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Mt. Pleasant's 'Dream House' winner thinks mostly of wounded warriors

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Hempfield’s Fran Markle (foreground), the winner of the 2013 Dream House Award, which is given to the maker of what is judged the best overall gingerbread house of the Mt. Pleasant Gingerbread House Tour, Display & Competition, is joined recently by borough Manager Jeff Landy (left) and event coordinator Christine Barnhart of East Huntingdon at event sponsor Levin Furniture in the borough.

When Hempfield's Fran Markle learned in late 2012 about the cause championed by the Mt. Pleasant Gingerbread House Tour, Display and Competition, her family's history of military service compelled her to participate in the borough's inaugural event.

“When I saw that is what they trying to do ... I wanted to get involved and offer my support,” said Markle, 78, of the event, now in its second year, for which proceeds culled from sales of the houses are dedicated to Wounded Warrior Project, a Florida-based, nonprofit organization.

Markle was recently named the recipient of the 2013 Dream House Award, given for what judges deem the competition's best overall gingerbread house.

Her entry, titled “Naughty and Nice,” is on display in a window near the entrance of event sponsor Levin Furniture on West Main Street. For the distinction, Markle received the award made by Peter O'Rourke, the local master glass cutter.

“I delivered (the gingerbread house) on a Saturday, then I got call that evening to tell me I won,” she said. “I was very excited.”

Christine Barnhart, who coordinates the event in conjunction with borough Manager Jeff Landy, credited Markle's creativity and attention to detail while recognizing her achievement.

“The name of her creation was a really cute theme,” said Barnhart, who oversaw the Nov. 16 judging entries at another event sponsor, Mt. Pleasant Veterans of Foreign War Post 3368, also on West Main Street.

“Fran is very meticulous. She spends a lot of time on detail,” she said.

For example, Barnhart pointed out the candy roof that mimics the look of a basket-weaved roof.

“This is her second year with competition. Her creation last year was just as cute,” she said.

Markle is a former home economist employed by the Penn State University Agricultural Extension in Hempfield and longtime wedding cake decorator/designer.

She said she learned of the competition, and its cause, by reviewing an advertisement in the Tribune-Review.

“I hadn't made a gingerbread house in a while before the last one,” Markle said.

Wounded Warrior Project, founded by wounded Vietnam War veteran John Melia, strives to raise public awareness and enlist the public's aid in meeting the needs of severely injured service men and women as they transition from active duty back to civilian life, according to the project's website,

The organization offers job training, provides training to soldiers' caregivers, lobbies Congress to improve benefits for wounded service members and provides a way for wounded veterans to meet, the site states.

Markle said her late husband, Walter, served during the Korean War in the U.S. Air Force. At same time, Walter's two brothers, Ervin Markle and Jack Markle, were also served in the military.

Ervin Markle was killed in a vehicle accident in Germany, she said. Her older brother, the late Boyd Dickey, served with the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, also known as the SeaBees, during World War II and the Korean War, and her cousin, Daniel Nolan of Clearfield, served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was awarded the Bronze Star.

“I've lost members of my family in the military, so I really like the cause,” she said.

Landy praised Markle's award-winning creation.

“It's really, really good; it's just another example of how creative some people can be,” he said. “I was impressed with her baking and decorating skills.”

The houses will be on display through Dec. 20 at the In Town Shops, located at 537 W. Main St. in the borough.

Three judges were selected to judge each category.

Guidelines for judgment included creativity/originality, overall appearance and appeal, difficulty and precision/neatness.

Entrants in each category who placed are:

Professional division

First place — Keith Bandy — “Gorky's Smokin' Grill”

Second place — Susan Wright — “Green Grocery”

(two entries)

Adult division

First place — Another Way Inc. — “Call of Duty-OPS”

Second place — Silvis Group Inc. — “Girls Night Out”

Third place — Ruthann Devore — “Teddy Graham's Recess”

Family division

First place — Wojnar family — “An Old-Fashioned Christmas”

Second place — Drum family — “Candyland Hotel”

Third place — Davis family — “Candyland”

High school division

First place — Megan Vanyo — “Way Back When”

(one entry)

Middle school division

First place — Scarlett Davidovich — “Nestlé House”

Second place — Maddie Gall — “Sugar Rush”

Third place — Olivia Barnhart — “Sugar Shack”

Elementary division

First place — Brady Carmen and Ben Todd — “Can You See Me Now”

Second place — Cub Scout Pack 135 — “Hometown Christmas” (two entries).

Gingerbread houses entered into the competition will be available for purchase and can be picked up on Dec. 20, Barnhart said. Some houses will be removed from the display before that date if they deteriorate, she said.

“It's really important that people know that we are trying to sell the houses,” Barnhart said. “That's what raises money for the Wounded Warrior Project.”

For more details, call Barnhart at 412-913-4961 or email

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or

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