MOKENA – Running a Catholic bookstore is similar to being an evidence custodian with the Illinois State Police, according to Karla Ohner.
When working for the Illinois State Police, Ohner, of New Lenox, said she managed thousands of evidence pieces. As co-proprietor for Two Hearts Catholic Gifts & Books in Mokena, Ohner now accounts for thousands of merchandise items.
“God has such a sense of humor,” Ohner said.
Opening the store in March was the realization of a decades-long dream that started when Ohner’s son, Brian Kraemer, now 24, attended school at Noonan Academy in Mokena, an independently run Catholic school.
“He was coming home every day so excited about his faith, I got sucked right in,” said Ohner, who added she previously had strayed from Catholic roots. “I felt the need to know more to help him out. The more I learned, the more I fell in love.”
Law enforcement also is part of Ohner’s roots. Ohner said she was close to her grandfather, who had been a Chicago police officer. The first few years with the Illinois State Police, Ohner worked patrol and then spent the rest of her career in investigation, being promoted to sergeant about 2007, Ohner said.
Off the job, Ohner’s favorite browsing places were Catholic bookstores and rarely did she spend less than $100 at each stop. Often, Ohner said she would think, “What a great way to serve after I retire, opening something like this.”
Ohner retired in 2010 and began making her vision a reality. She talked to other store owners to learn the process for opening and running a business, one Ohner wanted to double as a community gathering place.
In addition to selling books, gifts, rosaries, fine jewelry, healing oils, children’s items and men’s neckties sold at Two Harts, Ohner wants people to enjoy a free cup of coffee and a book in a “nice chair in a corner,” hear engaging speakers and participate in an educational workshops.
Ohner also wants to sell original art from local Catholic artists, and she actively is seeking artists. At each step, Ohner felt reassured she was on the right path.
For instance, rental space opened up across the street from Noonan Academy, the catalyst for Ohner’s spiritual reawakening. Furthermore, Ohner opened the store March 25, the feast of the Annunciation in the Catholic church, the day when Mary said “Yes,” to God’s plan for her life.
“The number five is very prominent in my life,” Ohner said. “There are five in my family. I became a police officer in 1985. My first car was 555. I retired in 2010 at the age of 55. I opened the store on March 25, 2015 – when I was 55.”
Ohner’s husband, Jeff, a woodworker and the Two Heart’s co-owner, is making a holy card display for the store, Karla said. Several good friends – Cheryl Szmuksta of Homer Glen, Rachel Rode of New Lenox and Karen Handorf of New Lenox – work for her.
Ohner said her customers comment on the store’s serenity and Ohner’s eye for selecting beautiful merchandise.
“I try to carry a little of something for everybody – even people who are not super-religious,” Ohner said.
Ohner recalled a woman who stopped in by accident – before the Two Hearts sign was installed. As the customer looked around, she talked to Ohner about having fallen away from her Catholic faith and having a brother who is a priest.
“She’s been back four or five times,” Ohner said, “and we’re now friends.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Author, speaker and former megachurch pastor Allen Hunt
WHEN: 2 to 3 p.m. Oct. 16
WHERE: Two Hearts Catholic Gifts & Books, 9426 W. 191st St., Mokena
ETC: Hunt will sign copies of his book “Confessions of a Former Megachurch Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church.”