- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

SULLIVAN, Ill. (AP) - Steve Buxton kept an attentive ear listening for what the first group of visitors to this year’s corn maze had to say about it.

Buxton has been working on the design and layout of the four-acre Ribbon of Hope Corn Maize at Buxton’s Garden and Flower Shop on Illinois 121 near Sullivan since earlier this summer. He wants it to be a fun challenge for those going through and seemed relieved everyone was making it out in a timely fashion without getting lost.

Buxton told them to bring their cellphones along, just in case.

“It’s nice to hear people give feedback,” Buxton said. “There are things we have to do yet and weren’t going to do with the heat. Some things we won’t do until right before it opens.”

Buxton, who retired a couple of years ago as an engineer at AgriFab to focus on running the family business along with his wife, Paula, took an old-fashioned approach to laying out the maze. He began in June by sketching his ideas on a roll of paper and utilized a grid pattern as he shared his ideas with a team of young helpers, who aided in clearing the paths as the corn began to grow.

The maze is like the rest of the business, which Paula Buxton said started in part to provide vacation money for the couple to go with their four daughters.

“We try to do something new or different,” Paula Buxton said. “Every year, we try to improve on things.”

For the Buxtons, this year’s maze is about more than walking through paths cut in a field of corn and not being fooled by dead ends. It represents overcoming personal challenges, including a health scare for Steve Buxton two years ago.

More importantly, he said, the maze is intended in part to support Moultrie County Relay for Life, which raises money for the American Cancer Society. A group of volunteers, with most wearing purple shirts, gathered on an August evening to stretch out a ribbon while an aerial photo of the maze was taken.

“The ribbon of hope has a little different meaning,” Buxton said while sharing his family’s experiences with cancer.

Many came away excited about what they experienced, hoping others will be able to share in the joy when the maze opens Friday, Sept. 12. It will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through the end of October, sharing the same hours as the rest of the business, Buxton said.

Relay for Life volunteers will help out with the maze on three Saturdays during the fall, including Sept. 20, Oct. 4, and Oct. 18, organizer Diane Waggoner said. A portion of the admission fee on those days will be donated to Relay for Life.

“We’re hoping for a lot of people to show up,” Waggoner said. “It’s not a onetime thing.”

The group is starting its fundraising efforts earlier than normal, as the main Relay for Life event is held in June. More than $60,000 was raised for the cause last year in Moultrie County, said Alicia Pettyjohn, an American Cancer Society regional representative from its Champaign office.

Pettyjohn said the corn maze seemed like a creative approach to fundraising, and groups that show the most creativity tend to raise more money.

“We don’t have to go around town asking for five, 10 dollars at a time,” Waggoner said. “Everyone can come out and have fun.”

The charitable theme is being extended in other areas around the farm, including growing Porcelian Dolls, or pink pumpkins. A portion of sales from each of those pumpkins will be donated to support cancer research, Buxton said.

The event with Relay for Life was the first time Buxton said such a kickoff gathering was held for the corn maze. He has taken great pride in its design in order for it to be ready to open, something that hasn’t happened in the past few years.

“A project like this takes a lot of time,” Buxton said. “We have a 6-week window and that’s it.”

Each year it opens, Buxton hopes the maze will be something like what visitors have never seen before.

The corn has to grow just right, and Buxton said the weather cooperated this summer, as it shot up so even he can’t see over it. And at 6 fee, 7 inches tall, the former football player is taller than most people.

Buxton was asked for his advice in getting through the maze. He seemed only half joking that those finding the aerial picture of the maze on their phone would be in the best shape.

“It’s that good of a maze,” he said.

While Buxton needed help along the way in creating it, no one else was allowed in the maze after the paths were cut. He wanted to close it off to add a few surprises.

Until it opens, Buxton said a few more changes could be made.

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Online: (Decatur) Herald and Review, https://bit.ly/1p7bmvg

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Information from: Herald & Review, https://www.herald-review.com

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