A very sweet gift

Published 10:43 pm Friday, November 5, 2010

The Tidewater News

FRANKLIN — Dare Johnson couldn’t afford the $300-plus for a night’s stay at the famous Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C., so she found a way.

Six years ago, the Suffolk woman entered the hotel’s National Gingerbread House Competition to get a discounted rate. That was just the beginning — she took home an honorable mention that year, and every year since besides one.

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This year, Johnson will donate a two-square-foot, half-size replica of her national competition piece to the Southampton-Franklin Habitat for Humanity Gingerbread Gala. The non-profit’s signature event will be held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19, at Cypress Cove Country Club.

“We’re very lucky to have Dare Johnson to contribute here,” said Sandy Kirkland, co-chairwoman of the event.

“We feel we acquired another star to participate in our event,” added Beth Luck, another co-chairwoman. “She has enthusiasm for what she does and wants to share her special talent.”

Johnson’s Hansel and Gretel-themed gingerbread house will be among a dozen that will be sold during a live auction at the gala, Kirkland said. The bakers at Farm Fresh in Franklin and students in the culinary arts program at Southampton Technical Career Center also are expected to have entries.

Johnson began making gingerbread houses about 10 years ago. She learned about the national competition in Asheville on the Food Network television channel. Johnson and her husband, Bruce, went there to look at the gingerbread houses.

After falling in love with the hotel and seeing the entries, she decided to give it a try.

“It’s addicting almost to the point that after I finish the competition in November, while riding home, I’m thinking about what I will do next year,” said Johnson, whose daughter, Mechele Cutchins, lives in Courtland.

Johnson began working on this year’s house in early September. She gets help from her architect-educated husband. The house is drawn on paper and cardboard pieces are cut out to see how the idea comes together.

“He makes the pattern and does it to scale,” Johnson said.

She can’t say how many hours she puts into a competition piece and the gingerbread she makes for local churches, including Wilroy Bapstist Church, where she attends.

“There’s no way to know,” Johnson said. “People ask me every year, ‘Don’t you get tired?’ I told them ‘Yeah,’ but it’s a good tired. Not a heavy tired.”

The competition in Asheville is on Nov. 15, but Johnson will return to Franklin for the event.

Her goal is to break into the top 10 this year.

“This will be my sixth year,” Johnson said. “All but one, I’ve hit honorable mention, which is a step down from the top 10. It’s an honor just to get honorable mention, but I would love to get in the top 10.”

For tickets to the Gingerbread Gala, call Kirkland at 562-3238 or Luck at 562-5412. The $25 ticket for the fundraiser includes hors d’oeuvres.

Johnson’s gingerbread house also will be on display at Ruth Camp Memorial Library in Franklin from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18. The viewing is free and will include light refreshments.