Natalie Furman had every opportunity to emotionally and physically shut down when her father died two years ago. The experience was a grueling one that, upon recollection, still brings tears to her eyes.

But knowing her 19-year-old sister needed her support and guidance, Furman stayed strong.

“My father died of complications from a surgery, but his lifestyle habits were what caused him problems,” she recalled. “He was making changes, but it was too late.”

During the grieving process, Furman took a long look at herself, struggling with her own weight, and decided to make an immediate change. She incorporated healthier eating habits, slimmed down and focused on her Seventh Day Adventist faith’s eight components of holistic health: fresh air, exercise, water, rest, abstinence, diet, sunshine and divine power.

She also took over King’s Way Health Food Store in Benton, serving a Southern Illinois community that is looking to make lifestyle changes of its own.

Gloria Bain had owned the store for 16 years when Furman took it over last September. Bain had built up a dedicated customer base — not only from Benton, but across Southern Illinois.

Furman, who worked part time for Bain on and off since 2005, has done her best to make the ownership transition as seamless as possible, especially for her customers.

“She is so knowledgeable and passionate about helping us out,” said longtime customer Sherri Lawrence of Benton. “She has stepped right in and is making Gloria proud.”

While not a doctor or certified nutritionist, Furman’s understanding of the body and its needs is extensive. She also can empathize with people struggling with their weight.

Furman said despite healthful encouragement from her mother and grandmother, she decided to divulge in what she calls the standard American diet at the age of 18. Processed foods, dairy and sugar catalyzed her rapid gain of more than 50 pounds in less than three years.

Now refocused on her health, Furman is trying to pass along her knowledge and experience to impact and enhance the lives of her customers.

“My big passion is to help support families in making powerful changes and continue the work that Gloria started,” she said. “The more we take charge of ourselves and our children in terms of food choices, the better we will perform at work, the better frame of mind we’ll be in, and the better financial choices we will make for our families.”

The shelves at King’s Way are lined with healthful food options, supplements and vitamins. Furman conducts diligent research when deciding what products to bring into her store.

Additionally, she has received help from her mother, Sonya Simkin, a retired intensive care unit nurse who lives in Washington. Simkin spent the latter part of 2014 in Benton to support Furman in taking over the business.

From elderberry to green powders, Furman offers a variety of products aimed at supporting holistic health.

“Green powders are great as a scoop or two into your smoothies,” she said. “I’ve had customers report that within two to three weeks, they are noticing immense energy boosts without the highs and lows associated with caffeine.”

Located just a short drive from Benton’s downtown, Furman’s business could look different very soon. The entrepreneur in her is fueling the addition of sandwich and soup bistro, as well as a juice bar.

“I want to be here for a long, long time,” she said.

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