Best Christmas Ever: Nisswa family sheds tears of joy at end of trying year

Family deaths, serious car accident, cancer diagnosis affect Justin and Laura Gronholz family

The Gronholz family stands amongst a pile of Christmas presents Monday night, Dec. 20, 2021, at their Nisswa home. From left are Brecken, Laura, Maija, Cullen, Justin and Evie. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

After a year filled with trying times and lots of tears, a Nisswa family shed tears of happiness Monday, Dec. 20, as they stood in disbelief watching a seemingly endless flow of people traipse into their home with arms loaded with presents to put under their Christmas tree.

With her hands over her mouth, Laura Gronholz kept turning her head into her husband, Justin’s, shoulder as tears flowed. A couple of their children broke into tears as well upon opening one present each.

"We’re always the ones donating. It’s humbling to know everybody helped out so much."

— Justin Gronholz

The scene was thanks to the Best Christmas Ever program, with the Gronholz family sponsored by Woods to Water Real Estate in Nisswa. The program helps families who have fallen upon tough times through no fault of their own, partnering with local leaders and businesses to bless a family with a Best Christmas Ever.


“We’re always the ones donating,” Justin said in reaction to the gifts along with $8,500. “It’s humbling to know everybody helped out so much.”

Laura added: “After the year these kids have had, we just wanted them to have something that was good.”

The Gronholz children include Maija, 13; Brecken, 11; Cullen, 9; and Evie, 7. The trying year the family has endured included the death of Justin’s brother and then his aunt, a rollover accident that Laura and Brecken were lucky to survive, and a cancer diagnosis for Justin.

Laura Gronholz holds back tears as she opens a box full of gift cards courtesy of the Best Christmas Ever program as her husband, Justin, watches, Monday night, Dec. 20, 2021, at their Nisswa home. Nancy Vogt / Echo Journal

A chiropractor at Hopkins Health & Wellness in Pequot Lakes, Justin has worked as much as he can since being diagnosed with colorectal cancer in September.

“This is our new life - the kids have called it ‘Operation Kick Dad’s Butt (Cancer)’ … and we're taking it day by day,” Laura wrote in an Oct 13 Facebook post.


Justin has undergone a first round of chemotherapy for four months in Brainerd to be home with their kids. The next round of chemo with radiation and surgeries will be at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester starting in January.

Regarding the rollover accident Laura and Brecken endured in June on their way home from a baseball game, Laura said a State Patrol trooper told her: “I don’t know how you survived that because no one survives an accident like that.”

"After the year these kids have had, we just wanted them to have something that was good."

— Laura Gronholz

In addition to the gifts and money, the Gronholz family will receive a water heater, water softener and pressure tank, courtesy of Phil’s Plumbing and Heating in Brainerd.

On hand for the surprise Monday at the Gronholz’s home were Justin’s parents, Deb and Curt Gronholz; Laura’s parents, Marilyn and Roger Bernu; Laura’s sister, Sarah; and friend, Missy Haff.


They gathered for pizza as an early birthday celebration for Laura, whose birthday was Tuesday, Dec. 21, which also was a chemo day for Justin. Of course, some were in on the real surprise, including Haff. She and friends Pamela and Kent Johnson and Ashley Ohm nominated the Gronholzes for the Best Christmas Ever program.

Laura and Justin were aware of the program.

“We bought gifts for it,” Laura said.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at

Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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