Dance. An impassioned, creative and inspirational fine art expression converging synchronized and stylized choreography, diverse movements alongside major muscle memory, poise and posture, undergirded by an acute sense of balance. All of that and more takes center stage in a tall and talented woman of Putnam County who goes by the name of Kristen Gerding-Heffner. Were any to inquire of her as to the most fundamental element of the above description, she might surprise you by saying, “balance!” From the moment she was enrolled in her first dance class at the age of 3, the seeds for the importance of balance in life were planted and began to germinate.
For most of us, concern for physiological symmetry rarely goes beyond life’s beginnings and endings. It starts with those first baby steps away from the security of a parent’s hands or a piece of living room furniture. It moves on, maybe, to the training wheels coming off the toddler bicycle. The import of balance can often subside during life’s middle until possibly resurfacing as the aging process matures. Unsteadiness arrives, and the fear of falling can take over. To this point in the young life of Kristen, the interest in life’s equilibrium has never waned and remains a priority.
In fact, an oft-repeated mantra that keeps her centered is that of “Faith, family and then fine arts.” Keeping things in that order, she would affirm, is what helps keep her and her youthful clientele firmly planted.
The third of three daughters of a farming family, she was born and raised in Glandorf. As most would imagine, the work ethic was such that there was no discrimination based on gender. From early on the girls performed daily chores that included anything from pulling weeds, baling hay or driving the family tractor. Similarly, for balance sake, this demanding work was countered by exuberant participation in play that included, beyond dance, softball, soccer and basketball, piano and vocal lessons, marching band and field commanding, just to name a few.
In no way was this overdoing it. This was about being well-rounded, and well, balanced.
As time marched on, so would her balancing act, though it wasn’t any act.
In pursuit of a way to further hone her skills on the dance floor, the doors of Ohio University welcomed Kristen and she signed on to advance toward a dance-performance and choreography major. While just the right fit, on its own, she could see herself becoming a bit off-kilter. What better way to bring stability to a major in dance than with an accompanying degree in sociology-criminology. Yes, you read that right, a double major near polar ends of the academic spectrum. As it turns out, from early on, she was a crime-show junkie and her classroom was TV’s “Law & Order,” “Columbo,” and even “Murder, She Wrote.” The two majors working in perfect tandem kept things level.
With the demands of rehearsals, classes and studying toward a double major, even with diligent time management, she regularly burned the midnight oil. Of course, there’d be no better way to balance those long hours than to work the early morning shift as a barista at a local coffee house. Perfect.
Fiercely independent, enrolling at Ohio University was only the beginning of stepping away from the friendly confines of northwestern Ohio. What’s not to like about Glandorf? For Kristen, it may have been a bit too alike there. How might one counter-weight the consistency of the rural Midwest? The obvious answer would to be join her cousin and move out to the cosmopolitan metropolis of Los Angeles, California. And so she did soon after being handed her two degrees.
The formative months of living out west turned out to bring a new appreciation for the value and values of life and faith back in Glandorf. When news came of her father’s health scare, without hesitation, Kristen was ready to pack her bags. Los Angeles helped her see that there’s no place like home.
The engine barely cooled down before she began reestablishing roots and enrolling at BGSU to acquire a master’s degree in counseling. At an accelerated pace, the only way Kristen works, she secured her degree in well under two years and was hired by the late Dr. Sean Austin, a delightfully jolly white-bearded man she first came to know at Gerding family gatherings.
Interest in the lives and even psychological pain of others developed throughout her life, maybe even culminating with the unfortunate suicide of a close college friend. Ultimately, there was only one way to respond and that was to bring a gift of counsel, compassion and a listening ear to hurting and struggling young people.
The weight of that work found balance by establishing local and thriving business ventures that include The Performing Arts Center and The Dance Boutique. Mix in a private practice with Counseling Matters and work with the school system through Pathways Counseling Center, and there’s almost no end to the number of plates she keeps spinning in her hurried life.
With so many irons in the fire vocationally, what, or better, who could keep Kristen upright? Her vertical stability doesn’t happen without the unconditional support of deeply devoted employees, friends, and most of all, family. Hugging her from all sides are a gracious and loving husband, Matt, and two lovably delightful children, Lena and Max. Once again, with balance in mind for this multitasking woman, her husband has just one job laboring long days in the family business delivering milk for Grove Dairy. And, of course, if you haven’t figured it out, their precious kids fit just right for maintaining that coveted balance, a girl and a boy. Speaking of dance, the two wee ones help keep Kristen on her toes, too.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org