When Niki Hankins was in Utah giving birth to her first child in 2000, she had one request for hospital staff: ice cream. Blue Bell Ice Cream.

A native Texan, Hankins wanted to return home to have her son. Since that wasn't possible, she wanted the next best thing, but the brand was only available locally on the dessert menu at Outback Steakhouse.

"I was really depressed, but soon I would be the happiest mom in the hospital," Hankins wrote in an essay recently chosen from among 1,800 entries as a finalist in Blue Bell Ice Cream's "Do Tell!" contest.

In August, the century-old creamery asked fans, via its website, to submit personal stories about the role Blue Bell has played in their lives. The nine finalists' stories can be found at bluebell.com, where visitors can cast a new vote for their favorite each day. The story earning the most votes by Friday wins a VIP trip to the creamery headquarters in Brenham, Texas, for its writer. Finalists received a year's supply of ice cream.

Only hours after Hankin gave birth to her son, a young woman in an Outback server's uniform, carrying a "strange plastic container," visited her hospital room. The strange container was full of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla ice cream.

"She informed me that a man called the restaurant, spoke with her manager and explained that he had a very dear friend who was having her first child and NEEDED to have some Blue Bell to remind her of home and to give that baby the TRUE taste of Texas," Hankin wrote. "I was so surprised and excited. I immediately took my finger, dipped it in the ice cream and placed it in my newborn's mouth. He hasn't stopped eating Blue Bell since."

Hankins and her family now live in Colorado Springs, where they are grateful to find many of the creamery's offerings available in grocery stores.

"I probably tell this story every couple of months," Hankins said after finding out she was named a finalist. "My son thinks it's so cool so he has to tell everyone the story that the first thing he tasted was Blue Bell."


Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364