Practitioners create integrative center in Frankfort
By Jenn Ryan
Healthcare can be a controversial topic for many reasons—not just because of its costs. How to approach the care of your health is probably one of the most important decisions that a person can make, because it is not simply about making an annual physical appointment, checking in on your blood pressure, or maintaining a healthy weight. Nor do you have to be in crisis or actual pain to want to take a more integrative approach to your health. Might there be more to healthcare than prescriptions, appointments, and specialists?
The answer is an enthusiastic “yes” from the five practitioners at Freshwater Wellness—a new woman-owned integrative wellness center that opened last December in Frankfort—where there is everything from massage to mental health work, reiki to resilience coaching, and acupuncture to botanicals to counseling.
The idea to have a one-stop shop for several different types of wellness options came about naturally, as patients would sometimes be seeing multiple practitioners locally, but in separate offices previously.
“We used to communicate with each other through post-it notes, passed through our patients” says Abigail Ellsworth, founder of the collaborative.
But now, we can walk down the hall or send a message through our electronic records. Our patients and clients brought us together, and now it’s time to offer the best integrative patient/client experience we can. We want people to be able to come for a chiropractic visit, then step into the next room for a massage or acupuncture, maybe get some reiki or counseling, and grab some supplements on their way out the door.”
Collaborating to Create the Dream Team
Just past the corner of 7th Street and Forest Avenue, at the blinking light where M-22 makes the turn north toward Empire, the location of Freshwater Wellness was formerly a dentist’s office. But any lingering signs of dentophobia are long gone in the now tranquil place.
Walking through the front door, patients are instantly treated to a sense of light and calm, along with attractive plants that serve as beautiful living works of art. There is a bulletin board full of community offerings for movement classes, such as tai chi and yoga, as well as business cards, brochures, and health/wellness magazines and journals in a sitting area near the reception desk. A citron couch is inviting, as is a make-your-own-tea station. Meditative music plays in the background.
The textiles and materials were chosen intentionally to create a space that is airy and restorative—the pallet is warm and comforting to the senses, as are sliding wooden doors, which make less noise.
The business name, Freshwater Wellness, came to Ellsworth while she was riding her bike around Crystal Lake one day. It is such an appropriate capture for what the space offers its clients—a “kerplunk” into the depth of a human life: one skipped stone, skimming atop the water, creates a small wave, a ripple, leading to more ripples, ebbing outward and onward. Likewise, one intentional choice in a person’s health might offer a noticeable shift in the direction of healing, with ripple effects to the mind, body, and spirit. Truly integrative wellness.
“Our goal is to help empower our patients to take hold of their health, but with this group of ladies, I can’t help but feel a little empowered myself!” Ellsworth says.
Below, we preview a bit of each practitioner’s background, as well as her offerings at the new clinic.
Naturopathy and Acupuncture
Abigail Ellsworth, ND RAc, is a 1999 graduate of Okemos High School. She went on to study zoology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 2003, then moving onto the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she earned a master’s degree, this one in marine biology and oriental medicine, in 2008.
After graduating but still working on her thesis, Ellsworth moved back to Michigan, and then traveled out West to interview for medical school, or perhaps to pursue a career in marine biology in California. She was still undecided, until a visit to Portland, Oregon, where she became sold on “natural medicine,” and took her time returning to Michigan—hiking and biking in Moab and the Ozarks, then returning to Frankfort, where she began work at the Coho restaurant before heading out to begin medical school.
In 2015, Ellsworth became a naturopathic doctor (ND), after four years of studying at the National University of Natural Medicine (NUNM) in Portland. This was a full-time, in-residence, post-bachelor-degree program, with the first two years focused on didactic coursework—in other words, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pathology, research, and naturopathic philosophy. The second two years were focused on systems-based natural and conventional therapeutics, such as cardiology, endocrinology, dermatology, nutrition, botanical medicine, homeopathy, and physical medicine. The latter part of the training was clinic based, with rotations with MDs, DOs, DCs, and other NDs.
Likewise, the Master’s in Oriental Medicine (MSOM) is a four-year, full-time, in-residence, post-bachelor program which focused on Chinese philosophy, acupuncture, herbalism, anatomy, and physiology. The program finishes with two years of clinical training, under the supervision of Licensed Acupuncturists and Chinese Herbalists RAc.
Ellsworth did both programs—spending a total of six years at NUNM—and completed a thesis on circadian rhythms, mood disorders, and Chinese medicine.
She chose her field of study because she wanted to marry her love of the natural world with healing. Additionally, she wanted to offer more healthcare options for folks, and she found that combining biomedical sciences with natural therapeutics allows her to do so, but still working with conventional, allopathic medical providers—which she describes as “the best of both worlds.” As far as why she chose to study acupuncture: she really wanted to find another option for pain and stress management.
“There is a time and place for pharmaceuticals and surgeries,” Ellsworth says. “If we, as a healthcare system, can find a more holistic, comprehensive approach to these issues, we can change the paradigm to one focused on wellness, instead of illness.”
Ellsworth is a transplant from downstate, having been a “summer kid” most of her life, but she says, “Frankfort has always been home.” Her partner, Joe Meyers, is currently executive chef at Rock’s Landing and formerly at Stormcloud Brewing Company, and together the couple has two adorable dogs, Franklin and Judy.
Her very favorite thing to do when she is not taking care of patients is “anything outside, with Joe and the pups,” although, she says that she is “not ashamed to binge-watch cheesy rom-coms now and again…” (Remember, it is about balance!)
“I’m excited to be working with this group of ladies,” Ellsworth says. “Each person brings something great to the table, and the support we all offer each other is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It’s amazing to have this group of women in wellness, anyway, let alone in our small community, and I think we offer a unique and valuable year-round service to Benzie County.”
Chiropractor and Sports Rehab
Emily [Nugent] Eilers, DC, was an all-state athlete in basketball and shot put for Benzie Central High School, from which she graduated in 2006. She began her higher-education pursuits as a college athlete, throwing shot put and hammer at Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU).
Originally, Eilers was intent on pursuing a career in athletic training, as it was a perfect complement to her lifestyle, background, and passion to share what she had experienced to help fellow athletes. For a couple of years, she worked with athletes and their sports-related injuries at both SVSU and nearby Bridgeport High School; learning to help them with rehabilitation after surgeries, and the sometimes frustrating and lengthy healing process.
Then, during her sophomore year at SVSU, a new track and field coach arrived. Grant Wall worked with the student-athletes on strength and endurance, creating a more competitive and stronger team, overall. After that first year of coaching, he was offered and accepted a new job at Iowa State University (ISU) and ended up recruiting Eilers and one of her teammates to compete on the ISU track and field team, instead.
When she transferred, Eilers had no time in her schedule to work as an athletic trainer with other sports teams, because of her commitment to her team and the rigorous morning and evening practice schedule, as well as weekend travel around the country for competition.
As a result, Eilers felt a bit discombobulated and anxious about what to do career-wise—wishing not to lose the momentum that she had going during the middle of her college career, she turned to an adviser who recommended the chiropractic field.
“I had a light bulb moment. I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do,” Eilers recalls. “Realizing that I could still work with athletes but that I would also be able to expand my reach beyond that more specialized population, to help even more people.”
In addition, she knew that she would deepen her understanding of the entire human body, adding manipulation to her athletic training background. She knew in her bones the benefit of hands-on manipulation, from her own experience as an athlete.
So, after studying athletic training at SVSU from 2006 to 2008, Eilers graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine from ISU. She then went on to get a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the National University of Health Sciences in 2015, after three years of substitute teaching locally at Benzie area schools.
Eilers married her husband, A.J., in August 2014; they had met at SVSU, where he was an offensive lineman on the football team. He now works in international sales at Graceland Fruit. Eilers says that he was extremely supportive and helpful as she completed her education and then wanted to move back to her hometown.
“Dr. Ellsworth reached out to me last summer about starting an integrated clinic,” Eilers says. “I loved the idea of multiple practitioners sharing a common mindset regarding health. I have always wanted to work in a space where people felt that their entire self was being supported: physically, mentally, and chemically. That’s what we offer, in the way of healing options, for anyone willing to walk through our doors.”
Eilers works with everyone from babies to the elderly, and she especially likes working with athletes.
She shares that she has been fortunate to work with great coaches throughout her entire life, and that is who she aspires to be for her patients.
“I know the impact it can have to have someone in your corner who understands what your goals are and strives to make you achieve your goals,” Eilers says. “I try to meet [my patients] where they are and to encourage them to get past what they’re going through, helping them re-establish trust in the ability of their bodies to heal.”
In 2017, Eilers gave birth to a son, and the family is expecting a second child this winter, which they are very excited about. Rounding out the family are two huskies, Atlas and Polaris. The Eilers love living in Northern Michigan and can be found hiking, beaching, and spending quality time with their family when they are not busy with work.
Tamra Ward, LMT had health issues for years. After trying everything conventional, she decided to incorporate a more holistic approach to her health. She felt better than she had in years, which made her examine her entire lifestyle and make drastic changes, including pursuing a career in massage therapy.
Ward attended the Institute of Natural Therapies in the Upper Peninsula in 2007, because she wanted to give back to the world, and she hoped to be a guide toward wellness. Now a licensed massage therapist, she believes that, through bodywork, there is opportunity to “save someone years of dis-ease and empower them to find their way to their best self.”
When not aiding in her clients’ wellness, Ward loves to kayak, adding that she floats all year long.
“Sunrise paddles or full-moon floats are my favorite,” she says. “It’s quiet and peaceful and the best time to see wildlife!”
Meanwhile, Christina Ryan-Stoltz, LMT, is a 1994 Benzie Central High School graduate. Ryan-Stoltz attended the Utah College of Massage Therapy in Salt Lake City from 2001 to 2002, and she went on to receive her Master Bodyworker Certification in 2005. (Her anatomy and cadaver labs were through the University of Utah.) In addition, over the past 18 years, she has taken many continuing education courses, here in Michigan, online, and around the country.
When her career journey first began, Ryan-Stoltz was a young mother. Her work now informs her life. She walks the talk. She admits wholly that this has evolved over time and circumstance and has deepened her passion for the work she chooses.
“Self-care is, I believe, essential to survival,” says Ryan-Stoltz, who makes sure to receive a massage herself every two to three weeks. “I also live a very natural life; all I have learned, over time, has become a road map for my own experience. From the cleaning products in my home to my food choices to my movement—everything that I recommend to my clients I am utilizing myself to live my best life and keep perpetuating the cycle of ‘give-to-self-give-to-others!’ If we take time to listen, the body will tell us what it needs. Pain is a messenger, disease is a messenger; anxiety, fatigue, and stress are all messengers. At its best, massage therapy will help you to translate these messages and remind you to embody fully into your physical, spiritual, and emotional wholeness.”
For her, the collaboration with the other women in the office is something from a dream.
“It is the pinnacle of my career as a professional to work alongside these particular women, to work as a group of women, to work together for the well-being of our community. We are constantly inspiring each other, and our ideas are welcomed and encouraged—we truly epitomize collaboration! I am more excited than ever about my work and about community wellness.” Affirming this positive alliance further, she exclaims, “I am an equal, I am respected among peers, and we are thriving together.”
Ryan-Stoltz is married to Josh Stoltz, also a 1994 BCHS graduate, who she met in second grade. He is executive director of the non-profit Grow Benzie. They have a sweet dog named Moon and live in a constant state of gratitude for their home in Frankfort, close enough to the big lake to feel all its power but not close enough to see it. Although they both enjoy traveling, home is their own personal retreat center.
Ryan-Stoltz thoroughly enjoys cooking, painting or other creative projects, writing, and learning about and implementing plant spirit medicine. In the summer, lying on a hammock in partial shade on a breezy day with time to contemplate flowers and the sky suits her perfectly. Her very favorite thing to do is to walk on a forest trail—in all seasons, in all moods.
“Walking amongst trees is my church, I call it my Temple of the Wilderness. It sustains me,” she says.
Social Work, Counseling, and Talk Therapy
Katie [Houlihan] Larsen, LMSW, grew up in Traverse City, and then studied for four years at Kalamazoo College, enjoying six months abroad in Strasbourg France, as well as an opportunity for research at the University of Michigan to complete a senior thesis project. After graduating in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology, she and her partner, Jim, traveled across the country—from Maine to Alaska—before landing for eight years in his hometown of Marquette, Michigan. During that time, she completed a 60-hour master’s program in social work at Michigan State University and worked with Teaching Family Homes of Upper Michigan. After relocating in 2003, Larsen obtained another 24 hours of counseling through Western Michigan University.
She and her family moved to Benzie County in 2005 and to Frankfort in 2006. Larsen worked at Lutheran Child and Family Services, with some time at the Benzie Shores District Library—one of her favorite places—until 2009, when she began working at Centra Wellness Network (previously known as Manistee-Benzie Community Mental Health), working as a therapist and crisis worker. Larsen is currently supervisor of children’s services for that agency, and she began her private practice in 2017.
Larsen sees people of all ages—including individuals, families, and couples—and she specializes in anxiety, grief, trauma, and depression.
“I started my private practice when I recognized that there were a lot of people who couldn’t find a provider locally, due to schedules and lack of insurance coverage,” she says. “I try to offer a friendly, safe, accepting place, where people can bring whatever issue has arisen, and it will be taken seriously and given thoughtful attention.”
Larsen says that she has always been interested in people and their interactions. She is a natural observer and gravitated toward work that she could do to continue that interest. Learning in college and internships about the capacity for change and recovery in mental health and substance use, she was excited to find tools to support people on a journey to wellness.
Very often, her clients are struggling to cope with grief or anxiety, feeling that it has taken them too long to heal or that their symptoms are overwhelming.
“I love to walk with people on the path of healing and support them in meeting their dreams and goals,” Larsen says.
On being part of Frankfort’s new integrative office, she says:
“It is wonderful to work in partnership with a group of women who are all so focused on community and client health and wellness. I am thrilled to learn from them, work with them, and do the best we can to contribute to people’s health in this amazing community.”
Larsen and her husband, Jim, a licensed builder who works at Watervale, are raising two children, ages 12 and 16. Her favorite times are spent with family: hiking, swimming, and kayaking in this gorgeous place that we all call home.
Research reveals that naturopathic medicine and integrative wellness therapies are often not covered by insurance, however the Freshwater Wellness team strives to make services available to all.
Individual practitioners may be eligible for insurance coverage—e.g. chiropractic, counseling, and some massage. Naturopathic medicine and acupuncture can be paid for with HAS/FSA, and Freshwater Wellness can provide superbills to those who are interested in seeking direct reimbursement from insurance companies, as needed.
The many modalities offered at Freshwater Wellness can provide overall preventative sustainability support to those who are in good health and beyond. Why not consider your entire person, in your wellness pursuit? Why not consult a team of experts who really care about your wellness, and perhaps, uncover a root cause instead of, for example, medicating it?
Want to make an appointment? Call 231-871-0191 or visit FreshwaterMI.com to make an appointment online. Have specific questions that you would like to ask any of the practitioners? Email them directly: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Located at 218 7th Street in Frankfort.
Featured photo caption: The women of Frankfort’s new Freshwater Wellness Center from left to right: Katie Larsen (LMSW), Anna Shoemaker, Abigail Ellsworth (ND, RAc), Emily Eilers (DC), Christina Ryan-Stoltz (LMT), Tamra Ward (LMT), and Lisa Stieve. Photo by Eric L. VanDussen.