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First time the charm for gingerbread house neophyte

| Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Melissa Bartels with her winning entry in the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce's annual gingerbread house contest on December 7, 2012. Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
'Candy Land' by Susan Wright receives a first-place award in the professional division of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce gingerbread house contest. The houses are on display at the Ligonier Ramada. The silent auction fundraiser to purchase the houses continues through Sunday. t at Ramada Inn in Ligonier on December 3, 2012. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Rita Shutter of Latrobe (left) and Connie McCoy of Ligonier look at the entires in the gingerbread contest at Ramada Inn in Ligonier photo taken on December 3, 2012. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

Melissa Bartels of Latrobe had never made a gingerbread house but wanted to try something new for Christmas.

Barthels, a former elementary school teacher and mother of two young boys, won best-in-show with her first creation at the eighth Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Gingerbread House Contest.

“I was very, very surprised,” she said. “I put a lot of hard work into it. It took me a week to make it.”

The gingerbread houses were on display at the Ramada Ligonier last week, where visitors were invited to vote for a favorite and bid in a silent auction that raised money for the Ligonier Valley Meals on Wheels program.

Bartels called her entry a “classic gingerbread house,” titled “Sweet Dreams.” She used candies like gumdrops, snowflake sprinkles, spearmints, cherry sour balls, nonpareils and pecan nougat rolls as well as lots of royal icing.

Chamber Director Holly Mowrey said the organization plans to offer a gingerbread baking class next fall to encourage more people to participate in the contest, which is sponsored by Rolling Rock Club.

The class will be conducted by Manfred Sander, a chamber board member who helped bring the art of making gingerbread houses to the community, she said.

Bartels, who will receive a $100 cash prize, also took first place in the adult division with her entry.

She said she wanted to thank her husband Eric for keeping their two sons, Nolan, 7, and Simon, 4, out of the kitchen.

“He was very supportive in keeping them busy while I worked,” Bartels said.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Deborah A. Brehun contributed to this story.