Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The poetry of Rob Hardy, Northfield poet laureate April 20, 2022

A portion of Rob Hardy’s poem displayed at the Northfield Public Library. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo)

ROB HARDY, poet laureate of Northfield, is the kind of laid back guy who appreciates a good craft beer. I know. Back in September 2017, I met him at Imminent Brewing, where we shared a table while enjoying a beer, listened to other beer lovers read poems about beer and then read our own beer poems. He organized that Beer Poetry Contest. Poetry at a brewery, how creative and fun is that?

In January 2019, I again found myself in the company of Hardy, and other gifted area poets, for a poetry reading at Content Bookstore in Northfield.

Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts for a past event that included a poetry reading.

And then several months later, we gathered at the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault for more public poetry reading.

Hardy is a champion of poetry. He tirelessly promotes poetry in Northfield, where poems, including his, imprint sidewalks. He organizes poetry events and publishes a poetry-focused newsletter and even has a poem permanently posted at the public library.

Rob Hardy, right, and his new poetry collection. (Photo source: Finishing Line Press)

And he just released a new collection of poetry, Shelter in Place, published by Finishing Line Press. The slim volume of 20 poems is a quick read with many of the poems therein inspired by his daily walks in the Carleton College Cowling Arboretum during the pandemic year of 2020.

The influence of the pandemic upon this poet’s life and writing is easy to see. In “Lyrical Dresses,” for example, he writes about looking at ordinary life through the wrong end of a telescope and sometimes crying for no reason. In “Today’s Headlines” the fourth line reads: Rice County has the highest rate of new cases in the country. That would be our county.

But these COVID-19 themed poems are not necessarily doom, gloom and darkness. They are an honest, reflective historical record of life during a global pandemic from the creative perspective of a wordsmith. Just as important as a news story in telling the story of this world health crisis. In “Grounded” he writes of pulling a shoe box from the closet to relive travel memories while unable to travel. While grounded.

He did, however, put his feet to the ground, immersing himself in nature through daily walks. He writes of birds and prairie and sky and river and wind…in poems inspired by his deepening connection to the natural world.

Shipwreckt Books Publishing published Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy’s previous poetry collection.

I encourage you to read Hardy’s Shelter in Place and/or attend a reading at Content Bookstore featuring Hardy and Greta Hardy-Mittell, a Carleton College student and writer. That event begins at 7 pm on Thursday, April 21. Click here for details. Rob Hardy is also the author of two other poetry collections, Domestication: Collected Poems, 1996-2016 and The Collecting Jar.

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TELL ME: Have you attended any poetry events or read/written poems in April, National Poetry Month.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In celebration of National Poetry Month: One April day April 18, 2022

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2018)

ON THE AFTERNOON of the April morning I scanned the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library for poetry books, I raked a banana from the boulevard.

“Hey, I found a rotten banana,” I hollered to Randy, who had just switched off the lawnmower as he mulched leaves.

“You didn’t eat it, did you?” he asked.

“No,” I shouted back, rolling my eyes at his humor.

“I found a dead mouse or squirrel earlier,” he shared in an apparent effort to top my discovery of a dried black banana. (We never know what we’ll find while raking in the spring.) He walked across the lawn to the curb along busy Willow Street and kicked up the dried carcass I really did not want to see.

“Mouse,” I concluded, and looked away.

Mira Frank reads the works of Minnesota poets from “County Lines” at an event in St. Peter in 2016. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo August 2016)

That takes me back to those poetry books I checked out, including County Lines: 87 Minnesota Counties, 130 Poets. Published in 2008 by Loonfeather Press of Bemidji, this volume features poems collected from Minnesota poets and representing all 87 Minnesota counties. It was published on the 150th anniversary of our statehood.

It’s a must-read book which accurately, and poetically, reflects Minnesota. Among the poems published therein, “April” by Connie Wanek. The first four lines of her five-verse poem from St. Louis County, are so relatable. She writes:

When the snow bank dissolved

I found a comb and a muddy quarter.

I found the corpse of that missing mitten

still clutching some snow.

As someone who’s lived in Minnesota her entire life, I “get” most of the poetry published in this collection. These poets write about land and weather, experiences and observations, small town cafes and polka dancing and trains roaring down tracks and closing the cabin and picking rock and…

The plentiful large rocks pictured here at Blue Mounds State Park are likely similar to those referenced in Leo Dangel’s poem. The park in rural Luverne is about 20 miles from Jasper, which Dangel names in “Stone Visions.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo August 2013)

I laughed aloud when I read Leo Dangel’s “Stone Visions” from Pipestone County in my native southwestern Minnesota. The topic—picking rock. For those of you who’ve never picked rocks, it’s exactly what it says. Walking through a field gathering and tossing rocks that seem to sprout every spring. Poet Dangel viewed oversized stones in a field near Jasper in a poetic way while his farmer uncle observed, “I’d hate like hell to start picking rock in those fields.”

Image source: Goodreads.

Uncovering rocks. Uncovering a dried mouse carcass. Uncovering a dried black banana. Uncovering poetry that resonates. Within the span of several hours, I found winter’s remains and a treasure of a poetry collection.

County Lines uncovers the stories of Minnesota in poetic voice from lesser-known to well-known Minnesota writers. Poets like David Bengston, Robert Bly, Philip S. Bryant, Susan Stevens Chambers, Charmaine Pappas Donovan, Angela Foster, Larry Gavin, Laura L. Hansen, Sharon Harris, Margaret Hasse, Bill Holm, John Calvin Rezmerski, Candace Simar, Joyce Sutphen and so many more.

From Willmar to Hibbing to Lac qui Parle and, oh, so many places in between, the layers of our state, our people, our stories, our history, our heritage are revealed. This April day I celebrate National Poetry Month in a Minnesota poetry book pulled from the #811 shelves at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault.

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FYI: Former Minnesota Poet Laureate Joyce Sutphen will read from her newest poetry books, Carrying Water to the Field and The Long Winter, at 1 pm Saturday, April 23, at the Little Falls Carnegie Library. “Making Rural Connections Through Poetry with Joyce Sutphen” focuses on the loss of small farms in Minnesota. Sutphen grew up on a Stearns County farm. Three of her poems are featured in the “Stearns County” entries in County Lines.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite book of poetry you’d like to recommend? Or, if you’ve written a book (s) of poetry, please feel free to share information here.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Planning coffee with a friend, a sign-inspired short story from Northfield April 11, 2022

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Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

By all means,

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

let’s take five.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

But I gotta stop at Willie’s first for my shoes.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

That’s across from the VFW.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

And then I need to pick up my custom framed print.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

So can we meet at 10 am at Goodbye Blue Monday?

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

I hope we beat the student rush.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

Or maybe I’m fooling myself.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

Oh, I see it’s snowing again. Better wear my boots.

Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022

I’ll be as contented as a cow if this winter ever ends.

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FYI: All photos were taken in historic downtown Northfield, Minnesota, in February.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating poetry: Reflections from a Minnesota poet April 4, 2022

Roses from my husband, Randy. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012)

Roses are red,

violets are blue.

Sugar is sweet

and so are you.

RAISE YOUR HAND if that’s the first poem you ever read or heard. My right hand is wildly waving. See it, right there next to a mass of many many hands?

Me, next to my posted poem, “River Stories,” selected for the 2019 Mankato Poetry Walk & Ride. (Minnesota Prairie Roots November 2019 file photo by Randy Helbling)

Today, April 4, marks day four of National Poetry Month, which celebrates the importance of poetry in our culture and lives. Whether you like or dislike poetry, it holds value as a form of artistic expression, communication, storytelling, endearment…

Many of my poems (plus short stories and creative nonfiction) have been selected for publication in The Talking Stick, an annual anthology published by the Jackpine Writers’ Bloc. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am proud to call myself a poet. A published poet. How did I get there? I’ve always loved words, the song of language. Poetry is, I think, a lot like music. It carries a rhythm. A beat. A cadence. That comparison comes from a poet who can’t carry a tune, can’t read a musical note, can’t play an instrument.

A Chamber Choir performs artsongs written from poems, directed by David Kassler. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017)

But in 2017, a chamber choir performed my poem, “The Farmer’s Song,” at two concerts in Rochester. David Kassler composed the music for my poem and six others as part of an artsong project. To sit in that audience and hear those vocalists sing my poem was overwhelmingly humbling. And validating.

I took poetic license and photoshopped this image of the button I wore identifying me as a poet at a Poetry Bash. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo)

I am a poet.

The last of four billboards featuring my Roadside Poetry spring poem. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011)

My poetry has been published in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, anthologies… And in unexpected places. In 2011, my spring-themed poem bannered four billboards in Fergus Falls as part of the Roadside Poetry Project. Other poems have been posted on signs along trails as part of the Mankato Poetry Walk and Ride. “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother” is currently showcased in an exhibit at the Lyon County Historical Society Museum in Marshall, Minnesota, in my hometown area.

Jeanne Licari’s absolutely stunning interpretation of my “Lilacs” poem. Her “Lilacs on the Table” is oil on mounted linen. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo May 2014)

Some of my poems have inspired art in Poet-Artist Collaborations, been aired on the radio and read by me at poetry readings.

I read poetry at this event at my local arts center in March 2019. I was honored to read with other talented area poets. (Promo courtesy of the Paradise Center for the Arts)

Even I’m surprising myself at the volume of poetry I’ve crafted through the decades. I never set out to be a poet. It simply happened as an extension of my love of words, of language. And that undeniable need to express myself creatively. Unlike that “Roses are red…” introductory poetry of old, my poems do not rhyme.

My poem, “Ode to My Farm Wife Mother,” with accompanying photos (center of this photo) in the Lyon County exhibit. (Photo courtesy of the LCHS)

My poetry is like me. Unpretentious. Down-to-earth understandable. Flannel shirt and blue jeans. Honest. Detail-oriented. Rooted in the land with a strong sense of place and a story to be told.

TELL ME: What’s your opinion of poetry? Do you read it, like it, write it? I’d like to hear.

Please click on links in this post to read some of the poems I’ve written.

FYI: Content Bookstore, 314 Division St. S., Northfield, is hosting two Poetry Nights, both beginning at 7 pm. On Thursday, April 7, Northfield poet Diane LeBlanc will read from her latest works. That includes her new poetry book, The Feast Delayed. Northfield Poet Laureate Rob Hardy and poet Greta Hardy-Mittell will read from their latest works also. Hardy’s newest poetry collection, Shelter in Place, just released.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inspiring creativity March 24, 2022

Lost glove along the Straight River Trail, south Faribault, Minnesota. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo March 2022)

THE GLOVED STICK stuck out like a snowman’s broken appendage. There, stuck in the snow, aside the Straight River Trail in south Faribault.

Camera in hand, I paused on a recent afternoon trail walk to photograph the lost grey glove. Scenes like this intrigue me because there’s always a story. Who lost the glove? Why? Who found the glove and then decided to stick it on a stick? Would the woman who lost the glove find it?

Real life often prompts my creative writing. Several weeks ago I wrote with a fury over two days, under pressure to meet a contest deadline. In those two full days of creating, I wrote two pieces of creative nonfiction, two short stories and two poems. The Muse moved within me and I felt it.

More often than not, I tap into my life for ideas. The “write what you know” adage holds true for me.

In writing fiction, I can take a snippet of truth and craft it into a short story that rings with reality, except it’s not. A text shaped one of the pieces I crafted. The other story came from some dark place I have not yet unearthed.

The recent death of my mom resulted in a poem and a work of creative nonfiction. A sign in a barbershop window prompted the second piece of creative nonfiction.

And my second poem emerged from a previous walk along a riverside trail in Faribault. Not the same path of broken snowman appendage. But a place where fingers of snow wrote stories across asphalt.

TELL ME: If you are a creative, what inspires you in your writing/painting/creating? I’d like to hear.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Feeling especially valued as a Minnesota creative February 18, 2022

A serene rural scene just north of Lamberton in southern Redwood County, my home county, shows the roots of my creativity in the prairie. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo October 2013)

I’VE ALWAYS SENSED within the artistic community an unwavering support of one another. A kinship in creativity. A connection sparked by the sheer act of creating, whether by words, by music, by paintbrush or pencil or camera or hands or…

Craig Kotasek crafted these letterpress print promo posters for his current show. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo February 2022)

And today I’m feeling especially valued by an artist I posted about just days ago—Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing in Le Sueur. I wrote about his Letterpress Print Show at The Arts & Heritage Center of Montgomery (Minnesota). If you haven’t viewed that story yet, click here to read my insights into his work and to see his incredible letterpress artistry showcased in my photos.

Well, Craig heard about my post, followed up with an email to me and then posted the kindest/loveliest/nicest review of my work on his website (click here). I am not only humbled by his generous words, but by his detailed gratitude for Minnesota Prairie Roots. He clearly understands me, my artistic and journalistic passions, my love for small towns and rural Minnesota, and my desire to share my discoveries.

Craig is just one example of how generous this community of creatives.

When we create, we share part of ourselves with the world. I cannot imagine not creating. That comes from a southwestern Minnesota farm girl who grew up with minimal exposure to the arts. No music lessons. No art classes. No gallery shows. No community concerts. Nothing outside the basic core of required class courses in middle and high school.

A snippet of the land my father farmed, my middle brother after him, on the rural Vesta farm where I grew up. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted file photo April 2013)

But what I lacked in the arts I found in the prairie landscape. In the unrelenting wind. In sunsets bold and beautiful. In snowstorms that washed all color from the earth. In wild pink roses pushing through road ditch grass. In the earthy scent of black dirt turned by a plow. I took it all in, every detail in a sparse land.

And I read. Laura Ingalls Wilder, pioneer girl from Walnut Grove only 20 miles distant. Nancy Drew with her inquisitive mind. Whatever books I could find in a town without a library.

Today I feel grateful to live blocks from a library. I feel grateful to have access to the arts. You will find me often posting about creatives on this blog. Creatives like Craig Kotasek of Tin Can Valley Printing. He’s a gifted craftsman and artist specializing in letterpress printing. What a talented community of artists we have in rural Minnesota. I feel grateful to be part of that creative community.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Reflecting on poet Robert Bly December 1, 2021

Books by Minnesota poet Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo)

AS A PUBLISHED POET, you might expect me to read a lot of poetry. I confess that I don’t. I should, because through reading and studying others who practice our crafts, we learn.

So I determined, upon hearing of the death of renowned Minnesota poet Robert Bly on November 21, that I would read more of his poetry. I’ve checked out every Bly book available at my local library: What Have I Ever Lost By Dying?, Talking into the Ear of a Donkey and Stealing Sugar from the Castle.

Interesting titles reveal likewise interesting poems crafted by an especially gifted writer.

Robert Bly also translated poetry, here “The Voices” by Rainer Maria Rilke. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

As I began to read Bly’s poems, I noticed the brevity. As any poet understands, each word in a poem must count. Bly seems especially adept at that. Poetry is perhaps the most difficult of writing genres.

I also see the influence of his upbringing on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. His roots are in Madison, near the South Dakota border. This small farming community is the self-proclaimed Lutefisk Capital of the US and home to a 25-foot-long fiberglass cod fish statue. Lutefisk is cod soaked in lye and a food of Norwegian heritage.

My copy of “The Voices,” translated by Robert Bly. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

In Bly’s poetic voice, I hear rural reflected. From land to sky. Heritage strong. Faith interwoven. Solid work ethic. Agriculture defining small towns and occupations, threading through daily life. Bly writes with an awareness of his rural-ness, with a deep sense of place. I understand that given my roots on a southwestern Minnesota farm.

Yet, Bly’s writing isn’t defined solely by place. His world expanded when he joined the Navy after high school graduation, then attended St. Olaf College in Northfield for a year before transferring to Harvard. He pursued additional degrees. He was a prolific writer. A poet. An essayist. An activist.

While watching a public television documentary on Bly last week, I learned more about his activism. During the Vietnam War. In writing about men. He authored Iron John: A Book About Men, which remained on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 62 weeks. Sixty-two weeks. That’s saying something about Bly’s influence.

Robert Bly’s autograph in my first edition copy of “The Voices.” (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

He also translated the works of others, including Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Voices. It’s a slim volume of nine poems with a title poem. And I have a copy of that beautiful hardcover book, purchased several years back at a used book sale in Faribault. Mine is number 14 of 50 limited first edition copies published in 1977 by The Ally Press and autographed by Robert Bly. Now, upon the poet’s death, this collection holds even more significance. More value.

The final three lines in Bly’s poem, “Ravens Hiding in a Shoe,” summarize his passion for penning poetry. (Minnesota Prairie Roots photo)

Though Bly has passed at the age of 94, his legacy as a writer will endure. He scored many awards and accolades throughout his writing career. But I sense, even with that success, it was the craft of writing, the ability to pursue his passion for the written word, which he valued the most. That, too, I understand. For to write is to breathe.

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FYI: To read another take on Bly, I direct you to gifted writer and poet Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, who blogs at One Minnesota Writer. She reflected on Bly in a post titled “Remembering Robert Bly.”

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural reflections in the season of autumn November 22, 2021

Harvest in Monkey Valley near Kenyon. (Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo October 2021)

NOVEMBER MARKS A MONTH of transition from autumn to winter here in Minnesota.

A tree frames an abandoned silo and the remains of a barn in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Trees stand against an often grey sky, brisk winds stripping the last of their leaves to bare branches. Nests crafted by squirrels high in treetops appear vulnerable, unsheltered, exposed to the elements while far below these busy oversized rodents munch on maple seeds, hide walnuts, prepare for winter. Their smaller cousins find their way into our aged house and garage, necessitating a daily check of the trap-line.

Harvesting corn in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

Harvest is done. Corn and soybeans reaped. A once lush rural landscape now looks drab, awash in muted earth-tones.

Endless acres of corn defined the landscape near Kenyon pre-harvest. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

For farmers, long days and nights in the field are but a memory. Stress and rush easing into a slower rhythm of life.

Spotted along a gravel road near Kenyon, grazing cattle. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

The early days of autumn hold such beauty in landscape, such promise in anticipation of harvest. I’ve always loved September and October. This autumn, particularly, in the unchanging season of COVID-19, I’ve needed to reconnect with the earth. To witness the harvest. To view farm sites. To follow back country gravel roads, dust trailing the van. To find peace.

A farm site in the ghost town of Aspelund. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

My appreciation for rural traces to my rural roots. I shall always feel gratitude for my 18 years on the farm. The southwestern Minnesota prairie shaped me as a writer and a photographer in that I noticed, still notice, details. The brutal slice of the winter prairie wind. The remarkable beauty of a flaming sun edging down. The taste of earth in potatoes dug from the garden. The sound of silence in hearing nothing. The unmistakable smell of harvest carried from combine to farmyard.

Just another view of the farm site in Monkey Valley. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo October 2021)

These farm memories I carry with me as autumn wanes, as November days move Minnesota toward winter. Harvest done.

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NOTE: All of these photos were taken a month ago. The landscape looks much different now. Grey. Stark.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From the wagon repair shop… August 19, 2021

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Minnesota Prairie Roots August 2011 copyrighted file photo, used here for illustration only.

ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, a lowly worker headed off to work in the local wagon repair shop. He wasn’t feeling particularly well. But he couldn’t take a day off simply because he felt sick. He had a family depending on his paltry wages to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

In the depth of his heart (his mother had always modeled mindfulness of others), the young man felt a tinge of guilt about laboring when he was ill. He, after all, was fully aware of a deadly virus which swept through the region and well beyond the borders of his homeland. None-the-less, need prevailed over his underlying fear of The Great Invader.

The wagon repair shop owner expected him there, sick or not. The wealthy owner held no concern for the virus and would quickly dismiss anyone who failed to show up, so focused was he on filling his coffers with gold.

And so the young man went off to work, feeling he had no choice in the matter. He continued to repair carts and wagons and sometimes even chariots inside the dank, windowless shop. Occasionally he paused to swipe the back of his filthy hand under his runny nose and to sip tepid water from a dirty tin cup.

Within days, those who worked beside him fell ill, the sickness spreading like wildfire. Even the wagon repair shop owner, who sat in a corner enclosure counting his coins, fell ill. But that didn’t matter. Everyone was expected to be at work. There were carts to fix. Wagons to repair. Chariots to get on the road. A coin box to fill.

Then one day, the young man overheard a conversation between the senior repairman and the wagon repair shop owner. The older man shared how sick his wife had become with the virus. She lay in bed wracked by fever and coughs, unable to function. Guilt swelled within him. And anger rose as he listened.

“Everyone’s sick,” the shop owner said dismissively. “You can’t stay in your hovel and hide when there’s work to be done.” The lowly worker heard not an ounce of care or concern. No compassion or mindfulness.

Regret overwhelmed the young man. What if the senior repairman’s wife died? He could not shake his sense of responsibility, his role in spreading the virus. If only he had listened to his inner voice, his conscience, his heart. His mother. If only he’d cared about those who toiled beside him and their families. If only he’d joined the line of villagers who waited for hours for a magical potion distributed throughout the region to help stop The Great Invader. If only…

NOTE: In every story, truth exists, this one no exception. Please click here to read my first post about The Great Invader published in February 2021.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Old school journalism & lessons learned June 22, 2021

In journalism school and early in my journalism career, I typed stories on a manual typewriter similar to this. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

IN A WINDOWLESS ROOM of Armstrong Hall on the campus of Mankato State University, I pounded out a fictional obituary on a manual typewriter.

The year was 1976. And I was learning the basics of newspaper reporting. Lesson number one: Always spell a person’s name correctly. Never assume. Ask for the spelling. There is no reporting sin worse than misspelling a name. I remembered that during my first reporting job out of college when I interviewed Dayle. Not Dale.

I learned from two of the best—Robert O. Shipman and Gladys B. Olson. They were old school journalists, determined to teach Woodward and Bernstein-hyped students how to gather facts and report with truth, accuracy and integrity. They taught the basics—how to write a strong lede, how to infuse interest into feature stories, how to get the story right…

But beyond that, they cared. Deeply. They cared about the roles newspapers play in communities. To report hard news. To share human interest stories. To inform. To keep tabs on government and schools and other groups entrusted with public monies and policies. To share and express opinions on the editorial page, considered the heart of a community newspaper. To publish obituaries. And much more.

A section of a feature I wrote about Mike Max, now a sports anchor at WCCO TV. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

All these decades later, I remember those lessons learned from Shipman, Olson and others who taught mass communication classes at what is today known as Minnesota State University, Mankato. I graduated in March 1978 and shortly thereafter started working as a newspaper reporter at a small town weekly, The Gaylord Hub. My career would also take me to full-time reporting jobs in Sleepy Eye, Mankato and Owatonna, and to a short-term assignment in Northfield with freelance work also tossed in the mix.

Through the years, I’ve maintained my passion for writing and grown my passion for photography. Even while raising three children, with minimal time to write. Yet, I’ve had no desire to return to the long and odd hours of working for a newspaper at low pay with the stress and pressure of deadlines and a public that criticizes more than values the free press.

Much has changed since I typed a fictional obit in Armstrong Hall on a manual typewriter. For one, technology. Two: Newspapers charge to publish obits. I still struggle with that change. But I understand given the declines in ad revenue. Three: Attitudes. The easily flung accusation of “fake news” simply angers me as does constant criticism of responsible media. “Don’t kill the messenger,” I advise those who target the media for reporting “only bad news.”

A feature I wrote in 1979 republished in the June 4, 2020, issue of The Gaylord Hub. MN Prairie Roots file photo.

I wonder what Professors Shipman and Olson would teach students today. I expect they’d still focus on the basics. On accuracy and integrity and spelling names correctly.

While writing this post, I wanted to assure I spelled their names right, which led me to search online. It was then that I discovered some interesting facts about Olson, a petite spitfire of a woman. Shortly before she turned four, Gladys and her infant brother were orphaned as a result of the 1918-1919 flu pandemic. Their parents died within 24 hours of each other, among more than 8,000 North Dakotans who died of influenza in 1919. The siblings were raised by their paternal grandparents. I wish I’d known this when Olson taught me how to become a good, decent and fair newspaper reporter.

From the front page of the Faribault Daily News. MN Prairie Roots file photo 2020.

Today, as I read Olson’s 2016 obit, I understand her backstory, what shaped her strength and resilience and kindness. The list of her accomplishments beyond journalism professor emphasizes service to others. She lived to age 101. That she died only four years before the COVID-19 pandemic is not lost on me. I’m thankful she didn’t have to endure another pandemic. I’m also thankful that she, and Robert Shipman, taught me old school journalism style. To write with fairness, integrity and accuracy. And to value the role of newspapers in a democracy.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling