OKEECHOBEE — In 1988, Bianca Keefe immigrated to the United States from Nicaragua with her parents and sister. Her mother was pregnant with Mrs. Keefe’s younger brother at the time. Although she does have some good memories of Nicaragua — going to the zoo, farms and even the circus with her father, who had a successful veterinary practice — Mrs. Keefe said the government was corrupt and things kept getting worse every day.
Life was difficult for her in Nicaragua. She was often bullied for being poor and called a mutt (a mix of Chinese, Latina and English). Her Hispanic peers even excluded her because she was not quite Hispanic enough. People threw rats or dead snakes at her family members or left them on the doorstep. She became adept at hiding her feelings of sadness.
“I needed to be strong for my family,” she said.
Her father loved being a veterinarian and the community loved him, but he gave that up so his children could have a better life. The hardest thing about leaving their country was leaving the family dog behind, said Mrs. Keefe, but he was old and the family could not afford a ticket for him.
During her senior year of high school, Mrs. Keefe was in a car accident and, afterward, experienced a tremendous amount of pain in her neck and from migraines. The only thing that seemed to ease the pain was a massage that had been suggested by her chiropractor. Marilyn’s massages helped her to heal, and the experience helped Mrs. Keefe decide on massage therapy as a career. She wanted to help people the same way she had been helped. As she got started, she worked in spas, holistic wellness centers and chiropractors’ offices, but she dreamed of owning her own business one day.
Immediately after high school, she went to massage school and said she was dating Bobby Keefe at the time. He bought her first massage table, and she still has it now. “How can I get rid of it, as it holds so many sentimental memories?” she asked. While she went to college, Bobby went into the Marines, and she said letting him go was one of the hardest things she has ever done. He was her first love, but they were young and they listened to the advice they were given.
Several years later, she said she was awakened by a terrible nightmare of Bobby being blown up, and she knew something horrible had happened to him. “I couldn’t move. I was shaking and physically hurting. I stayed in bed for two days,” she said. She found out later his truck had been hit by an IED. She knew then that her heart was always with him, even while they were apart, and she continually prayed for his safety.
A year later, they reconnected. Both were gong through divorces, and it did not take long for love to rekindle. He was medically discharged from the service due to the back injury he suffered in Afghanistan, and they were married. He and his son moved back to Florida from their home in North Carolina and they settled into life as a blended family, moving into a house he already owned in Okeechobee.
They discussed their hopes and dreams for the future and discovered they both had similar dreams, and one of their desires was to help people. Mrs. Keefe prayed and prayed about what God wanted her to do with her life. As she prayed she heard, “You will open a wellness place and help people.” She said, ‘‘We don’t have any money. How can I open anything right now?” She heard him say, “Put your trust in Me.” She knew everything was going to work out. She talked to her husband, and he told her he believed in her.
Sacred Sanctuary became a reality with the help of family and friends, who loaned them the money to get started. “They know who they are, and I am forever grateful,” she said. It was a fixer-upper and took a lot of work, but little by little, they got it done, with the help of friends, family and some people from the community. They gradually built a clientele and she was able to hire a couple of massage therapists, an aesthetician and an acupuncturist. “Everyone who has been a part of the team has been God-sent,” she said. “All of them have taught me to be a better person, and I am grateful for their lessons in my life.”