Thompson ‘reigns’ as state welding champion

Suzette Lowe
Rayne Thompson’s welded wedding cake earned her a gold medal at the WV SkillsUsa Competition.

Rayne Thompson, a Ripley High School senior, recently won a gold medal in welding sculpture at the West Virginia SkillsUSA competition.

There are a couple of factors that make this accomplishment unique for the Roane-Jackson Technical Center student.

The most obvious is Thompson’s gender. It is still rare for girls to take welding classes at the center.

“I only know of two other females taking welding at the technical center,” said Thompson. “I would love to see more women in the field.”

The second factor was her choice of subject.

“My welding instructor, Robert Greene, thought I was a little crazy when I told him I wanted to make a wedding cake,” Thomason said.

The inspiration for this unusual model can be traced back to two former instructors. Father and son, Clarence Canterbury and Craig Canterbury, each had an influence on this welding champion.

Thompson, who had been actively involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA), took fundamentals of agriculture mechanics to the younger Canterbury in her sophomore year. Her teacher saw potential in her and encouraged her to pursue welding.

“He knew my interest in baking too and he’d say, ‘It’s just like decorating a cake, only with metal,’” recalled Thompson.

Her junior year brought her in to contact with the elder Canterbury.

“Mr. Clarence Canterbury was my culinary arts instructor in my junior year,” Thompson said. “As part of his ProStart program, I learned to enhance my baking skills. Knowing my connection to his son, he’d say, ‘It’s just like welding but with icing’.”

Thompson was hoping to compete in WV SkillsUSA baking that year, but COVID-19 put a stop to that.

“I really wanted a chance to take Mr. Canterubry to national competition, especially since he was retiring,” she said.

When it came time to finally compete this year, Thompson had the idea of honoring her teacher by combining two things she loved, baking and welding.

Thompson said the design was not easy to accomplish. She explained that the basic structure was not too difficult, but she had to learn to use the bender when making the base. Different sized pipe was needed for the next layers. Many designs were tried and discarded until she found ‘one that stuck.’

At the state contest in March, Thompson said the judges were extremely impressed with her design, awarding it a gold medal. This placement allows her to go on to the national competition this summer.

“One of them said that in 15 years of judging, he had never seen a wedding cake welding design,” she said. “They were stunned by the five different welding and cutting techniques I used.”

One judge had a similar experience as Thompson when it came to cake design.

“Just like me, he had seen his mother making hundreds of cakes,” she said. “I grew up seeing my two grandmothers and my father cook and bake all the time. I have created a lot of cakes, many for 4-H projects. My favorite, even though I did better designs in my ProStart classes, was a flag cake that I won grand prize and best of county fair.”

As far as her future, Thompson said she plans on attending Pierpont Career Technical College for the baking and pastry arts program.

“I also plan to look for an apprenticeship in welding,” she said.