Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hey, Faribault, can we stop & let kids cross the street? May 14, 2018

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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While there are no stoplights along the street referenced in this post, I use this illustration to make a point: Please stop for pedestrians. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I LIVE ON A BUSY STREET, an arterial route through Faribault that sees a high volume of traffic, especially during the morning rush hour, after school rush and evening rush. Laugh if you wish. But I’ve lived here long enough—nearly 34 years—to know. Good luck trying to pull from a side street or back out of your driveway onto Willow Street during those times of day. It’s nearly impossible.

That brings me to the issue I wish to discuss. Pedestrian traffic. What if you were a kid trying to cross this high traffic roadway to reach your bus stop or to walk to school or back home?

On a recent Thursday morning, I observed a teen a block away waiting for a lull in traffic so she could cross Willow Street. She waited and waited and waited. And then waited some more. Why wouldn’t anyone stop? It was clear she needed to cross given her poised position at the edge of the curb and at an intersection.


A biker squeezes around a bus in busy Davis Square. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2016.


If this was Boston, she would have stepped right into the traffic lane regardless of oncoming traffic, regardless of anything. I wouldn’t advise that. When visiting Davis Square two years ago, I waited for the light to turn green rather than disobey the traffic signal. All the other pedestrians swerved right around me, crossing against the light. Clearly I did not understand that pedestrians claim the streets of Boston. But Minnesota is not Boston. So we wait, yielding to motor vehicle traffic.

Even with a crosswalk law in place in Minnesota, I don’t see much change in drivers’ attitudes toward pedestrians. The Minnesota Safety Council notes key parts of that law, which you can read by clicking here. The Council suggests a common sense approach to determining when/if it’s safe to cross a roadway.

Common sense. As I watched a steady stream of vehicles pass the student hoping to get to school on time, I wondered if anyone would ever stop for her. Finally, a school bus stopped, a signal for southbound traffic to also stop. Finally, after five-plus minutes of waiting, she could be on her way.

There was a time when walking across Willow Street was a bit easier, a bit safer. Before an elementary school just blocks away closed, an overhead crosswalk sign with flashing yellow lights signaled drivers to slow down and stop for kids. Shortly after Garfield Elementary shuttered decades ago, that signage was removed. I’ve often wondered why given the many kids and other pedestrians who still attempt to get across this high traffic street.



I have a personal reason for feeling strongly about this issue. In May 2006, my then 12-year-old son was struck by a car while crossing Willow Street on the way to his bus stop. He escaped with only minor injuries. Granted, he was crossing in the middle of a long block rather than in a crosswalk, not the best idea. Still the driver of the car that hit him never stopped and has never been found, despite multiple witnesses.

In the 12 years since, nothing has changed. The high volume of traffic remains. Kids still struggle to cross this busy roadway on their way to and from school. I suggest drivers in Faribault practice some Minnesota Nice, just like that school bus driver who realized that a teen waiting on a corner needed to cross the street on a Thursday morning.

FYI: Additionally, here are Pedestrian Safety tips from the Minnesota Safety Council. Click here.

Also click here to read about a Faribault student who was struck by a vehicle while crossing another busy city street on her way to school in October 2017. Lul was seriously injured.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In Faribault: A Willow Street welcome honoring Vietnam War vets August 31, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:12 PM
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Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #72 group by my house


A DOZEN OF US GATHERED late Wednesday afternoon in my front yard to honor those who served and those who died in the Vietnam War.


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #4 drawing flag with chalk


As we waited for the Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall to arrive from Owatonna, the adults chatted. And some of the kids chalked American flags onto the sidewalk fronting my Willow Street property.


Vietnam Memorial Wall processional, #1 woman waiting with flag

Across the street a woman waits for the processional to begin.

Three American flags, spaced evenly along the boulevard, lifted occasionally in the breeze on a stunning August day here in southeastern Minnesota.

Leading the way...

Leading the way…

The Wall processional presented a great opportunity to honor these veterans. How well I remember the protests of decades earlier, the unrest and open hostilities expressed toward Vietnam vets. On this day in my community, in my neighborhood, in my yard, we gave them the respect they deserved. Whether or not you agree with the war matters not. Respect matters.


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #16 back of beginning


I saw honor in the lengthy lines of bikes, cars and other vehicles, in the waves, the American flags…


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #19 watching


There’s something deeply moving about participating in an event like this. I can only imagine the emotions felt by the Vietnam veterans who today—from Owatonna to Medford to Faribault and in between—witnessed a warm welcome home.


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #25 jeep


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #29 red jeep with wall sign


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #30 row of bikers


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #32 trike


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #34 back of 2 bikes


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #40 bikes and flags


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #46 biker & POW flag


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #49 biker waving


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #50 bikes


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #57 Vietnam vet on bike


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #58 red car


The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

The Traveling Wall arrives in a trailer near the end of the processional.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

Volunteers will be setting up the wall on Thursday morning at the fairgrounds.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.

The trailer and accompanying vehicles continue north on Willow Street.


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #71 vets van


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #76 utility vehicle


Vietnam Wall Memorial processional, #9 American flag in chalk

My friend’s teenage daughter chalks a message of thanks on the sidewalk in front of my home.

FYI: The Traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall opens Thursday afternoon at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault. Click here for a detailed schedule of events from now through Labor Day. Check back for a follow-up post on a pre-eve stop I made at the fairgrounds.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My thoughts on the changing streets of Faribault November 6, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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I DON’T LIVE on a Bay, a Circle or a Drive.

I live along Willow Street.

That alone should tell you that my home sits in an old neighborhood. After all, cities don’t name streets after trees anymore or even attach the word “street” to a new roadway. If there are willows growing along my street, I haven’t noticed them.

But I’ve noticed, in the 29 years my husband and I have been in our modest three-bedroom, one-bath Willow Street home, that there’s a certain stigma attached to our arterial street, to our part of Faribault.

And I’m not happy about that.

For example, a few evenings ago, we joined friends around a backyard bonfire. The conversation ebbed and flowed with intermittent laughter, until a friend remarked, “I see your neighborhood is getting more diverse.” I knew the comment stemmed from a drive-by shooting several months ago within two blocks of my home.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

These young Somali women represent the changing face of Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

My defenses kicked in and I was prepared for an unpleasant exchange about the ever-growing cultural diversity of Faribault and the perceived “problems” in my neighborhood. My husband responded and the topic was dropped. I didn’t find myself, once again, championing for those of color, although you’ll never find me defending criminal behavior committed by anyone, whether white, black, green or purple.

In this file photo, a Somali family waits to cross a downtown Faribault street.

A Somali family in downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Honestly, I tire of the underlying, and often blatant, prejudicial jabs I hear and read about in my community. The Hispanic, Somali, Sudanese, Asian, African American and other minorities who now call Faribault home are here to stay. And some of them happen to live in my neighborhood. So what? Does this make my neighborhood less desirable? Apparently to some. Not to me, unless these neighbors disrupt the neighborhood with illegal and/or undesirable criminal activity and/or behavior.

And, believe me, I’ve had “bad neighbors” whose skin is white, just like mine.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Many Latinos call Faribault home. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Oftentimes I want to grab life-long locals by the shoulders and tell them that the Faribault they knew growing up is not the Faribault of today. These newcomers are here to stay. Welcome them. Get to know them as individuals and as families, for in so doing misconceptions and fears fall by the wayside. Be kind. Embrace them.

When I moved to the Faribault area in 1982, it took a long time for me to feel welcome and a part of the community. Sometimes I still feel like an outsider because I didn’t grow up here, don’t have family here, nor does my husband. I can only imagine how those of other cultures, those who’ve fled war-torn homelands an ocean away, must sometimes feel. Isolated. Scared. Unwelcome.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault's diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Latinos represent a large part of Faribault’s diverse population. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Of those who suggest the newcomers just leave, I want to ask, and sometimes do: “Weren’t your great grandparents once new here, arriving from the Old Country, speaking in a language others could not understand?”

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

This intentionally blurred image, taken of children waiting to break a pinata at the International Festival Faribault, represents the many cultures within my community. Skin color mattered not to these kids. Why does it matter so much to adults? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

Oftentimes, too, I want to grab life-long locals and others by the shoulders and tell them that my diverse Willow Street neighborhood is worthy of their respect. This is my home, my neighborhood, the place I choose to live, an important part of this community we call Faribault.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Another fire in my Faribault neighborhood September 30, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 1:49 PM
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THERE’S BEEN ANOTHER fire in my neighborhood, this one two blocks away instead of directly across the street.

And this one happened at 1 a.m. in a vacant, foreclosed house in the 700 block of Willow Street instead of in the late afternoon in an occupied dwelling. (Click here to read about the September 10 fire at my neighbor’s house.)

This time I didn’t race to the scene, allow I certainly could have. The contingent of fire and police vehicles, with sirens screaming, woke me with a jolt early this morning. Typically I don’t think much of sirens in the middle of the night. Living along a busy street, I hear them all too often.

But when multiple emergency vehicles just keep racing by and sirens shut off near my home, I take note.

So I pulled myself out of bed, grabbed my glasses, peered out the window, failed to see anything and slid back under the covers.

At 1:19 a.m., when another fire truck—this time the ladder truck—roared past, I slipped barefoot out the front door, descended the steps to the end of the sidewalk and peered down the street toward emergency lights flashing in the blackness of the night.

I couldn’t see flames, didn’t smell smoke. But, still, I pondered whether I should change into street clothes, grab my camera and go.

I didn’t. While I’m a blogger, I’m no longer a newspaper reporter and photographer. My days of chasing fire trucks ended decades ago. Yet, that urge, that desire, that curiosity, remain.

I crawled back into bed, wide awake, the adrenaline still pumping, wondering how my husband could seem so disinterested in the drama unfolding nearby. He’s calm like that and able to shut out distractions once his head hits the pillow. He wanted to sleep.

Me? Surprisingly, I fell asleep relatively easily. But I slept fitfully, dreamed about firemen and police and a tarp covering bodies on a flat bed trailer.

And when I awoke six hours later, contacted the editor of The Faribault Daily News about the fire and read the story posted online around noon, I was relieved to know that my nightmare was only that, a nightmare, with no truth to it.

Click here to read The Daily News article.

Then click here to read The Daily News article about a fire at the same house during the early morning hours of May 19. That first suspicious fire caused only minimal damage to the home, owned by Wells Fargo.

Compare the two photos in the separate stories. You’ll see significantly more damage done during the second fire.

It’s pretty clear to me that someone is determined to burn down this house.


© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Found: Citizen firefighter Ted Leon from Owatonna September 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 4:07 AM
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READERS, WE’VE FOUND “Ted from Owatonna,” the passerby who Saturday afternoon stopped to extinguish a quickly-spreading fire on my neighbor’s deck.

Thanks to the quick action of Ted Leon, 47, an attorney at Federated Insurance in Owatonna, Kristin and Kevin Klocek’s Faribault house was saved from what both Ted and I believe could have been a devastating fire. (Click here to read my first blog post about the fire.)

Up until late Monday afternoon, I did not know Ted’s last name because he identified himself only as “Ted from Owatonna” when he left the scene, telling me he had to get going. He told me that much only because I asked. He was the first to arrive at the fire, to grab a garden hose.

But before I get into details about Ted’s firefighting, let me first tell you how we found Ted. And I say “we” because this was a joint effort that initially involved my blogging about the fire, followed up by Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins linking to my story in his News Cut column, Faribault Daily News Managing Editor Jaci Smith learning of my post via Collins’ post and then the Faribault newspaper and its sister paper, The Owatonna People’s Press, publishing a “Do you know this man?” community alert on their websites that included a photo I shot once the fire was under control.

This photo was posted on the newspaper websites in an effort to locate "Ted from Owatonna."

A friend of Ted’s saw the online photo and contacted the Owatonna paper with Ted’s name and number. This I learned from Jaci Smith, who had called me earlier Monday for permission to use my photos and to ask me about the whole event.

Early Monday evening Ted called me, before I had an opportunity to phone him.

So, how then did Ted end up on Willow Street in Faribault at the precise moment the smoldering fire flared up on Kevin and Kristin’s deck?

He, his wife Kathe and their three youngest sons were on their way from The Defeat of Jesse James Days re-enactment in Northfield to 4 p.m. Mass at Divine Mercy Catholic Church. They are not members of the Faribault parish—they attend Sacred Heart in Owatonna—but because Kathe was participating in a St. Paul bike ride Sunday morning, they opted to attend the Saturday afternoon service in Faribault en route home. Their Owatonna church does not have a Saturday Mass.

Kathe told her husband she knew how to get to Divine Mercy and, says Ted, “That put us right in the path of the fire.”

It was nearing 4 p.m. when the Leons were driving in the 400 block of Willow Street. “I looked to the right and saw the fire pretty much engulfing the front deck,” Ted recalls.

As his mind computed the situation, he didn’t quite believe what he was seeing until he realized, “Oh, my goodness, that thing is on fire.” He pulled over, asked Kathe to call 911. Concerned that a grill and propane tank might be involved (they weren’t), Ted told his family to remain inside their van while he raced toward the fire.

He remembers only, in those initial moments, being “really focused in” on the fire and worried that people were inside the house. Ted had reason for concern. Kristin and her daughter Kaylee were inside, unaware of the blaze. As Ted ran up the steps and onto the deck toward the front door, he felt the intense heat of the actively-spreading fire.

He pounded on the screen door, peered through the screen and saw a little girl with her back to him. He ripped the screen and pounded again on the interior door and hollered “Fire, get out!” (or something like that; he doesn’t recall his exact words) until she noticed him.

In this photo you can see how the heat of the fire melted the vinyl siding.

“Once I knew they were aware of the fire, I ran around the house looking for a hose,” Ted continues.

He found two hoses connected to a single water spigot and grabbed one. As he pulled the hose toward the burning deck and the burning wood chips below the deck, the hose jerked from his hand. It was too short. He ran back to the spigot, flipped a lever that sent water to the second hose and “said a prayer it would be long enough.”

It was. The fire responded quickly to the water.

Days after the fire, Ted seems humbly surprised at the media attention. “I didn’t feel like it was a big deal,” he says of his actions.

Anyone would have done what he did, Ted claims. “It was my turn (to help someone).”

I agree with Ted, to a point. I’m not sure I could have gone onto that deck with the actively spreading fire. I saw those intense flames when I arrived just as Ted was grabbing that second hose.

“It’s nice to be able to put your faith into practice and help someone,” this Good Samaritan says.

Later, while worshipping at Divine Mercy, he offered prayers of thanksgiving. His clothes reeked of smoke, he says, and his legs felt sunburned from the intense heat of the fire.

Ted doesn’t remember me several times screaming, “Kristin and Kevin, get out!” He was, as he says, totally focused on extinguishing the fire and making sure everyone was out of the house.

I remain convinced, and so does Ted, that the entire house soon would have been engulfed in flames had he not spotted the deck fire and taken immediate action.

While on the scene of the fire, I spoke with Faribault firefighter Joel Hansen, who was very much interested in finding “Ted from Owatonna” and possibly presenting him with an award for his actions.

I told Ted Monday evening that I would see him at the awards ceremony.

FYI, A LITTLE BACKGROUND if you have not yet read my first post: I was working in my home office Saturday afternoon when my 17-year-old son, who was sitting on the couch working on his laptop, heard a car horn, looked up and saw the fire directly across the street. “The neighbor’s house is on fire!” he shouted.

I grabbed my camera, which was right next to my desk and raced out the front door, not even stopping to slip on shoes. Because of my background as a former newspaper reporter and now a current freelance writer, it was simply a natural instinct for me to grab my camera.

My first concern was for the safety of my neighbors, not photographing the fire. By the time I got to the front yard, Ted was pulling the second hose toward the fire. At that point flames were shooting up from the wood chips and from the deck.

Because there was nothing I could do at this point to help Ted fight the fire, I remained focused on my neighbors getting out. I was unaware that Ted had already pounded on the door and that the family knew about the fire.

When Kristin and Kaylee rounded the corner of the house after exiting via a door into the garage, I comforted them and made sure they were OK. By then the fire was under control and nearly out. Only then did I begin photographing the scene. At one point I also spoke on the phone with Kristin’s husband. She had called him earlier, but I wanted to assure him that his family was alright and update him on the situation.

A smoldering cigarette butt under the deck has been indicated by fire officials as the likely, as-yet unofficial, cause of the fire.

FOR THE LOCAL news story by Jaci Smith, click here to an article in The Faribault Daily News.


TO READ BOB COLLINS News Cut column, click here and check his Monday morning 5×8 entry.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


“The neighbor’s house is on fire!” September 10, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:55 PM
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TED FROM OWATONNA, you are our Willow Street neighborhood hero. This afternoon you saved my neighbor’s house from what could have been a devastating fire. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

You were in a hurry to leave after you put out the fire on Kristin and Kevin’s deck with a garden hose around 4 p.m. today. You didn’t give me your last name—I was the one with the camera, the across-the-street-neighbor.

I am forever grateful to you for noticing the flames (as you drove by with your family), stopping, grabbing a garden hose, banging on the house and yelling for my neighbors to “Get out!”

This is a view from my yard looking directly across the street at Kevin and Kristin's house on the corner of Tower Place and Willow Street. The fire was extinguished before firefighters arrived.

I did not get many actual fire photos as I was more focused on making sure my neighbors were out of the house than in photographing the scene. But here you see wood chips burning under the deck.

Ted from Owatonna uses water from a garden hose to put out the deck fire.

That's my neighbor Kristin on the right, with Ted still working to assure the fire is out.

You deserve an award, Ted. Faribault firefighter Joel Hansen says the fire department gives awards for efforts like yours. I expect you wouldn’t want one. But you need to be recognized and publicly thanked.

If not for your quick action, I am convinced the fire would have caused severe damage to Kristin and Kevin’s home.

By the time my 17-year-old son noticed the flames (which was almost immediately) and hollered, “The neighbor’s house is on fire!” you were already there grabbing the hose.

Flames were shooting from under and around the deck in the mere seconds it took for my husband and me to race across Tower Place. I didn’t even slip on shoes, just grabbed my camera and ran.

All I could think of was that my neighbors were in their house; their car was in the driveway. I screamed, “Kevin, Kristin, get out of the house!” Several times.

My eyes focused on those flames blocking the front door. The flames that kept shooting up until Ted extinguished them with water from that garden hose.

Then Kristin and her daughter, Kaylee, rounded the corner from the garage, having safely exited through a back door.

Kristin told me she heard the banging, but, because some neighborhood kids have been banging on her house recently, didn’t think much of it. But then she got up to check, saw the fire and got out. Her husband and son were not home.

I am relieved, thankful, grateful that the fire was contained to the deck area, that it did not happen at night, that my neighbors got safely out. The deck and siding are damaged. That is minor compared to what could have been.

The fire damaged the deck and siding.

Faribault firefighter Joel Hansen continued spraying down the area after Ted left.

It could have been worse, much worse, if not for the quick actions of Ted from Owatonna.

If anyone knows the identity of Ted, please submit a comment and I will pass this information along to the Faribault Fire Department. My husband also got Ted’s license plate number, so we are confident that officials can track him down that way. We want Ted to get the public recognition he deserves.

Today, Ted, let me give you your first public, “Thank you!”

Readers, if you would also like to comment on Ted’s actions, I welcome you to do so.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Rain, rain and more rain in Faribault July 15, 2011

I shot this photo from my living room window late this afternoon of flooded Willow Street.

AROUND 4 P.M., the sky turned black as night here in Faribault. And then the rain let loose. Rain pouring forth so fast that if I was Noah’s wife, I would have urged him to hurry up and finish building that ark.

For some 10 minutes or so, a boat would have been the preferred mode of transportation along the street past my house. The storm sewer couldn’t keep up with the rainwater rolling down the hill onto Willow Street, a main route through town.

Some drivers diverted to the opposite traffic lane to dodge the deepest water. Others splashed through without even slowing down. And yet others paused, tentatively tire-tip-toeing into the water.

Some drivers were cautious, others not so much, as they drove on flooded Willow Street.

Motorists drove through flooded Willow Street without too much concern.

Soon the onslaught of water swept across the roadway into a neighbor’s driveway, down the side of the garage and into the backyard. Next door, rain also surged onto the driveway, then channeled south down the sidewalk to another neighbor’s newly-blacktopped driveway.

The rain flowed across the street into the neighbor's driveway (left), along the garage and into the backyard.

The next two neighbors to have water from the flooded street surge onto their properties.

On my side of the street, at the near bottom of the hill, the curb contained the deluge of water.

It’s been quite a day here—rain, rain and more rain. Open the windows, close the windows. Open. Close. Check the skies. Listen to the weather report. Hang clothes on the clothesline and two minutes later pull them off after spotting heavy, threatening clouds moving in.

Then I checked the National Weather Service website to learn Rice County, my county, is now under a flash flood warning. Yes, it’s been quite a day with rain, rain and more rain.

WHAT’S THE WEATHER like in your area? Submit a comment and tell me.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling