Mennonite family’s inspiring tale part of bakery/grocery store reopening

By Kelly Terpstra, kterpstra@charlescitypress.com

For 150 days, tiny little Hannah Oberholtzer fought for her life at the Mayo Clinic’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in Rochester.

She amazingly made a happy journey home.

Those five months for Joseph and Grace Oberholtzer’s daughter — born at 23 weeks and weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces — were nothing short of miraculous.

“It was a miracle. It definitely was a miracle,” said Joseph.

Now that their daughter is home and happy and weighing 11 pounds, the Oberholtzers plan to reopen their rural bakery, and add a grocery store as well at their home 4 miles east of Colwell.

They plan a grand opening March 1.

Hannah was initially given less than a 20 percent chance of survival. She endured seven surgeries and received 28 blood transfusions before going home two weeks before Thanksgiving last year.

“She was 11 inches long. She was the size of my hand — like a block of butter,” said Joseph, talking about Hannah’s birth on June 14, 2018.

The young Mennonite parents in their 20s said they felt blessed after events they thought might never be possible, like Hannah opening her eyes for the first time or them finally being allowed to hold their baby two weeks after she entered the world.

“We did skin-to-skin holding, called kangaroo care. She loved it,” said Grace.

During the five months Hannah was in the hospital, Joseph and Grace stayed at the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, which offers a home and support for family members of children who need medical care.

“We do know that God put us through this for a reason. A lot of things that used to seem like ‘big’ things are now just ‘little things,’” said Grace.

Just when Hannah seemed to be making progress, a 2 a.m. phone call was made to the Oberholtzers on Sept. 3. They had traveled back home to Colwell to attend church. The message from doctors was urgent — Hannah was very sick and the medical staff didn’t know what was wrong.

“Her face was ashen grey and her belly was very distended and hard,” Grace said.

The news was the worst possible – Hannah was dying.

Hannah, who then weighed just four pounds, needed 100 percent oxygen from a ventilator and doctors ran countless tests and X-rays to determine the cause of the problem.

“God, why now?” exclaimed Grace.

Before doctors started exploratory surgery on Hannah, they allowed the Oberholtzers to say what they thought might be their final, teary goodbyes to the child they had known for less than three months.

Then, in what seemed like a blink of an eye, doctors came back from the operating room with terrific news — Hannah was alive.

“What a relief. This time the tears were happy tears,” said Grace.

Grace said scar tissue from Hannah’s first surgery had grown all the way around her intestines, making it hard for air to pass through that area. Her intestines were filling up with air, causing them to twist and tear.

After the life-saving surgery to fix her insides, Hannah had an incision that ran all across her stomach. A final surgery to reconnect her bowel was done in late October, just 13 days before she finally left the hospital.

“She’s one of the youngest babies that they kept alive,” said Joseph.

To this day, doctors don’t know why Grace delivered the Oberholtzer’s little ray of sunshine so early.

“There are no answers and there might never be,” Grace said.

During that five-month period being away, Joseph and Grace’s Mennonite bakery shop had to be closed and put on hold. Joseph also owns and operates a cabinet business called Quality Kitchens that he couldn’t devote much time to.

But with Hannah home, the Oberholtzers are ready to restart their business — with a big addition.

Joseph and two of his employees burned down two barns to make room for a new building that was added on to the bakery. That’s where Joseph and Grace will run a grocery store.

Joseph did all the concrete work and he said it took about two weeks to get the main part of the building framed. The grocery store isn’t quite finished yet, but he has some of the shelves already stacked with food.

Hannah plays happily with her toys on a blanket on the floor of the grocery store while her parents get it ready.

The “one-stop shop,” as Joseph calls it, will sell sub sandwiches, Elma Locker meats and all sorts of necessities that you can find at many mom and pop grocery stores.

Shoppers will be able to pick up sewing supplies, vitamins, herbs, as well as buy in bulk. The Oberholtzers will sell 50-pound bags of flour and sugar and 25-pound bags of rice flour. The bakery will also sell baking supplies, many gluten-free.

There are shopping carts near the entrance to the store for customers as they peruse the aisles.

Grace makes breads, pies, rolls and buns from scratch. Joseph said cinnamon rolls and black raspberry rolls are very good sellers.

“We get the wheat and we grind it right here,” he said.

Grace has been baking since she could walk, said Joseph. She also worked as a baker in Osage for four years prior to marrying Joseph.

There will be free coffee and homemade pastries for customers during the March 1 grand opening.

“I have to get an “Opening Soon” sign out there pretty quick here,” laughed Joseph.

The summer hours, April to October, for the bakery and grocery store are 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The store is also open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays during those months.

Winter hours, November to March, are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.

The Oberholtzers drive a horse and buggy but do not shun electricity and modern conveniences. Joseph and Grace were married in October 2016, after Joseph bought the property they live on. The bakery opened in September 2017.

Joseph and his parents are no strangers to trying circumstances.

His family was involved in a horse-and-buggy accident in the fall of 1997 when he was 2 years old. The family was driving to church on Sunday morning when a car being driven by a man under the influence of alcohol hit the buggy from behind, catapulting his family onto the road and into the ditch.

His 7-year old sister, Katie, died in the crash, and his 5-month-old sister, Ruth, received severe head trauma from the accident but survived. Joseph says she can’t walk or talk, nor can she feed herself.

Joseph had also lost his mother to cancer when he was just 13 months old.

“We really learned to trust in our maker — your faith and strength in Jesus and God the Father,” said Joseph. “He’ll never give us more than we can handle, I guess.”

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