SIBLEY, Iowa — Brenda and Gene Hoyer purchased The Lantern Coffeehouse and Roastery on June 1, 2017.
In a little less than three years, they’ve endured tragedy — and given back plenty, thanks to their inspiring faith.
The Hoyers, from south-central Nebraska, came from the Minnesota community of Rice to Ashton, Iowa near the end of 2008. The couple had owned a large dairy farm in Rice, sold it and then arrived in northwest Iowa to build a new dairy farm near Melvin, which they then sold in January 2018. The couple moved into Sibley in 2012, and still keep plenty busy.
Following a dream
Brenda, an avid reader, aspired to have her own business enterprise, but it took years before the right opportunity arose.
“One of my lifelong dreams was to have my own bookstore and coffeehouse, but we moved around so much, it just never happened,” she shared. “Then, around Thanksgiving of 2016, we heard The Lantern was for sale, and we purchased it June 1, 2017.
The Hoyers continued roasting the coffee beans, making the specialty drinks and started serving lunches again after assuming The Lantern’s ownership and operations. They quickly discovered that the regular customers kept coming back — along with new ones, too.
“People are pretty loyal to The Lantern, to the great coffee and to the establishment that Adam and Beth started in 2010,” Brenda said. “I also think the territory has increased ... I’m always amazed at the people that come in the door from places like Minneapolis, Kansas City, Lincoln and Omaha, as well as other countries.”
“The people that really like the coffee shop atmosphere, they’ll just google and find us while traveling,” Gene added.
A non-profit venture
When the Hoyers made the decision to buy The Lantern, they did so knowing they were going to re-establish it as a non-profit enterprise.
“We really wanted to do it for the glory of God,” Brenda explained. “I really sensed the Lord saying, ‘If you’re going to be serious about this, you have to start it as a non-profit,’ but Gene said it still needed to be run like a business.”
“It still needs to run in a way that you can receive those funds to give back to the community,” he clarified.
Brenda noted that The Lantern has funded gift cards and gas cards, as well as gifts to students in Haiti through a local Haitian man. There has also been an expansion of what Brenda calls The Lantern’s ministry that has come about through personal tragedy.
On Aug. 14, 2018, Gene and Brenda’s 17-year-old son, Bailey, took his own life.
The Hoyers already had plans to convert the back room of The Lantern into a family and children’s ministry area. When Bailey died, it wasn’t long before they decided to name the space after him, titling it Bailey’s Lodge. The Hoyers then opted to use the money given as memorials for Bailey for remodeling the room.
Brenda pointed out that Gene did a lot of the work in the remodeling of Bailey’s Lodge and also does all of the maintenance at The Lantern, “which is quite a task.” But the Hoyers truly see their work as a labor of love and faith.
“The chess kids meet back here twice a week and after playing chess they’ll play foosball, air hockey and ping pong — you can tell they just feel really comfortable here,” Brenda said. “What I really love, too, is it’s bringing the young moms in here; the kids will just play here and the moms can relax and visit for a while — and dads like to come in and play games with the kids, too.
“We want the community to use the lodge,” Brenda continued. “We have a women’s Bible study, men’s Bible study, a Dave Ramsey financial peace group. ... There have been board meetings here, we've had youth groups meet here. The most special thing in my heart is the school, since January, has brought fifth- and sixth-graders in here to speak about suicide and depression prevention. We put these chairs all in a big circle and we talk about depression, and we talk about how we all have bad days and what positive things we can do to get out of a bad day.
“We talk about engaging them and educating and empowering them, and then they educate one another. That’s the beauty.”
“I always say Bailey knew Jesus,” Brenda said. “Gene and I know Jesus, and we’re going to see him again someday. That’s our everyday hope.
“We want to turn our tragedy into helping those who are hurting today. We hope that when someone’s having a bad day, they’ll remember what we talked about that day — how they can go ride a bike, talk to a friend, talk to a counselor … the list goes on and on.”
By working to be positive influences on young people, it’s hoped that the youths can in turn give to the community and each other when needed.
“We encourage them to be the best person they can be. They can be the one that others look up to,” Brenda said. “We talk about, ‘Who do you look up to and why?’ You can be like that person, you can be that positive influence.’ We talk about what smiling and laughing do to our chemistry … and just being kind and gentle to one another.”
Bailey’s Lodge falls under the umbrella of The Lantern Ministries, as does the coffeehouse. As a non-profit, the organization also has a board of directors. It additionally has about 10 part-time employees, including volunteers who simply want to play their small parts in forwarding The Lantern’s positive mission. Brenda is also excited about a new assistant manager (Frances Wiese) who’s about to graduate college and is getting married in June before coming on board in May and moving back to Sibley.
One of the Hoyers’ two daughters is also one of their customers. Natasha, 36, resides in Waverly, Nebraska, and operates Patina Joe, a boutique/coffee shop in Eagle, Nebraska, that buys its coffee beans from The Lantern. Kelsey, another daughter, lives in Canada. Brenda and Gene now have five grandchildren.
Though the Hoyers have continued to reach out within their community, they’re also grateful for the support they’ve received along the way.
“The whole community has just been amazing, honestly,” Brenda said. “They’ve supported Gene and I through this tragedy, and they’ve supported The Lantern.
“Sibley feels like home. We’ve been here long enough where we’ve fallen in love with the community and the people.”