Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Vending rural & rustic in Zumbro Falls October 7, 2016

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TIS THE SEASON OF FALL occasional sales.

 

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Although I haven’t shopped one yet, I showed up a day early for The Rustic Hinge Fall Gathering in Zumbro Falls. Not on purpose. My husband and I were on a day trip, no specific destination in mind, when we happened upon a yard full of stuff in the heart of this small southeastern Minnesota river town.

 

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Stuff would be defined as collectibles, antiques, primitives and such all with a definitive rural and rustic theme.

 

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My disappointment rated high when I inquired and learned the sale opened the next day. And nope, no early shopping. Except window shopping, minus the windows. Too bad for me.

 

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I glimpsed new, aged, repurposed and other merchandise in the Hinge’s outdoor lot across the street from a building presumably packed with lots more.

 

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You have three more days to shop this occasional sale. That would be today (Friday) from 1 – 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

You can’t miss the sale. Downtown Zumbro Falls is only a few blocks long.

TELL ME: Do you have a favorite occasional sale that you shop?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Minnesota Faces: Flood survivor January 30, 2015

Portrait #5: Tracy Yennie, after the flood

 

Tracey, Zumbro Falls flood 2010

 

She’s a young woman I will always remember. Tracy Yennie. Strong. Determined. Thankful. A redneck. Her word, not mine.

When I met this mother of four young boys in early October 2010, she was hanging out next to the Salvation Army trailer in downtown Zumbro Falls, a small southeastern Minnesota community ravaged by a September 23/24 flash flood. Tracy’s family lost nearly everything, as did many others, and was camping in a shed on their riverside property.

When I interviewed Tracy, she was waiting on FEMA. She talked strong, invincible. But I could see the weariness in her eyes, edged by dark circles. I saw beneath her tough veneer. I saw a woman concerned about her future.

I wonder sometimes what happened to Tracy and her family. Do they still live in her hometown of Zumbro Falls? Or did the flood force them out?

Of all the portraits I’ve taken, Tracy’s ranks as perhaps my favorite. This photo tells the story of one woman dealing with disaster. And beyond Tracy, if you look at the details, you notice steps leading to the Salvation Army trailer. You notice the flowers behind her, still standing after the flood. You notice a business district seemingly unscathed. But if you were to walk the sidewalks, you would see the damage close-up.

This photo documents disaster in a personal way. It shows disaster as more than a number or an insurance claim. This image puts a face on disaster. And that is powerful.

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This portrait is part of a new series, Minnesota Faces, featured every Friday on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One year later: A thank you party in flood-damaged Hammond September 21, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, residents of  Zumbro Falls and nearby Hammond were evacuating their homes during a devastating flash flood.

They were not prepared—could not have been prepared—for the rapidly rising Zumbro River that would inundate their homes and businesses on September 23/24, displacing them for months and many of them permanently.

Within three weeks of the flooding, while on a Sunday afternoon drive to view the fall colors, my husband and I drove into Zumbro Falls. There I met Jackie, Tracy and Susie. Just down the road in Hammond, I met Katie.

Tracy Yennie of Zumbro Falls, whom I photographed shortly after the flood which left her without a home and living temporarily in a shed.

These four women shared their stories and frustrations and worries with me. In return, I published what I today consider some of the most powerful posts I have ever written. Click here to read this flood series published on October 11, 2010.

Flooding in Hammond, one year ago. Photo by Susie Buck.

My coverage of the flood did not end then. These women so impressed me with their fortitude, their strength and their outspokenness that I continued to follow one of them, Katie Shones of Hammond, throughout the year. Katie was my go-to person any time I wanted an update from her Wabasha County community of 230. Not once did she suggest that I was intruding into her life. In fact, she has gone above and beyond in answering my many questions. She also introduced me to her dear friend, Tina (Marlowe) Mann.

Tina and I have never met, but we’ve corresponded numerous times via e-mail. Like Katie, Tina has always, always, been forthright and open with me. She allowed me to share her story in a March 13-19 series. Click here to read the first of those six posts.

Via my connections with Katie and Tina, I was able to inform you of the need for volunteer help in Hammond. And at least two readers responded with crews to assist in Hammond. Others of you may have responded in ways that I’ll never know.

This weekend Hammond is celebrating its recovery with a “Thank You” party. “We would like anyone who was impacted, donated, volunteered, or showed compassion for Hammond to come back down and see how far we’ve come and allow us to show our appreciation – the Hammond way!!!” Tina wrote in a recent e-mail. She invited me to attend and said I could spread the word.

So, if you fall into that “impacted, donated, volunteered or showed compassion for Hammond” category, make your way to this picturesque riverside berg on Saturday, September 24, to celebrate with Tina and Katie and their families and the other residents, and former residents, of Hammond.

The first day back into their flooded Hammond home, Vicki and Dallas Williamson had 20 minutes to grab whatever they could carry on the back of a four-wheeler. The family did not move back. Photo by Sheri Ryan.

Tina, who now serves on the city council; Hammond Bar co-owner Janice Farris; Hammond Café co-owner Cindy Campbell; former Mayor Judy Radke; and flood-affected resident Beau Mischke did the initial planning for the party and pulled in many local residents to help with activities, according to Tina.

Here’s the schedule of events:

  • 2:30 p.m., park dedication
  • 2:45 p.m., Kiddy Carnival
  • following the carnival, horseshoes at the Hammond Bar & bean bags at the Hammond Cafe
  • 3 p.m., corn husking in the park
  • 5 p.m., free sweet corn and hot beef sandwiches
  • Also, live music by Led Penny and Bad Logic and fireworks at dusk.

As you might guess in a small town, the entire event and door prizes are being covered by donations from businesses, residents, friends of Hammond and clubs. I’m not going to list them for fear of omitting someone.

Suffice to say you would be impressed.

And just one more thing. Tina tells me that by the end of the month, 12 crab apple trees will be planted on Main Street and in the east end of the park in honor of the children of Hammond affected by the flood.  Those, too, have been donated, by a Rochester nursery and garden center. Click here to read an earlier post about the affect of the flooding on Katie Shones’ children.

I never doubted that the folks of southeastern Minnesota would rebound from the devastating flood of September 2010. I knew it when I met Jackie, Tracy, Susie and Katie. These are strong, determined women. Nothing would stop them from reclaiming their communities.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal and Tina Mann.

CHECK BACK FOR A POST tomorrow in which Tina Mann shares her thoughts on the past year and how her community has worked toward recovery. As in the past, Tina speaks with an honest, open voice that will touch your heart.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Vote to rebuild parks in four flooded Minnesota communities June 9, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Michael Mann & Tina Marlowe.

FOR SOME TIME NOW, I’ve been committed to helping the folks of Hammond in southeastern Minnesota recover from a devastating September 2010 flood.

I’ve assisted in the best way I can—not physically—but with words and photos on this blog. We all possess talents and mine are not hanging sheetrock or swinging a hammer. I write. There is power in words.

Last October I brought you a series of stories and photos from Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, where I interviewed several individuals and shot many photos showing the damage caused by the flooded Zumbro River. The women I spoke to shared heartbreaking stories. Yet, they remained strong. That impressed me.

I spoke to Tracy Yennie in Zumbro Falls several weeks after the flood damaged her home.

A gutted, flood-ravaged home in Zumbro Falls.

The exposed side of the restaurant/grocery, where a portion of a building once stood in Hammond. The building lies in a heap in the street.

I saw gutted homes and businesses, a child’s toy lying in a pile of discarded appliances. Truly, I could not fathom the personal loss of possessions and home.

In March I published a series of stories about Tina Marlowe and her family, who lost so much to the floodwaters in Hammond. Hers was one story of many that you will never hear. Some residents have decided not to return. Others await possible buy-outs or funding to repair their homes.

But beyond the individual losses, these towns have suffered as communities. They’ve lost gathering spots and places for their children to play. Parks need rebuilding. To do this, these communities need money.

Marlowe, who was recently elected to the Hammond City Council, has started the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project and is accepting donations of monies, materials and labor to rebuild the recreational areas in her river hamlet.

Send donations to: City of Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project, 320 East Center Street, Hammond, MN. 55991. Click here to learn more about this effort.

 

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo on September 25, 2010.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond during the flood, which also overtook the town's park. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

AND NOW A 16-YEAR-OLD Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School student, Amy Schultz, has stepped up, leading the push to secure a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Project grant that will repair flood-damaged parks in Zumbro Falls, Hammond, Pine Island and Owatonna.

Schultz tried for a grant earlier this year, focusing solely on Zumbro Falls and Hammond. Now she’s expanded her area, hoping that the inclusion of Pine Island and Owatonna will mean more votes. The top 10 projects, those with the most votes, get the $50,000.

Simple? Yes. Just vote by:

Voting continues through June. When I checked the ranking for this project on Wednesday morning, Schultz’s idea stood at number 27. Let’s blast that number into the top 10.

This high schooler is determined. Just read this information I found online, in news releases she sent to cities, Chambers of Commerce and elsewhere: “The local parks are part of the fabric that joins these picturesque river towns together. It is where families and friends come to play and visitors come to sit by the riverside all summer long. So many memories have been made here over the years and we need to restore them for current and future generations.”

Convincing words from a young woman who wants to make a difference in four Minnesota communities still recovering from the September 2010 flash floods.

Vote today and every day until the end of June for the “Rebuild Parks in Owatonna, Zumbro Falls, Pine Island and Hammond MN” project.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part VI: The future for Hammond and Tina March 19, 2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post marks the final in a series of six stories that focus on a Hammond, Minnesota, family forced from their home during a September 2010 flash flood. Today we look at Hammond, its recovery and how you can help.

“WE HAVE A LONG ROAD ahead of us and none of it can really start until spring,” says Tina Marlowe, assessing the work that still needs to be done in Hammond. Her family returned to this town of (once) 230 residents shortly after Christmas.

This southeastern Minnesota community exists in limbo as residents await the arrival of warmer weather, and money, to begin rebuilding their community. Many homes must be gutted and rebuilt or torn down. Hammond needs a new city hall and new maintenance equipment. The river bank, river bed, parks and canoe landing need to be cleaned and rebuilt.

“Everything…everything is left to be done,” says Tina, who plans to help form a park committee that will raise $200,000 to update and rebuild the town’s parks. Tubing, canoeing, a horseshoe tournament, camping, fishing, motorcycling and more draw locals and visitors to this quiet river valley, “a beautiful gift of nature that we like to call ‘Our Valley’,” Tina says.

She and good friend Katie Shones will be setting up a Park Fund for donations to rebuild the parks.

 

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

HOW YOU CAN HELP?

“SINCE OCTOBER, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has been very involved in the long-term recovery efforts in the Pine Island – Oronoco area and in Wabasha County,” says Caitlin Hughes, LSS Disaster Services administrative specialist.  “LSSMN assisted in the development of two community supported long-term recovery committees. These committees are working with the LSSMN Southeast Minnesota Disaster Response Team to help families locate the precious resources to rebuild their homes and their lives.  Presently LSSMN has a local staff of three disaster case managers, a volunteer and resource coordinator and a reconstruction manager.

Currently, the disaster case managers are working with over 250 families/ individuals and the rebuild team is assisting 25 clients in using volunteers to make their homes habitable once again.”

St. John’s Lutheran Church is serving as a base for LSS relief operations in Hammond. Contact LSS caseworker Mary Walker at 507-753-3057 business days. St. John’s has served, among other functions, as a site for distribution of food, clothing and other essentials to flood survivors.

INDIVIDUALS INTERESTED in helping with Hammond’s recovery should contact LSS Volunteer Coordinator Dan Kalstabakken at 651-741-7234.

Go to this link for the most up-to-date information on LSS efforts in southeastern Minnesota: http://www.lssmn.org/disaster/

Also visit the Zumbro Valley Disaster Relief Fund.

Tina says flood survivors could use cash donations and that skilled laborers are still needed to help with the ongoing rebuilding efforts.

HELPING THE CHILDREN

LSS also provides support for children who have been through disasters like the Hammond flood.

Camp Noah is a day camp for children impacted by disaster that offers children a safe, caring and fun environment where they can heal and process their disaster experience, according to LSS. The five-day camp is based on a curriculum that celebrates each child’s unique gifts and talents and provides them with an opportunity to share their story.

For more information about Camp Noah, call 612-879-5312 or go to http://www.lssmn.org/camp_noah/

 

This photo shows the destroyed road that goes from Wabasha County Road 11 to the business area on the east side of Hammond. A bar, bank, cafe, city hall and homes are located along this street. Waters are receding in this photo taken mid-morning on Saturday, September 25, 2010. All of the businesses, city hall and most homes along this road were flooded.

THE FUTURE FOR TINA

Tina and her fiancé, Micheal Mann, are planning a June 25 wedding. The bride will wear the wedding dress she saved from the floodwaters.

“I don’t know how we will get the wedding paid for now…it certainly won’t be all that I planned it to be,” Tina says.

But, despite the financial hardship, the setbacks, the challenges, this determined woman wants to move forward. And that means proceeding with the wedding as planned. Her wedding will give people a break, a reason to “take one night to celebrate all that is real in this life: friends, family and love.”

THIS CONCLUDES my six-part series of stories told through the voice of Hammond flood survivor Tina Marlowe. Thank you, Tina, for the privilege of sharing your story. I admire your strength, your determination and your resiliency.

Thanks also to Katie Shones, who has been my main contact in Hammond since last October. She is one strong, kind woman.

Thanks, too, to Susie Buck for pulling together the many photos featured in this series and to those who allowed their images to be published here.

Sheri Ryan, I am grateful to you also for the use of your photos, but, more importantly, for a deeply personal look at how this flood affected your mom. All too often we view blurs of faces and piles of debris, but we fail to see beyond, to the real hurt that runs deep.

I appreciate every one of you who have so willingly worked with me to tell the story of the people of Hammond through words and photos.

I also appreciate volunteers like Gary Schmidt from the Twin Cities who worked with a Woodbury church to bring volunteers to Hammond in late January and then again one day in March. Gary learned of the need through this blog. I hope to share Gary’s experiences with you in a future post.

I am grateful also to the folks over at Minnesota Public Radio who have plugged my flood series online. In the “Minnesota Today” section, Michael Olson included a reference to my stories in his March 16 statewide blog round-up. My post, “She just wants to hug her house,” was also featured in MPR’S “Blog Box.”

MPR columnist Bob Collins summarized my series and linked to my blog in the “5×8” section of his March 18 “News Cut” column. Bob also publicized my first set of flood stories back in October 2010, when I toured Hammond and Zumbro Falls about two weeks after the flash flood. Thank you, MPR, for helping Hammond’s story reach an even wider audience.

It is my hope, Minnesota Prairie Roots readers, that the flood stories I’ve shared with you this week will touch you. I hope you will be moved to help the residents of Hammond recover from a flood that may have damaged their homes, but has not destroyed their spirits.

These are strong, strong people who continue to need our support, our prayers and our help even six months after the flood.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Remembering the children as Minnesota prepares for spring floods February 23, 2011

SOMETIMES WE FORGET, in the jumble of quotes and information, to see a certain human, deeply personal, side of a news story.

Today, thanks to Katie Shones of Hammond, I’m bringing you a child’s perspective on the devastating flood that engulfed her southeastern Minnesota community of 230 during a September 2010 flash flood. I met Katie shortly after the flood.

The disaster was a terrifying ordeal for Hammond residents, who are still reeling in the aftermath. Many have not yet returned to their homes. Some won’t.

Now, as the focus in Minnesota shifts to predicted record spring flooding, as officials prepare for the highest river levels since the 1960s, as crews begin filling sandbags in areas along the Red River, this seems the right moment to let Katie speak—about her children.

But first a little background. Katie and her husband, Scott, live on the east side of Hammond, which is divided by the Zumbro River. The river flows just across Main Street, the highway and the park from the Shones’ home. Floodwaters came within feet—feet—of their house, lapping at their front door.

The home of Katie and Scott Shones and their children, photographed by Hammond resident Gene Reckmann during the September 2010 flood. Their house was spared, by mere feet.

Katie isn’t too worried about flooding this spring. Yet, she’s concerned enough to have a plan. If the Zumbro River rises like it did last fall, she and Scott will haul sand and gravel from a local quarry and build a bank to protect their home. They also have a relocation plan in place.

Their 11-year-old daughter, Rebekah, is ready too. “Ever the resourceful and prepared child she is, she has two bags jam-packed with stuff underneath her bed just in case we have to leave on a moment’s notice due to floodwaters,” Katie says.

This mother’s words break my heart. No child should have to worry about a flood.

But the depth to which the Hammond flood has impacted Rebekah and her 9-year-old brother Jerome reaches beyond concerns about a future flood. “The September flood has affected them more deeply than I had ever imagined,” Katie tells me. “Bekah still occasionally cries out in her sleep, ‘Daddy, Daddy, help me.’ When I ask her what is wrong, she mumbles things about the flood. She never fully wakes up, but I do believe she is having nightmares about that day.”

As a mother, simply reading this brings me to tears. I can only imagine how Katie and Scott feel when they hear their daughter cry out for help in her sleep.

“Jerome has seen the flooding in Australia on the news and is very worried that it will spread to Hammond,” Katie continues. “I have tried to reassure my kids that if it ever gets as bad as it did last fall, we will leave long before it reaches our place and go to Grandma Merle’s (my mother’s farm). The farm is located just two miles from our home, but is on the limestone bluffs above the Zumbro River.”

With so many Hammond residents forced from town and many still not back in their homes, Katie says her children are also without many playmates. “…there never were many children in the area their ages to play with, but now there are only four kids in Hammond left for them to play with.”

That said, the absence of their playmates serves as a daily reminder to Rebekah and Jerome of the floodwaters which ravaged their town and came terrifyingly close to flooding their home.

As Minnesotans physically prepare for the floodwaters that are certain to inundate communities and homes, I hope river town residents are also preparing psychologically, specifically remembering the children like Rebekah and Jerome.

Floodwaters destroyed this portion of Wabasha County Road 11, the river road which runs from Hammond to Jarrett. Gene Reckmann photographed this section of the roadway just outside of Hammond.

THANK YOU, Katie, for allowing me to share your deeply personal story. Thank you also to Gene Reckmann of Hammond for the photos posted here.

READERS, IF YOU have not read my series of posts and photos about the September flood in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls, check my Minnesota Prairie Roots archives for stories published during the week of October 11, 2010.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Ongoing stories of flood recovery in Hammond, Jarrett and Zumbro Falls January 5, 2011

THREE MONTHS AGO I met four strong women from Wabasha County.

They had survived devastating late September floods that ravaged their communities and left two of them homeless.

Since then, I’ve kept in contact with one of those survivors, Katie Shones of tiny Hammond. The floodwaters of the Zumbro River stopped within feet of her front door. Now, that might be enough for Katie to breathe a sigh of relief and continue on with her life. But not Katie. She cares about her hamlet of Hammond and the residents she considers family.

 

A flood-damaged home and garage in Hammond, along the same street where Katie Shones and her family live. I took this photo only 2 1/2 weeks after the late September flood devastated the area.

I CARE, TOO, and I’ve promised Katie that I will continue telling the story of this region. In the always changing world of natural disasters, we quickly forget about a flood or an earthquake or a tornado as they all blend seamlessly together. That may sound harsh, but I know it is honest reality.

Katie e-mailed a few days ago, after I selected eight posts on the September flooding as my personal favorite Minnesota Prairie Roots stories for 2010.

In her message, Katie updated me on the recovery situation in Hammond and neighboring Zumbro Falls and Jarrett.

First, she tells me that her brother and his wife, whose main street Zumbro Falls home had water almost up to the first floor ceiling, have purchased a home “way high up on the hill” two miles south of Zumbro Falls. Did you catch that “way high up on the hill” part?

Her dear friend and family, who were living in a hotel and making mortgage payments on an uninhabitable residence, returned to their Hammond home the day after Christmas. “They are so grateful to be back,” Katie writes.

Another resident has moved into a new trailer house on her lot in Hammond. Some 80 percent of the homes and most of the businesses in the community of 230 were flooded.

Katie’s mother-in-law is still shuttling between family members’ homes and hasn’t decided what she will do. Her home of 53 years, two miles down river from Jarrett, had floodwaters flowing out of first floor windows.

Susie Shones, whom I interviewed and who is married to Katie’s husband’s cousin, is now temporarily renting a trailer home above Jarrett. Six feet of floodwaters forced Susie and her husband out of their first Jarrett rental house. Ironically, says Katie, the limestone bluffs surrounding Hammond and Jarrett are among the highest elevation points in Wabasha County.

Businesses along the street where Katie lives are beginning to recover. The bank has reopened. The bar is expected to reopen in March. And the restaurant owner is hard at work remodeling his building.

 

Minnwest Bank in Hammond, by Katie's home, has reopened.

The partially-gutted restaurant interior, photographed on October 10, 2010, is now being renovated.

“OTHER THAN THAT, not much happening in Hammond and the surrounding area due to the weather,” Katie writes. “Hammond continues to look like a ghost town. Every other street light is shut off and the majority of the homes are dark. I keep expecting to see coyotes roaming the streets……”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling