Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A geography quiz & an award-winning tech program September 2, 2011

OK, readers, it’s time for a little geography quiz.

Where are these towns located?

  • Bellingham
  • Nassau
  • Madison
  • Marietta
  • Dawson
  • Boyd

If you know/guessed, or cheated and googled, you likely would have answered as follows:

  • Bellingham,Washington
  • Nassau in The Bahamas
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Marietta, Georgia or Marietta, Ohio
  • Dawson, Georgia
  • Boyd, Texas

However I would award you extra credit and move you to the head of the class if you gave these answers:

  • Bellingham, Minnesota
  • Nassau, Minnesota
  • Madison, Minnesota
  • Marietta, Minnesota
  • Dawson, Minnesota
  • Boyd, Minnesota

See, you can learn a lot by going online and reading information on sites like Minnesota Prairie Roots.

But not everyone has easy access to computers, or the technical skills to use one, especially in rural areas like those six small Minnesota towns in the list above.

The folks in Lac qui Parle County understand that. And they’ve done something about the problem by bringing computers to the people via a mobile computer lab, LqP Computer Commuter.

The LqP Computer Commuter (Photo from online Minnesota Community Pride Showcase application)

How’s that for an innovative idea, selected as one of 30 Minnesota Community Pride Showcase winners that will be recognized on Saturday at the Minnesota State Fair?

Back in Lac qui Parle County, the computer commuter (a converted small handicapped accessible commuter bus) hit the road last summer and now travels three days a week, parking for four hours in each town—Bellingham on Monday morning, then to Nassau in the afternoon; to Madison and Marietta on Tuesday; and to Dawson and Boyd on Friday.

According to information submitted in the Minnesota Community Pride Showcase application, the mobile program has been well-received and continues to grow. You can read details about LqP Computer Commuter by clicking here.

The Lac qui Parle Economic Development Authority website, where you'll find basic info about the LqP Computer Commuter.

Aiming to increase digital literacy in a county with less than 8,000 residents, many of them over age 60, the mobile computer lab provides the public with free access to seven laptops and a lab coordinator and trainer.

Twelve local partners from the public and private sector support the project.

To the team who brainstormed and hatched this idea and to those who back the program, I applaud you. You are meeting a need in rural Minnesota.

I understand. I grew up in southwestern Minnesota and am aware how isolation, lack of funding, and more, often mean fewer opportunities.

When I was a child living on a farm outside of Vesta, I wanted nothing more than a library in town. Decades later my hometown of around 300 still doesn’t have a library, but at least the Plum Creek Bookmobile rolls onto Main Street once a month.

I expect residents and business people in Lac qui Parle County are thrilled to see the LqP Computer Commuter roll onto their Main Streets once a week.

I hope this idea catches on in other areas of rural Minnesota, and through-out the country. Rural residents should have as much access to technology, and the skills to use that technology, as those of us who live in more heavily-populated areas.

FYI: To read the list of winners in the Minnesota Community Pride Showcase, click here. The 30 winners will be recognized on Saturday at the Minnesota State Fair, where they also have an exhibit space. The fair has also awarded $500 to each winner.

Three programs in my county of residence, Rice County, are among those to be honored for their community efforts: Faribault Summer Youth Programs, Rice County Olympic Day and Northfield LINK Center.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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A Lake Agnes love story June 24, 2011

IT APPEARED TO BE nothing short of a love story played out on a west central Minnesota lake.

Two love birds—or more accurately, ducks—met along the shoreline of Lake Agnes in Alexandria which, to those of you who do not live in Minnesota, claims to be the birthplace of America what with the Kensington Runestone and all found here.

But I digress.

The mallards cared not one wit about the vikings or the Runestone or even me, watching their every move. The drake and the hen had eyes only for each other.

And so the romance spawned on Lake Agnes, on this lake with the name of Greek (not Scandinavian) origin meaning pure/holy/chaste.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:

www.VisitFergusFalls.com

www.kaddatzgalleries.org

www.fergusarts.org

www.fergusfallssummerfest.com

www.roadsidepoetry.org

www.marketfergusfalls.com

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling