Xavier Magazine

My Momma’s Kitchen: Cake in a Jar

If home is where the heart is, the kitchen is the beating center at least that’s what it’s like at the Spencers’ house in Cincinnati. The kitchen is the center of activity for Naimah and her mother, Vallery.

“In that kitchen I learned so much from her,” Naimah says. “I would do my homework there, share stories about my day. I shed tears in that kitchen. But there was always cooking.”

Naimah has always been enthralled with cooking. It was a passion fueled by her mother and the magic of mealtime. When they went to grocery stores together, Naimah would collect the free recipes they handed out. She even learned to read and write through cooking.

“I would sit next to my mom and write each recipe down,” Naimah says. “I didn’t realize she was just telling me what was on the back of the box. I wrote it anyway. I would say, ‘Mom, I need to save this recipe forever.’”

So it’s no surprise that it was in that kitchen that the online bakery, My Momma’s Kitchen, was born. It happened one day when Vallery decided to make a cake. She and Naimah went through the routine of cooking and sharing stories, but the cake turned out to be something else—dark chocolate cake, cream cheese frosting in the middle and decanted fudge frosting as icing—a three-layer masterpiece.

“As soon as I ate this I thought, ‘What am I doing? I could be a baker. Mom we could do this together!”’ Naimah says.

Vallery hesitated, but Naimah welcomed the challenge. With Naimah’s experience as a 2012 Xavier business graduate majoring in Entrepreneurial Studies, and Vallery’s skills in the kitchen, Naimah knew they could be a success. Together the mother-daughter team dove into the business of baking. And through trial and error, they discovered the best way to ship a cake was in a glass jar. A very small, just-the-right-size-for-dessert kind of jar. Now the Cake-in-a-Jar is their flagship item.

A pack of four begins at $35. “It’s not just a cake in a jar,” Naimah says. “It’s the best-cake-you’ll-eat—in a jar. It’s the best-experience-you’ll-have—in a jar.”

Naimah and Vallery also make cookies, brownies and traditional layer cakes. Working up to 12 or more hours a day, they keep the bakery running. And growing. My Momma’s Kitchen is on Facebook and Etsy as mymommaskitchen, and they’re thinking about bringing the business to local farmers markets and some day opening a real store.

Sometimes they also create baked gifts and wedding favors. Other times it’s just so someone can have a little taste of home. Because at the center of everything is family, home—and a kitchen.

LEARN MORE about My Momma’s Kitchen and buy your own Cake-in-a-Jar at their website.

Xavier Magazine

MyHusbandsTumor.Com: Love Goes Viral

When her husband, Aaron, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Nora McInerny Purmort, a 2005 Xavier graduate, started recording their story on a blog. She later used it to update friends and family. By the time Aaron Purmort died last November, thousands were following their love story online, and his obituary was featured on NPR, Huffington Post and other sites.

The blog,, is a raw, charming, painful and often hilarious look at a marriage honed by tragedy. Her husband’s chemotherapy and surgeries, the birth of their child, a miscarriage and eventually her husband’s death—Nora Purmort shared it all, and people from around the world responded with love—on the Internet.

“The Internet is a fickle place. It usually brings out the worst in people, but by and large it has shown me what I’ve always known about people, which is that they want to be a force for good,” says Purmort. “It felt like the whole world was there for us.”

Purmort still hears from people who find themselves in the same situation she was in three and a half years ago, when their ordeal began after he suffered a seizure at work. She helps by posting stories about their fundraisers and sometimes texting total strangers.

Their son, Ralph, will grow up knowing of his parents’ love for each other, and for him, through her writings. Purmort is working on a book. “If even one woman can have something besides statistics to read, it’s worth it.”

Visit the blog at

Xavier Magazine

Improving Life in Togo: Mayo’s Clinic

Rick Mayo keeps a copy of the photo that made him roll up his sleeves and help his church deliver water to a dozen African villages.

In the snapshot, a young girl with captivating eyes squats by a brackish pond, dipping her fingers into water the color of dough.

The pastor of Mayo’s church in Virginia Beach, Va., showed his congregation the picture of Natalie. His eyes teared up. Kovie villagers still were drinking polluted water—even after the church dug a well on an earlier trip.

“We have to do something more,” he said.

The problem was the villagers could not easily get to the new well, and many in the region were still walking 11 kilometers a day for water that was often dirty. So Mayo joined the church’s fourth mission to Kovie last summer, traveling to southern Togo in West Africa. The Spring Branch Community Church had raised $58,000 for a major water project that included a 40,000-gallon water tower, the generator that pumps water to the tower, and pipes to convey the water to Kovie and 11 surrounding villages totaling 27,000 people.

Mayo expected to get his hands dirty on the trip, but villagers had already laid most of the pipe when his team arrived. So he focused on plans for a medical clinic. At a cost of only about $3,000, they had  raised enough for two.

Mayo, 52, credits his desire to help others to two things: his family and Xavier. A 1983 business graduate, he now manages a Raymond James Financial Services branch, but certain Xavier classes launched a lifetime of reflection for him. “The older I get, the more appreciative I am for not just the economics side of it, but the cerebral part of it—philosophy, theology,” he says.

Mayo’s team also brought bags stuffed with about $1,000 worth of toiletries, medications, school books and bibles. They also learned Natalie is an orphan and now pay for her schooling, which along with knowing she has fresh water, is a comfort for Mayo.

Xavier Magazine

Natalia’s Soup

Chemotherapy made Natalia Marsh-Welton feel cold, so when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the girl a wish, her goal was warmth. Not her own, though. Natalia wanted to make homeless people feel warm by giving them soup. And blankets.

Natalia’s soup-and-blankets project was so outstanding that it received the Infinite Wish Award in 2014 from the national Make-A-Wish Foundation, selected from more than 13,000 wishes granted each year. Program manager Kate Donnellon Berliner, a 2003 Xavier graduate in organizational communications, worked on the project with Natalia. They completed it in February, and the award was announced in October—one month before Natalia died, shortly after turning 11.

Natalia’s first wish was to be cured of her brain tumor. When she learned that wasn’t possible, she settled on her love of cooking to make others’ lives better. Berliner helped arrange for Natalia to meet with well-known Cincinnati chef Jean-Robert de Cavel in January, and he helped her create a minestrone soup with a kick of cayenne. Three weeks later, she fed the soup to 200 people at the Drop Inn Center and gave out 500 blankets.

The soup is still served monthly at the shelter, and people now share the recipe using the Twitter hashtag #nataliaswish. You can get the recipe online. “We’ve had people making the soup from as far away as South Africa,” Berliner says.

Berliner learned of the foundation when her younger brother, Andrew, who has a heart condition, was granted a wish to go to Disney World. He’s now the kicker for the football team at Bluffton University. “I love being able to hear stories about how a wish can change a situation that seems hopeless.”

Xavier Magazine

West Nile Survivor: Walking Tall

In August 2012, two months after returning from a trip to South America with his class of Executive MBA students, Jeffrey Daniel was at the halfway mark and looking forward to graduating in May.

But by early September, shortly after classes resumed, Daniel was in a coma, near death and paralyzed. At the hospital, he was put on a ventilator so he could breathe. Doctors concluded the cause was West Nile virus, which he’d apparently picked up from a mosquito bite at home in Cincinnati.

In the following weeks, the weight on his 6’2” frame plunged from 238 pounds to 170. He saw the bones of his legs beneath his skin.

From those depths, however, Daniel showed the physical and spiritual fortitude that had helped him play football at, and graduate from, the U.S. Naval Academy. The strength wasn’t only his, he says. He relied on his wife, his faith, his coworkers from Ethicon, and Xavier’s MBA staff, professors and students for support.

Daniel and his wife, pediatrician Evelyn Jones Daniel, were told that West Nile patients rarely walk again. But that October, he started physical therapy that got him out of bed for daily workouts. He left the hospital two months later determined to resume his former life and his MBA classes. “When I came back from the hospital, I couldn’t remember how to use my cell phone, I couldn’t remember how to use a calculator, but I said, ‘I’m going to go get my MBA.’”

Daniel returned to work and in July, two months after his MBA class had graduated, he returned to Xavier, still in a wheelchair, but ready to resume his studies. His wife drove him each night, but he wheeled himself in and out of class. He did his capstone course last fall, and on Dec. 19, his classmates surprised him with a graduation party.

Daniel, 52, is walking at commencement, which for him is no small task. He progressed to a walker, then a cane and now is walking on his own. He’s working on improving his gait and continues to regain feeling in his legs.

Daniel says earning his MBA from Xavier is his greatest accomplishment. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Xavier, so I feel really honored and blessed to be a Musketeer. It’s something to be really proud of.”