Indiana State University Newsroom

Professor’s gingerbread house benefits families in need

December 15, 2010

Jim Speer has built gingerbread houses since childhood. His latest creation went to a good cause.

Speer, associate professor of earth and environmental systems at Indiana State, spent a weekend building an edible replica of Hogwarts, the wizardry school from "Harry Potter." Speer, though, doesn't eat his creations.

"I really don't want to eat entire gingerbread houses every year," Speer said. "So I try to find somewhere to pass them on."

A student in his dendrochronology lab suggested donating the Hogwarts replica to Bethany House. The organization operates through Catholic Charities of Terre Haute and provides safe shelter, meals and clothes to families in need.

"That seemed like a good fit since it works with women and children," Speer said.

Bethany House received the donation last week - on the condition it would be eaten. The organization gave Hogwarts to the Ryves Youth Center preschool, where children planned to have it for a snack, said Dottie Crippen, director of Bethany House.

Crippen said the Bethany House staff and the pre-school children admired the edible academy.

"When something brightens your day like the gingerbread house, it's just phenomenal," she said.

The recipe for the gingerbread Hogwarts came from Speer's mother, who found it in Sweden. During the course of 25 hours, he made dough from scratch, melted granulated sugar to glue the pieces together, and made a box to use as the base for the house. Cocoa Rice Krispie treats created a basalt rock-like cliff face.

Hogwarts contains stained glass windows that Speer formed by melting Jolly Rancher candies and stringing white holiday lights into the house. Speer created trees from inverted ice cream cones that were decorated with green icing.

Speer said he had to measure the dimensions of his home's front door to make sure he could get the gingerbread house outside.

Speer's students suggested the "Harry Potter" theme.

"Everyone has been excited about the release of the new Hogwarts movie," he said.

Students and friends of Speer celebrated semester's end by gathering in the dendrochronology lab to decorate Hogwarts and smaller gingerbread houses representing Hogsmeade Village.

Adriahnna Lehman, a sophomore human and environmental systems major from Clinton, and Dorothy Rosene, a senior human and environmental systems major from Terre Haute, attached Neco Wafers to the roof of The Hog's Head pub.

"This is actually my first gingerbread house ever," Lehman said. "So I hope it goes well."

Robyn Morton, president of Terre Foods, a local food co-operative and friend of Speer, brought her children to help decorate.

"The Harry Potter theme, it was genius," Morton, a self-described huge Potter fan, said. "I don't think I would have suggested it if I had thought of it."

Three years ago, the Speers and Mortons sold gingerbread houses as a fundraiser for Terre Foods during the Christmas Walk event in Collett Park.

The families have been building the houses ever since.

"I hope we get to keep doing it just because my children love it," Morton said.

Students and community members gather to decorate Hogwarts Castle made out of gingerbread. ISU Photo/ Tony Campbell

Andrea Molina, a Terre Haute resident, places icing along the roof of gingerbread house. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Adriahnna Lehman, Dorothy Rosene, Jim Speer, and Brian Morton help decorate gingerbread houses students. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Alex and Ian Morton examine a gingerbread house they plan to decorate with their father Brian Morton. ISU Photo/Tony Campbell

Gingerbread house lit up with lights.

Contact: Jim Speer, associate professor, earth and environmental systems; 812-237-3011 or

Writer: Nick Hedrick, media relations assistant, Indiana State University, Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or