Eric's Heroes: The Cake Lady of Lynnwood feeds her firefighter family
LYNNWOOD, Wash. -- Tanya Rae Piper is a stylist at Salon Zuberenz in Lynnwood. She works there five days a week, and her clients will tell you she's caring and hard-working and engaging.
But most of them probably don't know the half of it. There's this other thing that Tanya does away from the salon.
When she leaves the salon and goes to the home she shares with her mom, Jan, Tanya doesn't even slow down. On this night she was baking a couple cakes for some friends.
One was chocolate-peanut butter, the other was a coffee cake.
She was a blur of motion, cracking eggs and dumping flour and working the KitchenAid mixer the way YoYo Ma works a cello.
Tanya knows better than most that when you bake a cake for a person, it's because you care.
"Every time I make a cake for anybody," she says, "it's my way of loving people. And I think that's what we're supposed to do, is love people."
These cakes were for some friends who work at Lynnwood Fire Station 15.
She dropped them off the next morning on her way to work.
Firefighters Jason Turner, Dave Mathews and Dan Grentier had big smiles on their faces when she presented her homemade treats. Why wouldn't they?
Tanya certainly does know her way around a kitchen. In fact, just a few days before that she was busy making an cheesecake for her friend, Danni.
"This one is Oreo cookies," she says, as she stirs her bowl of goodness with a wooden spatula, "so I have crushed Oreos for crust."
And there she was again the next morning, pulling into the parking lot behind Station 15, and walking with a plastic container to the back door of the station.
Danni is a rookie on the department, and she was there waiting at the door with a smile on her face.
"Hi!" said Danni.
"Happy birthday!" said Tanya, and the two of them exchanged a hug.
This time Tanya stopped in to spend a few minutes with the gang.
"Hi guys," she said as she walked in, and she was greeted with cheers by the 12 or so firefighters who were gathered in the kitchen area.
One of 'em said, "Is this as good as the last one?"
Tanya smiled, "This one might be better... Oreo cookie cheesecake."
And all 12 of them spontaneously erupted in a long, "Oooooohhhhh..." as though a magician had just performed an amazing feat of magic.
Tanya just grinned.
After they sang Happy Birthday to Danni they cut up the cheesecake and dug right in. It was 9:30 AM.
Tanya pointed out that she rarely actually sees anybody eat her cakes. "I usually just drop and run."
Between bites Danni paid Tonya the highest compliment you'll ever hear in a firehouse. "You hear that the firefighter services are a brotherhood or a family," she said, "and she's a part of it."
She pointed over at Tanya. The other guys nodded their approval.
Back at home in the kitchen just a few days later, Tanya was busy baking yet again.
"You know, this fireman wants cookies. He doesn't want cake. So they get what they want." She was holding a list of names and dates.
She apparently feels a little guilty when she makes cookies instead of a cake, so she made two batches: M&M cookies and Snickerdoodles.
You see, Tanya Rae Piper bakes cakes or cookies or pies for every single firefighter at Station 15 on their birthdays.
And every E.M.T.
And every administrator.
To prove it, she holds up a color-coded page with shifts and schedules. There are 68 names on the page, and every one of them gets something from Tanya on their birthday.
"Tomorrow is Jeremy Kinery," she says.
For the Lynnwood Cake Lady, it all started at church. Members were asked to recognize first responders in some way.
Tanya had been baking cakes for the girls at Salon Zuberenz for a while. "There's 20 of us," she explains, "and you know, women love eating cakes, but then they get mad that you bring it ... we're always trying to lose weight."
So, she thought, why not adopt a fire station for a year and bake them cakes? "What better place to bake cakes than for a house full of men," she says.
So she did it for a year. Sixty-eight cakes.
And after that year, she remembers thinking, "I can't stop now. It's just too rewarding."
So she bakes cakes for another year. And then another.
She's been baking those 68 cakes a year for six years now, the seventh starts in September, and she's still going strong.
It's an impressive streak. When she goes on vacation or leaves town, she pre-bakes the cakes and freezes them, and arranges for somebody to drop them by the station for her.
One firefighter, Devon Ogurkow, had his shift change right before his birthday. His cake arrived, but he wasn't there. The guys who were working that day ate all of his cake except for one piece, and sent him a picture of it.
When Tanya asked Devon how he liked his cake, he had to admit that he didn't even get any. So Tanya made him ANOTHER cake, and took it to the correct shift.
The Cake Lady of Lynnwood takes her work very seriously.
And the firefighters adore her for it. She has become something of a legend around Station 15.
Battalion Chief Mike Vanderpoel says, "She's been coming in here doing this every month and we are all so amazed.."
Devon Ogurkow says, "You know it's really nice to have someone who really thinks about everybody."
One time all of them got together and had an apron made for her. It has the firefighter's logo, and it says, "Lynnwood Cake Lady" on it. She wears it often.
And on another day they invited her to come to the station for lunch. And while she was there they presented her with the Lynnwood firefighter's "challenge coin."
That day was important for Tanya. "That hit me the most in the heart, because I was invited into their family now."
And still, even after six years and 400 cakes there is the question of, "Why?" All that time, all that energy, all that money...
"It's just cake," Tanya said, when pressed.
But she knew that wasn't enough of an answer. So she said, "It's just because they are selfless and they are awesome, you know?"
On one of the mornings we visited, the firefighters stood in line to give her hugs. One after another.
It is kindness simply for the sake of kindness. No string attached.
She honors them, and they honor her, too, by welcoming her into their world.
The firefighters at Station 15 know what Tanya has always known: When you bake a cake for a person, it's because you care.
Editor's Note: "Eric's Heroes" is a weekly series airing every Wednesday on KOMO News in the 6 p.m. newscast. If you have a good story about a good person doing good things for the right reasons, share it with Eric by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.