Karin Hartwell, a 2018 Ball State alumna and owner of Hite’s Bakery, spends her weekends in her Greenfield, Indiana, home kitchen whipping up homemade cookies, fresh cinnamon rolls and sticky buns to raise money to find a cure for her son’s cancer.
Hartwell’s son, Shawn, was diagnosed with optic nerve glioma, an inoperable brain tumor, when he was 4 months old. Because of his treatments, Hartwell said, she needed to be home with him at all times. As a way to de-stress, Hartwell began baking last April. Because of Shawn’s compromised immune system due to his chemotherapy, Hartwell was isolated from her friends, family and her church, she said, but creating her bakery gave her a place to turn to while everyone was home.
“I’ve seen things that no parent, child or person should have witnessed or had to do,” Hartwell said. “At 4 months old, my son was given the same chemo drug that an adult receives.”
Her son, who is now 2 years old, has poor vision and is in therapy to learn how to use a cane. Hartwell said she has witnessed his strength and bravery many times as he deals with losing weight and his hair.
“Through the 13-month-long treatment, he always smiled, he rarely cried and had always just been this charismatic child that’s full of life,” Hartwell said. “He will teach you to laugh and love. He’ll show [you how] you have to keep fighting and enjoy every moment of life.”
Whenever Hartwell bakes from scratch, she brings Shawn and her 10-year-old son, Ki, into the kitchen with her to teach them valuable lessons. Ki practices his math skills as he’s measuring ingredients, and Shawn loves to scoop, dump and stir ingredients, which helps him with his food aversions from chemotherapy, Hartwell said.
“Though there are tons of learning and therapy involved, there are also tons of messes and laughter,” Hartwell said. “We enjoy the not-so-perfect cookie.”
Because Hartwell operates her bakery online, she offers hand-deliveries and pickup options for her customers, which she advertises through Facebook groups. Hite’s Bakery's most popular items are Hartwell’s cinnamon rolls and sticky buns.
Elisa Abner-Taschwer, a wine guide at a winery in Indianapolis and one of Hite’s Bakery’s frequent customers, said she found Hartwell on the “Greenfield Gabber” Facebook page after Hartwell posted a picture of her homemade cinnamon rolls. Despite never meeting Hartwell in person, she said, she is one of Hartwell’s cheerleaders.
“I thought [Hartwell’s cinnamon rolls] looked wonderful, so I ordered [them],” Abner-Taschwer said. “When we went on vacation, I ordered two of the rolls for our house [and] dog sitter. Now, I get them periodically for birthdays or other celebrations, like when my husband didn’t lose his job.”
Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Hartwell is baking special sugar cookies in the shape of cancer ribbons. Ten percent of sales will go to the Brantley Francis Foundation, which helps families and children like hers battling cancer.
For those considering creating a small business for a similar cause, Hartwell said, her biggest piece of advice is to “just do it, and don’t stop.”
“Practice every chance you get, and try new things,” Hartwell said. “Research recipes. I’ve been doing this since I was little and used to sell cheesecakes during the holiday times … You don’t have to be a decorator to bake. My personal motto is, ‘I bake. I don’t decorate.’”
Contact Grace Duerksen with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gracie_duerk.