- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

MONROE, Wash. (AP) - Ian Locke is practicing for Halloween.

He plans to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters.

“They’ll say ‘trick or treat,’ and then what will you say?” Ian’s mom Deanna Locke asked him.

“Boo,” Ian replied.

The 18-year-old Monroe High School student loves Halloween. Pumpkins are his favorite part. The bigger the pumpkin, the better. His family carves fun patterns into them. This year, they want to carve a Seahawks logo.

When Ian was little, his parents, Deanna and husband Larry Locke, carried him down to pumpkin patches at local farms. Ian has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, but the uneven dirt and mud on a farm isn’t wheelchair friendly.

“We did it as long as we could with a wagon, or we hauled his chair, but it became a dangerous, difficult task,” Deanna Locke said.

She wondered how many other families had run into a similar problem trying to go to pumpkin patches with a loved one who has limited mobility, reported The Daily Herald (https://bit.ly/2e5td8C).

She remembered that the local Fred Meyer, just off U.S. 2 in Monroe, usually has boxes of pumpkins for sale each October. Then, in the winter, the store sets up Christmas trees in the garden center, a paved, covered area attached to the main store that is easy to navigate by wheelchair. She asked managers if they would consider setting up pumpkins in the garden center, similar to the Christmas tree display.

“They just took the idea and ran with it,” Deanna Locke said. “It’s really been amazing.”

Three years after the Monroe Fred Meyer set up its first pumpkin patch, the program has expanded to other stores and inspired a new fall festival.

Every Fred Meyer now has some kind of pumpkin patch display, said Lori Scheller, director of the Monroe store. It became a company-wide program this year, though not all of the patches are as extensive as the one in Monroe. When the store first set up its patch in 2014, Monroe was the only Fred Meyer doing it, Scheller said.

The store celebrated with a pumpkin festival. Workers in costumes handed out cups of hot cocoa, cider or coffee. They helped guests with crafts such as pumpkin painting and cookie decorating. There were tiny pumpkin pie pastries and big apples dipped in caramel. A machine spat out fog. “Monster Mash” played in the background.

Ian and his family came to the festival on a quest for the perfect pumpkin. His parents guided Ian’s blue and green wheelchair - the color of his favorite football team - around the garden center.

The pumpkin patch is scheduled to be open until Oct. 30. Pumpkins are set on the floor and stacked on bales of hay at different heights so anyone can reach. The paths are wide and paved, making them accessible by wheelchair or with a walker or crutches.

“Ian is so proud of how cool it is,” Deanna Locke said. “He loves to hear people get excited.”

The event drew families with young children who headed straight to the craft and cookie tables.

Amaya Vander Meer, 7, painted a cat face onto a pumpkin-shaped piece of orange paper. Her face also was painted, with kitty whiskers on her cheeks. Amaya is a second-grade student at Sultan Elementary School. Though she loves cats, she wants to carve a wolf face into her pumpkin because “wolves are cousins to dogs and puppies.”

Her favorite parts of the pumpkin patch were cookie decorating, painting and petting a pony. Joni Osborn, of Honeydew Ranch, brought 6-month-old Streaker to the event. The miniature pony is being trained as a therapy and service animal.

Deanna Locke steered Ian over to pet Streaker.

“We’ve always been parents who believe our son should have every opportunity anyone else has,” she said. “We go camping. We go boating. And we love pumpkin patches.”

The Lockes took their time selecting a pumpkin, pausing to say hello to visitors or grab a snack. Ian wanted coffee, his favorite drink.

Around noon, they narrowed the search to a few big orange pumpkins clustered on a bale of hay toward the front of the garden center. Larry Locke waited on a decision by his son before getting a cart to haul away their pumpkin. Through gestures, nods and a few words, Ian communicated his preference to his mom.

“All right,” she told her husband. “Ian wants the biggest pumpkin.”

___

Information from: The Daily Herald, https://www.heraldnet.com

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