It was a bright and early wake up call for attendees of the 2019 Turlock Prayer Breakfast on Friday morning, but the lost sleep was well worth it to hear an inspiring message about finding one’s purpose from none other than Anne Beiler, the founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels.
Now in its 26th year, the annual breakfast was originally known as the Turlock Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast until this year’s event. The committee decided to remove the word “mayor” from the title, member Jim Madsen said, as Turlock residents often confused the event as a City-sponsored gathering. Other cities that host a prayer breakfast typically don’t include “mayor” in the event’s name, he added. While Mayor Amy Bublak was expected to address the crowd as the mayor typically does during the breakfast, she was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict.
Friday’s celebration of unity and prayer at the Larsa Banquet Hall was led by Eric Davis, who emphasized that although Turlock is full of people with different ideas, political opinions and beliefs, “we are all united in wanting what’s best for our community.”
Since 1994, the annual prayer breakfast has served as a place where local residents can pray for local government leaders, public safety officials, the city’s youth and both Turlock and the nation as a whole. Over the years, it has grown to mean something special to the community members who attend year after year.
Speakers at the prayer breakfast are often those who have relied on the power of prayer to overcome crisis, from former Major League Baseball pitcher Dave Dravecky, who lost his arm to cancer, to Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the last person pulled alive from the World Trade Center following the 9/11 attacks.
It was an Auntie Anne-themed morning, right down to the floral centerpieces rooted in the small, plastic buckets often filled with the business tycoon’s famed pretzels. The audience was treated to saxophone performances from local student Demetrius Arnold, as well as Biblical readings and prayer from local high schoolers and community members.
When Beiler took the stage, the Texas-native filled the room with her presence and had guests laughing right away as she mused over the correct way to pronounce “almonds,” and she also made sure everyone in the audience who hadn’t tried Auntie Anne’s Pretzels received a coupon to do so. Her message was one of hope, victory and how through faith and prayer, her true purpose in life was realized after countless hardships.
Beiler grew her business from a single farmer’s market stand in 1987 into Auntie Anne’s Inc. — the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise also known for its charity work. Her amazing professional success, however, was forged after years of depression and despair, brought on by tragedy in her life.
“I could never have imagined Auntie Anne’s would go around the world selling pretzels and providing a better quality of life for thousands and thousands of people,” Beiler said. “God took this little Amish girl around the world through the model of a franchise with a simple product…all things are truly possible.”
Raised in the Amish-Mennonite community, Beiler shared that she married her husband, Jonas, 50 years ago. The pair had two daughters and were a happy couple until tragedy struck in 1975 when their daughter Angela was killed accidentally by a tractor on their farm.
“Angie’s death took me to a place of deep grief that I never knew existed in our world,” she said. “As Angie made her ascent into heaven, I began my slow and gradual descent into a world of pain and emotional and spiritual confusion.”
Unable to connect with her husband emotionally after the death of their daughter, Beiler sought counseling with a pastor outside of the Amish church; he took advantage of her, and for six years she was embroiled in an abusive, sexual relationship with the pastor, living in guilt and shame.
“I was absent as a mother, emotionally. As a wife, I was sad and unhappy and doing the duties of a wife in the house, but with great sadness,” Beiler said. “I didn’t know that oftentimes secrets will destroy us.”
After telling her husband everything, the two overcame the situation (the pastor’s license was revoked) and began a life again, but were living paycheck to paycheck. A friend told Beiler that an Amish-owned store selling pretzels, ice cream and pizza nearby was for sale. Beiler and her husband borrowed $6,000 from his parents, and the shop opened on Feb. 2, 1988.
After all of her hardships, that small store eventually grew into the Auntie Anne’s known and loved around the world today. For those who are struggling right now, Beiler gave them hope for the future.“While living your purpose you will discover you can do more than you ever dreamed of. When you discover your purpose, you will realize it’s the fuel that just keeps you burning,” she said. “You can’t stop when you discover your purpose.”