Marlene Spiegel remembers going to get ice cream with her father once a week during the summer at the local Dairy Queen when she was just five years old. It was a great way to celebrate the end of a long, cold Pennsylvania winter.
Chocolate soft serve swirled in a cone was Spiegel’s favorite. And while eating the cool, sweet treat she would sing the fast food chain’s catchy jingle: “I want a bee and a by and a bow and a bop. Gee that’s Dairy Queen with a curl on top.”
“What I remember most about those times was that everyone sat at picnic tables, happily interacting while enjoying their ice cream,” Spiegel said. “People of all ages, lifestyles and cultures were smiling and licking their cones.”
Those images stayed in Spiegel’s mind as she dreamed of having a life where she could “sell ice cream” and make everyone happy. But as it sometimes does, her life took a completely different path. She went on to start an industrial construction company, and after five years of hard work and success she negotiated a buyout with a national company. Over the next 20 years, she worked her way up the ladder to become one of the top senior managers in the organization.
While Spiegel had reached the pinnacle of success, in her heart she knew it was not the final step in her career path. “Throughout my career, when we’d have management meetings, we would share our dreams,” Spiegel recalled. “Mine was always the same: I want to sell ice cream. I want to be instrumental in making people smile.”
While the term “selling ice cream” became Marlene’s moniker for her dream life, it would take three personal tragedies and years of soul-searching for her to finally find her happy place.
Coming from an Italian household, a lot of Spiegel’s happy memories revolved around food. “On Sunday morning, my mom would make pasta from scratch and my father would start the sauce, meatballs and wedding soup. Friends and relatives would stop for an afternoon dinner knowing there was always an open invitation,” she said. “People were smiling while eating and chatting with one another.”
During a college spring break, Spiegel recalls when she and two friends decided to go to New York City. During their stay, a priest who officiated at one of her college retreats and also happened to live in the city, offered to be a tour guide during their trip. He suggested they go to Aqueduct racetrack.
Upon arriving at the track, the eager young women pooled their money and reviewed the racing form. Spiegel was designated to select the horse for the next race. She scanned the form and selected a horse appropriately named Cherry Sundae.
“Of course, I liked the name. Father Kelleher stated it would take a miracle for the horse to even get out of the gate. The odds were 99-to-one for the horse to win. But I strongly urged him to have faith and bet the horse to win,” Spiegel said.
The priest gave in and put $5 dollars on Cherry Sundae to win. To everyone’s surprise, except Spiegel’s, the horse won the race. The long shot paid for dinner, a Broadway show and an ice cream nightcap at the Copter Club on top of the Pan Am building. “Once again, my pleasant day started and ended with ice cream,” she said.
Through the years, Spiegel toyed with the idea of opening an ice cream parlor, but unlike her horse, Cherry Sundae, she never got out of the gates. So she continued on her path to success and put her dreams aside.
Then tragedy struck. The woman who seemed to have it all was bitten by a deadly brown recluse spider. While hospitalized, Spiegel had to make immediate tough decisions on whether or not to have her swollen infected leg amputated. Making the wrong decision could ultimately result in the loss of her life.
Instead of amputation, Spiegel bravely chose to take a high dosage of antibiotics, and pulled through the ordeal. After 10 grueling weeks, she was back on track with her corporate career.
“I thought this was a time for appreciation for what I had, not what I wanted,” Spiegel said. So once again she placed her ice cream dream on the back burner.
A couple of years later, Spiegel was hit by tragedy number two: an automobile accident that badly injured her shoulder. Her doctor told her it would be four to six months before she could return to work.
“During my healing time, I truly started to dwell on my dreams. I told the president of the company, I don’t think I’m coming back. He replied, ‘You’ll be back.'”
And Spiegel admits he was probably right at the time, but before she could return to work her third medical trauma materialized: she was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the next few years as she fought the disease, she knew she would not return to her corporate job.
“Between operations, I was aggressively looking for my ice cream,” Spiegel said. “I knew it was now or never.”
While recovering from her treatments, she met with culinary school administrators. But decided she didn’t want to be a chef. She considered starting a company packaging her ethic food products. But that didn’t seem to fit either.
Then in 2004, while attending the Southern Women’s Show in Orlando, FL, Spiegel spotted the demonstration display of a food company called Wildtree. “I could smell the flavors of the samples they displayed. I went over to get a taste. It was crowded and everyone seemed to like it.”
While she admits she is not a “buffet person” and is “finicky about people touching my food,” she began making her way through the line to sample some of the jalapeño dip.
“I glanced up and saw a recruiting sign. I was sold.” Was this my ice cream? she wondered. After making her way around the booth so she could reach one of the product demonstrators, she dug out her credit card and told the representative she wanted to be a representative.
“I began asking: ‘How much is the investment? Can I take home a starter kit today?’ I told her I would be back at the end of the day and pick it up. As I walked away, I knew I had found my ice cream,” Spiegel remembers.
In fact, Spiegel was so excited and sure about the venture that she went back to the show on Saturday and Sunday to work in the company’s tasting booth. “I knew this would help me to learn all I could about the products,” she said.
Today, along with her dream team fittingly called The Cherry Sundaes, Spiegel is a top representative for Wildtree, a company that sells and distributes healthy food products through home parties called “tastings.”
Through her love of food, she creates recipes with the various spices, sauces and mixes the company offers, and even does her own online cooking videos to help others prepare her favorite dishes.
“Each day, I am thankful for my friends and family, at home and at Wildtree, but also for this opportunity to be able to follow my dreams,” Spiegel said.
After three strikes, Spiegel had hit a home run, won the race and found her ice cream all at the same time. “I always knew my dreams would some day lead me back to the kitchen,” she said with a smile. “I just never knew how.”
Find out more about Marlene and Wildtree at facebook.com/WildtreeMarlene.