Hanna Kroeger’s colorful history runs deep in Boulder’s health-food scene

By Charmaine Ortega Getz      

Kroeger-103portrait
Top: Hanna Kroeger in 1967. Above: Her grandson Alberto Kroeger and her daughter Gisela Kroeger Hoffman carry on her work.

New Age Foods was the name of Hanna Kroeger’s Boulder store before “New Age” was a national catchphrase.

Talk to almost anyone who’s been a longtime resident of Boulder and there’s another story to hear: Hanna, who established the first health-food store in Colorado, if not west of the Mississippi, according to her store’s website. “That German lady,” who applauded the local hippies and took them home for a hot meal. Hanna Kroeger, who was indicted in 1971 for practicing medicine without a license.

According to her biography published online, she was born in Turkey in 1913 and christened Hanna Zimmer, the last of six children born to German missionaries who ran a home for Armenian orphans. Her father, Max, corresponded with the esoteric wisdom teacher Alice Bailey. Her mother, Hannah, practiced herbal medicine.

Young Hanna graduated from a German nursing school, studied homeopathic medicine and married Rudolf Kroeger, a mechanical engineer. They and their five children emigrated from Germany in 1953 and settled in Boulder in 1956. About a year later, Kroeger persuaded the retiring owner of the Imperial Tea and Coffee Company on Broadway to let her have the place rent-free for three months. She added “healing teas,” baked goods, and an array of unprocessed seeds, nuts, raisins, oils, whole grains and other items.

In a 1985 Daily Camera interview, Kroeger recalled placing a newspaper ad for wheat germ that had people asking, “What kind of germ are they?”

Two years later, Kroeger bought a building for the growing business at 1122 Pearl St. There she added vitamins and began advising people on natural foods, herbs and supplements. Many locals had never seen bulk foods for sale before. Eventually she added a restaurant to the second floor where she served tempeh cheeseburgers and other exotic vegetarian fare at low cost.

Natural Healing on Trial

In an era when “alternative medicine” was as novel as the term “new age,” Kroeger soon attracted long lines of people seeking health advice. Sometimes she suspended a pendulum and observed its motions as an expression of the energy present in the client—an ancient form of divination called dowsing. Always, she said, she consulted God. And that was what led to the first indictment by Boulder County’s new grand jury on April 16, 1971. Kroeger was indicted on 11 counts of practicing medicine without a license. The indictment, filed by then-District Attorney Stanley Johnson, added that Kroeger received fees or other compensation for treating patients without the qualifications recognized by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners.

Her trial began Nov. 15, 1971. Kroeger denied that she had ever received a dime for dispensing health advice, but it was pointed out that she received a profit from the items people purchased at her store in response to her advice. Four Pinkerton detectives hired by the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners testified that they described fake illnesses to Kroeger and were given diagnoses and remedies.

Defense attorneys Michael McCarthy and Paul Snyder argued that Kroeger dispensed nutritional advice as part of her Christian religion, in obedience to Jesus’ command to heal the sick. They also argued that the statute in question was vague and allowed selective enforcement. “What this prosecution is really all about is a test of the right to be different,” Snyder was quoted as saying by the Daily Camera on Nov. 20, 1971.

Kroeger refused in court to answer any questions until she had consulted with God. Supporters packed the courtroom and protested in front of the courthouse.

At New Age Foods, Hanna Kroeger sold health foods and herbs and offered health advice—which got her into serious trouble.
At New Age Foods, Hanna Kroeger sold health foods and herbs and offered health advice—which got her into serious trouble.

Although some of the charges were dismissed for insufficient evidence, Kroeger was convicted on five. She was granted a new trial, but the case was dismissed on May 14, 1972. The clincher was a letter from the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners that recommended dismissal after Kroger formally agreed to discontinue the unlawful acts.

Whether or not she was certain as to what that would mean, Kroeger continued to give advice to people seeking help for their ailments. The publicity only stoked the long lines of advice seekers. Newspaper articles over the years noted that after Kroeger’s trial, more “natural” healers began to practice openly in Boulder.

In February 1989, the state Board of Medical Examiners filed a complaint against Kroeger that asked the district court to bar her from her practice until she obtained a license. The following May, Kroeger agreed to permanently give up “practicing medicine without a license.”

She did, at least, stop counseling at her store. For the rest of her life, Kroeger continued to dispense health advice by phone and at the “Chapel of Miracles,” built at her rural property at 7075 Valmont Road in Boulder. Her metaphysical-leaning religion was based on Christ’s teachings and encouraging people to minister to one other. Peaceful Meadow Retreat, on the same property, became a school for students of her healing practices. Her store’s name was changed to Hanna’s Herb Shop and moved to its present location at 5684 Valmont Road.

Messages from God

Hanna Kroeger died on May 7, 1998, 14 months after her husband, Rudolf. Four of their children declined to take up their mother’s work and legacy.

The middle child, Gisela, had grown up baking whole-grain bread and putting herbs in capsules to sell at Hanna’s store. But she had no desire to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “I thought my mother was weird,” she says during an interview on a fine fall day in October. She smiles now, sitting behind a computer at Peaceful Meadow Retreat that she uses to run the business she once shunned.

Gisela Kroeger became a mathematics professor, with a focus on statistics. She married another mathematics professor, Dr. Tony Hoffman, and eventually they became a database designer and a computer systems analyst, respectively, for insurance corporations.

Kroeger-116shrine
A shrine to Hanna Kroeger inside the Chapel of Miracles at Peaceful Meadow Retreat.

They were living comfortably in Hartford, Conn., when Gisela’s mother died and the question of her work’s continuance came up. What happened next was “unsettling.”

“I got a message from God,” Hoffman says. “And I said, ‘This is not my job, not my purpose.’ But the message didn’t stop for 10 days. I finally submitted.” After a month, the second message came: Taking up her mother’s work meant leading as minister of the Chapel of Miracles, too. Hoffman eventually submitted to that as well.

The decisions were also “very unsettling” for her husband, but Tony Hoffman was supportive until his death in 2006. Her siblings were simply relieved that she had agreed to take over. But Gisela Hoffman had no intention of giving up science. “I had to make it scientific,” she says.

It took Hoffman three years just to learn what she previously refused to study. And Hanna Kroeger had been “very disorganized,” so her teachings had to be compiled and put in a book. (Eventually they’ll go on video.) Then there was that dowsing thing. Hoffman hired a software designer to develop “automated dowsing software,” which responds to keywords with a list of concern areas and remedies.

Today, the legacy is flourishing, Hoffman says. Alberto Kroeger, Gisela’s nephew and Peaceful Meadows’ property manager, is likely to take over the business someday.

“In my previous life [as a mathematician] I questioned whether the work I was doing was my destiny,” Hoffman says. “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so fulfilled as I do now.”

[divider]

Charmaine Ortega Getz is a longtime journalist and the author of Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. She lives in Boulder.