Roads Less Traveled: Women’s Lives Take Unexpected Turns

When life hands out lemons, the best response is sometimes easier said than done. Two local women share how they took in stride major life changes, health issues and relationship fractures, gave them a squeeze, added some sugar and dreamed up new lives for themselves. Their inspiring stories tell of building businesses—and lifestyles—based firmly on the things that make them smile and inspire others.

A Life Rebooted

“Make it a great day” is what you’ll hear on Jill Bobrowsky’s voicemail. Her life story reveals that she lives by those words even—no, especially—when things get tough. When her 20-plus-year marriage came to a halt in 2011, Bobrowsky found herself as a single mother to four children. She had held a variety of wellness-related jobs and wanted to weave those skills and passions into a longtime dream of owning a gym.

Even with a rock-solid business plan and a strong background in the industry, it was tough to get a business loan as a single woman. Added to her hurdle is that only about 12 percent of gym owners are women, Bobrowsky says. “But I didn’t want my three daughters to ever go through life thinking they have to be codependent on something or someone,” she says. “I couldn’t model that if I was [living] on alimony—I didn’t want to be dependent on that.”

Bobrowsky diligently searched for a lender and came across Troy Werk at Charter Bank in Chaska. In January 2017, the pair landed a successful purchase of a local Snap Fitness franchise, which opened in April in Chaska. Symbolic of new beginnings and shattered stereotypes, the fitness venue has a modern, airy and clean look that’s intentionally inclusive and energetic to new visitors. “People say, ‘Oh, my gosh. It’s so fun and happy in here,’” Bobrowsky says. “Whatever’s going on in their life, I hope they can come here, let go for a short time and get re-energized.”

When it comes to fitness, Bobrowsky noticed that women tended to stick to cardio while men jumped to resistance training, so she changed up the atmosphere and expanded her offerings to fit a wider clientele. Bobrowsky brought in TRX suspension training, launched Healthy Happy Hour—with free, healthy snacks and corresponding recipes—and created a line-up of free classes and nutrition resources. They also offer state-of-the-art hydro massage services.  It’s all about creating a welcoming environment and building community.

That community includes “high-tech types, bikers, seniors, business professionals, who come over lunch, (and) my fiancé and all his cop friends,” Bobrowsky says. “And you know, everybody’s fine with everybody. I want everyone to feel like, ‘Hey, this is my gym.’” So far, it’s working. Membership at the Chaska franchise is up 60 percent in a year, with fewer cancellations, and she credits her unique approach—and some long hours—for much of the growth. For Bobrowsky, it’s all in the approach. “Each morning, before my feet even hit the floor, I remember how grateful I am to have this day,” she says. “I ask for energy, a good attitude … to be blessed with those things, so I can go bless others.”

Some days that’s tougher than others. This past spring—just weeks after opening the gym—Bobrowsky had an extreme stomachache she blamed on work stress. After resting up and trying antacids by the handful, her fiancé convinced her to see a doctor. “It was a beautiful Sunday. I apologized to the ambulance staff for making them come in,” Bobrowsky recalls. The trip ended in emergency surgery to remove her gallbladder, which was riddled with stones. There was another discovery, and she is waiting for doctors to determine treatment for a benign kidney tumor.

In the midst of tending to her business’s growth, establishing a new life with her fiancé and managing unexpected health issues, Bobrowsky chooses optimism. She says the last thing she’ll do is leave the business and the people who have stood by her. “I focus on gratitude and what’s possible, not impossible,” Bobrowsky says. “It’s what I tell my clients, and it’s what I tell myself!”

A Life “Refound”

“I graduated from college. With a French degree. In the middle of Indiana,” says Yvonne Lazaretti of Victoria, setting up the juxtaposition and sense of humor that are woven throughout her story. She takes that seemingly odd combination and quickly adds a shrug and a laugh, saying, “There’s not much you can do with that.”

Odd combinations and laughs are at the core of the life Lazaretti built for herself. She was a stay-at-home mom, who developed a slight obsession with refurbishing furniture. During the years she spent raising her two kids, Lazaretti had a perpetual pile of accent pieces in various stages of completion—some natural, some sanded or distressed, some with bright painted colors or intricate rosemaling patterns she learned as a nod to her roots.

Unexpectedly, her divorce sent her looking for a steady career, so she moved to Minnesota for a corporate IT job and found herself alone in a new place, in a new career, with a newly empty home. But—just like before—refurbishing furniture quickly took up her spare space and spare time.

“I grew up with a dad in the military—and my mom was this little German lady who never gave up, so I was totally screwed,” Lazaretti says with a laugh. “We moved a lot, and I got used to new people and things. You just learn along the way, the good and the bad. For me, prospect outweighs hesitance.”

Enter Bob Smith, a new love interest and—to her surprise and delight—owner of a hobby farm between Jordan and New Prague. “One day, he said, ‘Hey, let’s do some projects out here.’ It’s so peaceful. You can saw and sand in the middle of the night and nobody cares,” Lazaretti says.

With a growing pile of furniture and the vintage and reclaimed décor craze taking off, she and Smith launched the ReFoundry to capitalize on their spare time with occasional sales of accent pieces. They started with a tiny rented space in an antique store and have expanded twice since then, with creativity and passion at the core of the business and its pieces.

“I equate it to a time where I was most happy,” says Lazaretti, who acknowledges that she has sometimes had to fly by the seat of her pants as a new business owner with another full-time job. “I went to Spain one time and didn’t know Spanish—I was scared, but driven to the hope of something new. In order to grow, I had to challenge myself.” Both partners work full-time—though they hope one or both of them can go full-time one day at the ReFoundry—and love having an outlet for their creativity and an opportunity to bring new life to tired objects.

“Every piece has good bones, good history, a good shape. I get to carry on the story, but in a new way,” Lazaretti says. The ReFoundry is in Jordan alongside the Corner Peddler in the old Jordan Brewery, a space that’s having a renaissance of its own. “The stones and brick just really fit where we wanted to go with the business. I look at each piece, distress, disassemble, flip it around—that’s kind of how my life is, too,” Lazaretti says. “It’s eclectic—but I’m always asking how to make it all work together.

Everybody needs a passion, I guess. Oh, and everybody needs a Bob—he’s a gem. Thank God I have one—he keeps me laughing.”