Sakatah and Tetonka lakes and the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail.

 

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But on Friday evenings in the fall, it’s football that brings folks into town to cheer on the champion Buccaneers. Nine seems to be the team’s good luck number with state championships claimed in 1989, 1999 and 2009.

 

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I’ve never attended a football game here, but my husband did years ago when his alma mater, Healy High School, played here. He remembers an uneven playing surface and muck.

 

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Last week, when heavy rain fell and flooded this area of southern Minnesota, the Buccaneers moved their game against Le Sueur-Henderson to neighboring New Prague. But that didn’t deter them. Pirates are, after all, transient, extremely resourceful and not easily intimidated away from their home turf. They defeated the Giants 38-14.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A picture story from small town Minnesota September 27, 2016

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SMALL TOWNS SOMETIMES present images of time standing still.

 

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History lingers.

 

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The past writes in to the future.

 

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Long-time grassroots businesses maintain a presence, some strong, others struggling against the consumer pull to regional shopping centers, to discount and chain stores.

 

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Watering holes still lure in the locals with icy beer and plenty of BS, enough to crank up the town rumor mill.

 

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Signs of change creep in. An aging populace. Technology. New needs.

 

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But always the community webs together, lines interconnecting those who call this place, this small town, home.

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(All of these images were taken recently along two side streets and an alley off Main Street in Waterville, Minnesota.)

FYI: Please click here to read my first post from Waterville. And check back for more photos from this southern Minnesota community.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In appreciation of the Sunday afternoon drive: Snapshots from Main Street Waterville September 26, 2016

A recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

A man and his dog in a recent street scene from small town Waterville, Minnesota.

SOME MIGHT LAUGH. Others may consider it an activity for old fogies. But I don’t care. I appreciate the Sunday afternoon drive. We all should.

I grew up with the occasional Sunday afternoon drive as a rare diversion from southwestern Minnesota farm life. My siblings and I would pile into the Chevy, Dad behind the wheel, Mom in the front passenger seat. My farmer father would steer the car along rugged township gravel roads, tires kicking a trail of dust. His drive had purpose, focus—to look at the crops.

Today I still study farm fields. But not with the same assessing eye as my dad. My livelihood doesn’t depend on yields from the land.

Still, those semi-leisurely drives taught me something important. They taught me the value of looking and truly seeing, of noticing the details. And they taught me the value of going for a drive.

In the past several years, since we became empty nesters, my husband and I have taken to Sunday (or Saturday) afternoon drives like moths to porch lights. We choose a general direction we want to travel and just go.

A snippet of Waterville's Main Street, including Ron's Hardware, jam-packed with merchandise.

A snippet of Waterville’s Main Street, including Ron’s Hardware Hank, jam-packed with merchandise. You have to see this place to believe it.

A Labor Day drive took us west to the small towns of Elysian and Waterville. We’ve explored both before. But, still there were new details awaiting discovery. I like nothing better than to park the van along the Main Street of a rural community and then walk, camera in hand, documenting the nuances that define a place.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capitol of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

Waterville is the self-proclaimed Bullhead Capital of the World and celebrates Bullhead Days every June.

On this day, it was Waterville.

Bullheads Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville.

This low-slung building along Main Street houses Bullhead’s Bar & Grill, one of several bars in Waterville. The name pays tribute to the bullhead, a fish abundant in area lakes.

The food sounds enticing and the prices really reasonable.

The food sounds enticing and the prices reasonable. If I hadn’t just eaten a Sticky Burger (burger with peanut butter and bacon) at Tucker’s Tavern in Elysian…

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

I appreciate vintage signage like this spotted on a downtown building.

Madden's Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

Madden’s Orchard occupies this corner building next to a community park.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand.

And next to the mini park sits this mini building, which is for sale. I peered inside to see a popcorn machine, making this a former popcorn stand. What possibilities could you see for this building besides reopening a popcorn stand?

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Signage always catches my eyes, especially the vintage signs I often find in small towns.

Some lovely aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

Many aged buildings occupy downtown Waterville. This one, left, houses a law office.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

I love this simple, bold graphic marking The Cafe.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan's Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It's named after the

Singing Hills Coffee Shop anchors the corner building next to JC Ryan’s Art Gallery. The coffee shop, which I blogged about four years ago, is available for lease. It’s an inviting shop named after the Sakatah Singing Hills State Trail, a recreational trail that runs through town from Faribault to Mankato. Waterville is a popular southeastern Minnesota lakeside resort community.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2016. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

I had a maple bacon sundae when I visited the coffee shop in September 2014. It was closed when I was there this year and, I believe, is closed for the season.

Just walking the dog...

Just walking the dog in downtown Waterville…

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

You can learn a lot about a small town simply by reading the posters, signs and notices on storefront windows and doors.

TELL ME: Do you take Sunday afternoon drives? If so, why? If not, why not?

FYI: Check back for more photos from Waterville.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Camp counselors July 24, 2015

Portrait #32: Counselors at Camp Omega, rural Waterville, Minnesota

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

Camp Omega counselors at July Fourth North Morristown celebration. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013

They are the faces of enthusiasm, of adventure, of leadership, energy and a passion for the outdoors. They are summer camp counselors in Minnesota. Friends, surrogate moms/dads, teachers—they are all of these and none of these. They are young people. Who care.

I never had the opportunity to attend summer camp while growing up—there was no money for such extras. But my younger siblings did. When I had children of my own, I determined they would go to summer bible camp no matter the financial sacrifice.

My girls, from kindergarten age on, every summer, went to Camp Omega near Waterville. The first time I sent my eldest away for a weekend, I wondered how I would make it through camp. Me. Not her. I survived her absence and she thrived in the serene setting of woods and water in the care of faith-focused counselors.

Amber loved Camp Omega so much that she eventually volunteered there during high school and then worked two summers as a counselor. The friendships she forged and the confidence and faith-growth she experienced were immeasurable.

Some things cannot be taught by parents at home. Some must be learned in a canoe, in a raucous competition, on a climbing wall, around a campfire roasting marshmallows, in a circle of new friends with a counselor strumming a guitar, in the top bunk of a lumpy bed with whispers in the dark and the brush of branches against roof.

Mosquito bites and sunburn. Raccoon eyes and bounce of a flashlight. Rousting out of bed and falling asleep exhausted from a day of running and screaming and breathing in all that fresh air.

Camp. Counselors. Summertime in Minnesota.

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Minnesota Faces is a series featured nearly every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling