Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The humor of Hendrum November 7, 2018

The Hendrum welcome sign is posted next to the dike.


WHEN MY FRIEND Tammy gave me directions to her family’s home in Hendrum, she failed to give me the exit number. Not that I expected multiple exits into this community along U.S. Highway 75. But there, on the sign welcoming me into this Red River Valley town of some 300, I read Welcome HENDRUM MINNESOTA Next 9 exits.



I laughed. Simply laughed at the absurdity of nine exits. Already I appreciated the humor of Hendrum, further expounded in the message If You Lived Here You’d be Home Now! Indeed, I would. But my home lies about five hours to the south and east in southern Minnesota, far from this community 30 miles north of Fargo-Moorhead.


Entering Hendrum from the south.


Exits into Hendrum are not exits in the sense that most would think of exits. Rather, Hendrum’s exits are the streets spoking off Highway 75 with the grain elevator, Red River and North Dakota to the west





and the business district, school, Lutheran church and residential neighborhoods to the east.

Tammy told me if we passed the dike protecting Hendrum from Red River flooding, we’d driven too far north. Only a line of trees separates my friend’s backyard from the grassy earthen dike ringing this small town. Her kids use the dike as a sledding hill. Good luck finding a natural hill anywhere near here. This place is flat.


Inside the entry into my friend’s house stands this statue of Bigfoot. It was a gift to her husband, who appreciates this creature that may or may not have been sighted in the area. I saw Bigfoot art on a nearby farm site. Whatever the truth, this Bigfoot art fits well with the humor of Hendrum.


But what Hendrum lacks perhaps in landscape appeal, it makes up for in appealing to those wanting a quiet place in which to raise a family. The median age of Hendrum residents is 37. I was delighted to see that my friend’s younger children built stick and log forts and tended chickens in a backyard coop. They’re actually outdoors, using their imaginations, playing, having fun.



This family of seven could be the poster family of Hendrum, fitting the demographic target market. The town’s website, banners EVERYTHING YOUR FAMILY NEEDS TO SHINE. That would be a low student-to-teacher ratio (although my friend’s kids are homeschooled), a strong and loyal local economy, and no traffic. I can vouch for that lack of traffic congestion.

The creative who put together the city’s website recognizes the strengths of this town:

Our commuters bask in their own quiet retreat, leaving the traffic and hustle in the rearview mirror every day as they head home.

Unlike other small communities surrounding Fargo-Moorhead, Hendrum resides on a quiet MN highway—not a thoroughfare of hurried weekend traffic.

We’re a small community of farmers, bankers, teachers and friends, and we’d love to show you around our neighborhood. We’re the first town with a speed limit north of Moorhead on Highway 75. Come take a tour… you’ll be home before you know it.

Just take one of the nine exits into town…

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Chief Sleepy Eye shouldn’t have a mustache June 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:19 AM
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In mid-April I photographed this sign featuring Chief Sleepy Eye on the east end of Sleepy Eye, MN.

HIS EYELIDS MAY HAVE DROOPED, but I’m quite certain Chief Sleepy Eye didn’t sport a mustache.

However, on this sign welcoming visitors to Sleepy Eye, in Brown County, Minnesota, the town’s namesake clearly has facial hair.

I didn’t notice the apparent defacing of Chief Sleepy Eye until now, while sorting through on-the-road photos I shot in April.

I expect that’s exactly the problem. Locals and travelers pass by the welcome sign along U.S. Highway 14 and don’t even notice. We get so accustomed to something that we overlook the details.

Scratching a mustache onto a person’s photo in a newspaper (haven’t we all done that?) is one thing. But marring a Sisseton Dakota chief’s image on a public welcoming sign is quite another.

So who, exactly, was Chief Sleepy Eye?

Born in 1780, this leader of the Swan Lake or Little Rock band of hunters was considered a friend of explorers, traders, settlers, missionaries and others. He was among those signing, albeit reluctantly, the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux in 1851. In that historic treaty, the Dakota ceded land in exchange for promises of cash, goods, education and a reservation.

From 1857-1859, Ishtakhaba’s (Sleepy Eye’s) main village sat along Sleepy Eye Lake. He died in 1860 while hunting in South Dakota. His remains were eventually buried beneath a granite obelisk monument that stands near the historic railroad depot in Sleepy Eye.

Even though I lived and worked in Sleepy Eye briefly in the early 1980s, I don’t recall ever taking time to view this monument or to appreciate the Dakota chief it honors. Perhaps it’s time to detour a block off highway 14 and educate myself.

FYI: To view Chief Sleepy Eye without a mustache, click here to an image on the City of Sleepy Eye website.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling