For Marilyn White, life had two different professions lined up for her: one as a nurse who strived to do her best with her patients—and another as a professional sugar artist whose other passion is to decorate cookies, cakes, and gingerbread houses.
Humble Home Bakes
Marilyn White is a professional sugar artist. But as a young girl growing up on a South Dakota ranch, she had no idea it would become her career path.
Marilyn was first introduced to home baking by her mother in 1950 in their cozy ranch kitchen. Just a few years later, in the summer of 1957, she earned her first official recognition for baking. She entered her county’s 4-H competition and took first place. She advanced to the state level, where she also brought home winning ribbons. Though her baking star was on the rise, life soon treated Marilyn to other surprises that put a multi-decade pause on her baking career.
Marilyn decided to attend the Presentation School of Nursing in Aberdeen, South Dakota, 40 miles away from her hometown. While there, she met a classmate who would quickly become the love of her life. They married in 1960.
Once she completed her three-year nursing program at Presentation College, Marilyn earned her bachelor’s in nursing at Mary College in North Dakota. Over the years, she and her husband moved in pursuit of job opportunities, building their family along the way. In their more nomadic days, Marilyn did not have much opportunity to bake or build a kitchen complete with baking tools. (It was hard to move from place to place with more tools each time; fellow cross-country movers can relate!)
But time and again, baking opportunities resurfaced, and life gave her a taste of her future. The first cake she remembers making was in 1968, for her son’s birthday. It was a simple box mix.
“I made my first one out of a pattern I found in a Betty Crocker cake mix box,” she said.
Giving People What They Need (And What They Love!)
Fast forward to 1982: Marilyn opened Ambrosia Coffee Shop in Hot Springs, South Dakota, where she got to extend her talents as a baker while still working as a nurse by day.
“That is where my basic cake decorating businesses started,” she said, adding that the business gave her the opportunity to give people the things they want and love.
The dream of owning a business and feeding her talents to her customers ended in 1985. That year Ambrosia Coffee Shop closed its doors. Marilyn was on the move again. And in 1996, she settled again, this time in Greeley, Colorado.
“I love Greeley because there are so many things to do and opportunities for people just moving here,” Marilyn said.
When she arrived in Greeley, Marilyn connected with the Colorado Professional Association of Cake Bakers because of her past cake and cookie decorating hobby. That connection expanded Marilyn’s industry knowhow and exposed her to many new things.
Eventually, in 2003, Marylin decided to retire from working in places like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. She instead decided to use her nursing skills to volunteer in areas like hospice, then on the Northern Colorado Honor Flight, and with the Assistance League of Greeley.
Not only did she give her best to her volunteer work, but from time to time she shared her other love, baking, with the community.
Marilyn finally had the time and the tools to bake and even compete again, attending and volunteering with the Colorado Springtime in the Rockies Cake Show for many years.
From county fairs to general public competitions, Marilyn has since won numerous ribbons and honorable awards. Her cakes have been published in state, national, and international magazines.
“That has always been a motivation to try and do things better,” Marilyn expressed with a big smile after talking about her accomplishments.
This year, she’ll compete in the 33rd annual Festival of Trees Gingerbread Village Display for the 14th year in a row. She is collaborating with the Assistance League of Greeley to build a masterpiece with the help of other volunteers.
“The gingerbread village adds a nice touch to Festival of Trees and is a Greeley much-anticipated favorite,” said Festival organizer Andrea Haring.
From spending hours online looking at design ideas, cutting the parts on paper, and baking all the pieces, Marilyn explains that gingerbread crafting is a lengthy process—but it’s one she loves.
Her career as a sugar artist has offered a second chance passion that is oh, so sweet.
The Greeley Festival of Trees runs now through Dec. 3. All proceeds benefit the Union Colony Civic Center and the Greeley Philharmonic Guild. Purchase Festival tickets at ucstars.com.