By Marci Narum | Photography: Photos by Jacy
It’s supposed to be her day off, but Annie (Hummel) Iron Necklace is at her bakery on a Monday afternoon baking 1,500 cookies. She will prepare two more of these weekly special orders for the Bismarck Larks baseball games—on top of her daily baking and lunch menu at Sweet Treats Bakery in downtown Bismarck. Good thing Annie has good employees and good friends to help her on days like this. Her tears reflect her gratitude.
Unassuming, humble, and earnest, Annie says despite the hard work and long hours that come with owning a bakery, it has always been her dream. She points to the words on the T-shirt she’s wearing: Don’t Quit Your Daydream.
“I knew at a very young age what I wanted to do, that I wanted to be a chef,” Annie shares. “I went to culinary school in Scottsdale, Arizona when I was 18. It’s a Le Cordon Bleu school now. Right out of school, I was hired by chef Christopher Gross, who at the time was one of the top 10 chefs in the nation. He still has a restaurant in the Phoenix area, and he is basically a household name. He’s an amazing chef. I worked for him for about six years.”
When Chris had taught her everything he knew about pastries, he encouraged Annie to advance her skills by working alongside a pastry chef. Annie found JoAnne Berg, a pastry chef with a wholesale bakery in Tempe, Arizona.
“She did everything from little mini pastries up to big wedding cakes, everything. And I learned a ton of stuff from her. Ever since then, I’ve just been baking.”
Preparing sweets had become Annie’s specialty. Life was good for her in Phoenix, so the 24-year-old wasn’t prepared to taste the bitterness it was about to serve her: the death of her father in January of 1994.
It was the first major loss Annie had experienced, and when she returned to Phoenix after the funeral, she didn’t know how to cope.
“I felt lonely and abandoned. I didn’t have anyone, and I found comfort in substances. I did okay I think for a couple of years, but then I started dabbling a little bit in meth and other drugs.”
Annie became addicted to meth, and she was involved with a man who was dealing drugs. He was violent, controlling, and abusive. Annie finally reached out to her family for help.
“For the next three years I was in and out of treatment centers and stopped working in the restaurant business. I was just bartending, and I kept relapsing. I kept going back to that guy, and nothing really got better.”
Annie moved back to Bismarck in 1999 to live with her mom, hoping to escape her lifestyle and addiction. Instead, she began the next long, painful chapter of her life: arrests, drug charges, and prison.
“I kept getting out and going back to it. I would do okay for a couple of months and then go back to it. I had a really hard time staying clean.”
Between 2000 and 2013, Annie served 11 years in state and federal prisons in North Dakota, Texas, and Minnesota. While serving time at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas, Annie reached a turning point. She attended worship for the first time in several years.
“I went to Catholic church, and they started singing. I started crying, and I think I cried through the whole service. All that ugliness came out of me,” Annie says, tears rolling down her face. “Everything I kept bottled up—all that toxic, gross poison came out of my body. That’s how it felt.”
Until then, Annie thought she would always be a junkie, and she accepted it as her fate. But being back in church gave her the clarity she needed to believe she could turn her life around.
“I started exercising and eating better. I started going to church faithfully and reading my Bible and talking to God more. Having a strong faith really helped me.”
Annie says while she was locked up, she also attended programs that would help her get better—self-awareness, abuse, and grief classes.
“I was just sick of it. I was so tired of living that way. My mom. I put her through a lot.” Annie wipes tears from her face.
“She did put me through a lot,” says Mary Ann Carlson, as she recalls those difficult years. “There was a time I turned her in, and she was very angry with me, which is understandable in her situation at the time. But I never gave up hope. Your child is your child. And there is always hope. I just always prayed and hoped, and there were so many people praying for Annie. I think that’s part of the blessing of her life.
Mary Ann considers Mo Schmidt another one of her daughter’s blessings. Owner of the Bistro in Bismarck, Mo hired Annie to be his pastry chef, and he gave Annie a second chance—many times over.
“When I got in trouble, every time I got out, he would hire me back,” Annie shares. “He really liked the work I did. Mo let me write my own recipes and put my own items on the menu and do my own specials. Some people would call and see what the dessert specials were and just come in for desserts sometimes. This last time I got out, having been gone for eight or nine years, he hired me back again. But he told me I couldn’t mess up this time, or I would be gone. I told him that I really changed this time.”
Annie became the owner of Sweet Treats in October 2016. Working long hours and baking 125 dozen cookies on her days off have been tough, but she wouldn’t trade those hours for what were her toughest years.
“I definitely want people to know there is such an amazing life out here, and it’s worth living. Don’t give up. I know a lot of hopeless addicts out there who think there is nothing better for them, but there is. I know how hard it is. I’ve been there. But it’s not impossible.”
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