When is a crash a good thing?
The hill really isn't much of a hill. It's on a little curve and it leads up to Jenny Groskopf's home. It's one of those hills and one of those curves you forget about over time. You just go up it, you turn, and you're there.
But Jenny Groskopf will never look at that hill, and that curve, the same way.
That hill has dramatically changed her life. Forever.
On a snowy April morning, Jenny drove from her home in the Meier's Crest development, just east of Prescott, into town with her kids. It was her nephew's birthday party, and promised to be a fun Saturday. But when she got to her sister Janet's house in Prescott, she realized she had forgotten her nephew's present.
She left the kids with Janet and hit the road back to her house. Up the hill. Around the curve. Grab the gift; go back.
Except that snow had brought with it black ice conditions on the road. Up the hill, and down the ditch, she went. As her minivan slid down off the road, she slammed on the brakes, as best she could. Both legs were extended. Both were pushing with all their might.
And that's when she hit the tree.
Bones in both legs were broken. Her ankles were shattered. And she hasn't walked since.
So this is when you start feeling for Jenny Groskopf. She's the mother of three kids, all under the age of 10. You start thinking about what she's missing out on.
But she doesn't want your sympathy. These last four months have been the most beautiful months of her life.
Yes, they've been filled with pain and sadness.
No, she wouldn't trade them for a thing.
That's right. She sincerely considers herself blessed for having gone through all this.
"In so many ways, I feel like the most fortunate person in the world," she said. "Our hearts are much fuller. We know how much we have."
What they have is a network. Family, friends, neighbors and co-workers have all gone beyond the call of duty to help the Groskopfs, and every day that goes by leaves the Groskopfs feeling more humbled.
From the very start, friends and family were there. It was a neighbor who found Jenny at the bottom of that hill on that snowy Saturday morning. Lenny Ballosh and his son were leaving home to go turkey hunting, and saw the van up against the tree. Jenny had been sitting there for 30 minutes, honking her horn the whole time, waiting for someone to find her. That someone was Lenny Ballosh.
The ambulance was called, and then Ballosh put a call in to Jenny's husband, Jeff, who was at work in West St. Paul. He raced home to see his wife being loaded into an ambulance.
"I could see her right leg was broken," Jeff said.
An emergency medical technician told Jeff that his wife had actually broken both legs.
"That's when it hit home," he said. "Your whole world flashes in front of you. And she was just getting the pain meds when I got there. It was tough to watch. We were just so thankful the kids weren't in the van."
By the time the ambulance got to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, the waiting room was filling up with family members.
By the time Jeff got home from the hospital the next night, Ballosh and a group of neighbors had built a ramp leading from the garage into the house, so that Jenny could be wheeled into her house in a wheelchair. Turns out, there was no reason to rush the project.
Jenny didn't return home for a month. She spent three weeks in the hospital and one week in a nursing home. She had pins put in her ankles, then surgery, and more surgery.
"That first month Jenny wasn't home was the toughest," Jeff said. "There was a lot of crying those nights."
Family members got together with a calendar. It was determined that Jeff's sisters could come and help out on Mondays and Tuesdays. Lois Groskopf, Jeff's mother, helps on Wednesday. Gloria Murphy, Jenny's mom, takes a day off from her job at DCA Title in Hastings to help out on Thursdays. Other family members help out Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Neighbors organized a menu. Three days a week, for the past three months, food has been catered in by neighbors.
The Groskopf children have been shuttled to practices, the beach, and softball games, and last weekend, they were taken to Wisconsin Dells by Jeff's sister-in-law. Jeff's brother has loaned him a van, no questions asked.
The support hasn't stopped.
"People just picked up my life and marched on without me without ever having been asked to do it," Jenny said. "It was instantaneous. It was awe inspiring. It really was. It was hard to be unhappy when you have that kind of network."
For the first month she was home, Jenny was in bed 23 hours a day. As she lay there, she watched as her family members and friends cared for her children. It was humbling, she said. But the opportunity also allowed her to get to know her family better. She heard stories about Jeff from his mother. She got to know his sisters better. She got to know her own family better. She wasn't, as she put it, "caught up in the chaos of life."
When a 60th birthday party was thrown for her father, Kenneth, it was Jenny's 9-year-old daughter Maddie who made his favorite dessert - old fashioned strawberry shortcake.
Jenny sat patiently in her wheelchair and led Maddie through the process.
"She loved doing it," Jenny said. "Those kinds of moments have been blessings. Maybe I wouldn't have taken the time to do that if we weren't in the situation we're in."
The Groskopfs have had no option but to accept the help that their network has provided. They're not in a position to be able to turn away the aid.
That said, when the subject of a benefit came up, the Groskopfs were excited. They'd love to throw a party for everyone who helped, they said. But that wasn't the kind of benefit that Jenny's sister, Judy (Murphy) Westland, wanted to throw. She wanted to throw a benefit that would give the Groskopfs some financial help.
"Trying to shut my sister down is like trying to stop a freight train," Groskopf said.
And so the benefit was planned by family members. It will be held from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, at Judy's home in Cottage Grove.
Neither Jenny nor Jeff have ever received this kind of help before, and they're a bit uncertain how to handle it all.
"We've had so much giving," Jenny said. "We feel like our benefit has already been here and continues. We're still learning to accept this with gratitude and grace. That's a continual lesson. We're very grateful for what they're doing. It's just a situation we never thought we'd be in.
"Our goal after this is to give back more than we've been given."
It would be easy to say that the last three and a half months have absolutely changed the way that Jeff and Jenny Groskopf look at life, and at society.
"It restored my faith in our society," Jenny said. "All you hear is so gloom and doom. Gas prices. Grocery prices. People getting beat up.
"But it's not all negative. You just don't hear about all the good stuff."
Jenny Groskop sustained bilateral pilon fractures. She ended up having 15 pins in one ankle to stabilize it. She now has one plate in her left ankle and two in her right.
She was hopeful she'd be able to resume walking by September, but after a doctor's appointment last week, she'll have to settle for October or November. The news didn't sit well with her.
"I was very down," she said. "I fell apart. Jeff was right there to catch me. I've said all along that at least I get the sympathy vote. Jeff is the forgotten soul."
By next summer, Jenny hopes to be back at full strength, or as close to that as posssible. When she first met her doctor at Regions, she told him she was the mother of three, and that she'd need "chaseable ankles." She wants to run after her children, she told him.
He understood, and chaseable ankles have become quite a joke at the hospital and around home.
Who are the Groskopfs?
Jenny Murphy grew up in Afton. She's the daughter of Kenneth and Gloria Murphy. She graduated from Woodbury High School and now works with insurance claims for Dakota County in Hastings. She has two sisters, Judy and Janet, and one brother, John. Judy and John live in Cottage Grove. Janet lives in Prescott.
Jeff Groskopf grew up in Denmark Township. He is the son of Lois and the late Harold Groskopf. He has 10 siblings. Jeff works for Rainbow Foods in West St. Paul.
Jenny and Jeff have three children: Maddie, age 9; Ellie, 6; and Jack, 18 months.
Jenny keeps a Web site updated with news at www.caringbridge.org/visit/jennygroskopf.