Thursday, September 20, 2018 Elyria 80°
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Sunflowers bloom early in Maria's Field of Hope in Avon

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    Audrey Stewart, of Cleveland, spent time at Maria’s Field of Hope off Jaycox Road in Avon on Monday. She was taking pictures of her children, Harry Stewart, 2, Francis Stewart, 9 months, and Jack Stewart, 4.

    BRUCE BISHOP / CHRONICLE

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AVON — Much to the residents’ and volunteers’ surprise, the sunflowers in Maria’s Field of Hope bloomed about a month early this year, filling the approximately 25-acres next to Jaycox Road with the swaying, 5-foot-tall flowers.

Normally, the field blooms mid-September or so, but due to weather patterns the flowers opened early this year. The field is expected to be in full bloom by as early as this weekend, co-founder Megan McNamara said, and will last roughly three weeks.

“We had it all planned out — we’re going to this on this date and that on that date — but you know what, tell God your plans and what happens?” she laughed. “So we respect that, and we honor that and we’re good with that. If He wanted them to bloom now, now is when they need to be blooming.”

The field is run by the Prayers From Maria Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, founded by Ed and Megan McNamara following their daughter Maria’s death in 2007 from a glioma, an aggressive and often deadly tumor. The field is in memory of Maria — and her love of sunflowers — and is a way to bring awareness to other children fighting cancer, according to Megan McNamara.

“It was (Maria’s) simple love and kindness for other people that inspired us to want to help kids that are going through what she went through and to see if we could just make a dent in this research that’s needed for these kids.”

Dotting the field are roughly 40 signs, each for a child who has died from cancer. Families can submit the children’s names and pictures on the foundation’s website to be included in the signs and on the foundation’s “memorial wall.” Recently, it added a “Friends of our Field” section to its website, honoring adults who have died from cancer as well.

Since its inception, the field has become a tradition for some families. Dana McNulty, of Elyria, brought her twin daughters Teagan and Kendall, 6, to the field for family pictures, happy the flowers were open so soon.

“I was actually kind of surprised, but it was a good surprise,” Dana McNulty said. “We’ve had so much rain, so I was happy because last year we didn’t get a chance to come because it was such a dry summer that I feel like they didn’t bloom as good as they normally do.”

Bill and Charmaine Riccio, of Rocky River, also were surprised at the early blooms. The pair walked carefully through the field, something Charmaine Riccio said she thoroughly enjoyed, as she wasn’t able to last year.

“I was in a wheelchair last year,” she said. “So I couldn’t get too far to see it, but this year (I’ve) been really excited. I just love the flowers, I’ve been coming ever since they started.”

They both think the field is “just beautiful,” and hope to see the field again next year — as it may be moving as construction encroaches.

“I wish I knew someone that had some land that could let them use it,” Bill Riccio said. “I can see this being developed real fast.”

McNamara said the foundation would like to keep the field in Avon, but is open to moving elsewhere if land is available or donated to it. She said they have looked at staying at their current location, if the land is not developed next year. Currently, visitors to the field will have to contend with construction vehicles as the city’s new Planet Fitness is built on Jaycox Road.

But whether the field stays, moves or ends, McNamara said the field has become a destination greater than her and her husband ever imagined.

“It’s really become a place that’s so much greater than what we started off with and people come here, not because they have children with cancer — some come for that reason, some come because they’re mourning a loved one, or they bring their loved one who’s fighting in a battle with a disease,” she said. “There’s lots of reasons people come down to the field and there’s a lot of beautiful life moments for why people come down to the field, and I think that’s what really makes this place so special.”

“You don’t want to see something like that come to an end, but in the same sense, I feel like if it’s meant to continue on, it will,” she said later.

The field is open to the public anytime, and peak blooms are expected within the next week or so. The foundation’s ice cream wagon will be at the field every weekend through the end of the season, along with the organization’s shop, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The field is free to visit, though donations are accepted. Checks should be made payable to the Prayers from Maria Foundation, with all proceeds benefitting childhood cancer research. For more information, including upcoming events at the field, visit prayersfrommaria.org.

Contact Carissa Woytach at (440) 329-7245 or cwoytach@chroniclet.com.


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