Saturday, July 17, 2004

Cindy Schmuelling Bake-Off finalist

She delayed cancer surgery to enter

By Chuck Martin
Enquirer staff writer

INDEPENDENCE - Many will remember Cindy Schmuelling for bravely postponing her cancer surgery in order to bake cookies at the 2002 Pillsbury Bake-Off in Orlando, Fla.

But friends and family remember her more for the way she touched others with her sweet innocence and kindness.

"Cindy always cared so much for other people," says her husband, Ray. "When we'd go to the doctor's office, she was always more concerned about other people in the waiting room."

After a seven-year battle with cancer, Ms. Schmuelling died July 9. She was 43.

Growing up in West Chester, Ms. Schmuelling learned to cook from her grandmother. In 2001, friends finally convinced the dental assistant to enter the prestigious Bake-Off, which offers a $1 million grand prize. In November of that year, Ms. Schmuelling found out she qualified as one of the 100 Bake-Off finalists with her recipe for milk chocolate butterscotch cafe cookies. Two weeks later, a doctor told her ovarian cancer had returned in the form of a tumor in her liver. But Ms. Schmuelling was determined to compete.

"Part of me wonders if I'll ever have this chance again," she said at the time.

While undergoing chemotherapy, Ms. Schmuelling convinced her doctor and husband to postpone surgery until after the Bake-Off, in February 2002.

"She was really worried about wearing her hairpiece (the chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out) that day at the Bake-Off," says Susan Runkle, formerly of Walton now living in Summerfield, Fla., and who also cooked in the competition. "She joked that it might catch fire if she got too close to the stove."

Amy Southerland devoted nearly a chapter of her book, Cookoff: Recipe Fever in America, to Ms. Schmuelling's appearance at the 2002 Bake-Off. "She was a great story for me as a writer," says Southerland, a native Cincinnatian who lives in Boston. "But I just felt privileged to know her."

Ms. Schmuelling cried when she didn't win the Bake-Off, and vowed to enter again this year. Her illness prevented her from keeping that promise, but she continued to cook for her husband until a few weeks before her death. Her food was an expression of love.

"Cindy was really low-key," says Ray. "But she was bigger than life."

In addition to her husband, survivors include a brother, Scott Gateff of Mason.

Private services will be Monday in White Oak.


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