Tragic loss brings reinvention

An MCCC student and his family opened a new corn maze this fall.

Annette Heck and her three children, Chris, Ethan, and Emma, have worked for a year to get their “Heck of a Corn Maze ” and country store ready for people to enjoy.

Ethan is a student at MCCC who is interested in studying accounting and possibly agriculture.  He helped his older brother, Chris plant and grow the corn.  The brothers also helped in cutting the maze. 

After the maze is closed, Chris and Ethan will harvest the corn used in the maze.

Ethan did most of the weeding to get it ready.

“I did quite a bit of work over the summer,” Ethan said.

He didn’t have a job in the summer, so his focus was helping with the farm.

Ethan’s older brother, Chris, is a student at Michigan State University who wants to study crop and soil science.

Their younger sister, Emma, goes to Monroe High School and is interested in agriculture and working with animals.

Annette and her children decided to open a corn maze to earn money and keep their family involved in agriculture after their family was struck with tragedy.

“It started because my husband had cancer and died, and I had to find a way to support my family,” she said.

“I said to my girlfriend, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’  She said you’re going to have to reinvent yourself.”

At that point Annette started researching niche-farming practices.

The Hecks own 35 acres of land and decided they have a good location for a corn maze. 

 “We did a lot of research and I have received a lot of advice,” Annette said.

Running a corn maze became their niche.

“With all the kids interested in agriculture, this is a way for them to follow in their dad’s footsteps,” she said.

Her family utilized the time they could to work at their fall attraction.

Annette had to plan it around her part-time job.  She drives a school bus for Monroe Public Schools, but she was concerned about having less of an income because some of her hours were getting cut.

The hours she does not spend driving a school bus allow her to have enough time to run the farm.

 “Time was something I was concerned about,” Annette said. “On Fridays I get up at 5 a.m. and get done out here at about midnight.”

She also learned more ways to support her family by taking classes at MCCC. The classes were each seven or eight weeks long.

“Taking a series of business classes at the college helped me a lot.  It was very helpful in giving me an overview of the different aspects of running a business,” Annette said.

Her family understands the importance of being able to make money, she said.

“There are so many people without jobs.  We are in a recession if not a depression,” Annette said.

However, Annette found there is a lot of work that goes into creating a corn maze.

To get their maze started, the Hecks had to decide who would design it and how they could cut it out.

The maze was designed locally by Ron George, of Ron George and Consultants and Rob Tieffer.

To cut the maze out of the corn, the Hecks used a GPS system.  They had the help of a friend who used a tractor and a six-foot wide Rota tiller to cut out the maze, while the corn was at knee height.

“It is a lot more work than anyone could imagine,” Annette said.

The maze was designed, cut, and weeded.  It ended up being 8.5 acres long.

It takes most people about 1.5 hours to get through.

Ethan got a chance to see the corn maze and their 35 acres of land from above.  He went up in Mark Metz’s plane and admired the design of the maze.

“It was extremely accurate,” Ethan said.  “It looked basically exact.”

Ethan is enrolled in 10 credit hours at MCCC and has managed schoolwork and taking care of the farm.

“It’s been somewhat difficult. The time issue is the biggest thing,” he said. “I make sure I stay ahead with my homework.”

Ethan gave one perspective on how much effort his family has put into the corn maze and country store.

“I have to make sure that I’m always doing something instead of just staying inside and sitting around,” he said.

Despite all of the extra work, the Hecks enjoy making other people happy by providing entertainment for them and their families.

“The people you meet who really enjoy going through it makes it fun,” Ethan said.

The Hecks have met many people through their fall attraction.

“The people are my favorite part of the corn maze,” Annette said.

She added that she especially enjoys the idea of letting children see the farm.

Since her noon time run as a bus driver was cut, Annette said she has more time during the day.  Because of this extra time, she is offering a chance for elementary school students to go on field trips to her corn maze.

“I want to give kids an opportunity to experience coming to a farm and I also want to leave a legacy for my own kids,” she said.

The Hecks are planning for the future and looking forward to how their corn maze and country store could grow.

“I’m also a spinner and weaver.  I would like to set up an area where I can do demonstrations,” Annette said.

 “We are looking at ways to improve.  What else can we offer?  How can we utilize the space that we have here?”

She explained that they would continue to work year-round even though the season for their corn maze is only seven weeks long.

On Halloween, the last day of the season, the corn maze will offer more scares than just the possibility of getting lost in corn stalks. Annette said that it would be considered more of a haunted corn maze that Saturday night.  When asked what that could mean, she laughed a menacing cackle and said:

“You’ll have to come and see!”

She added that the corn maze will be haunted for two or three other Saturday nights this month, but that she was not certain of the exact dates yet.  When the dates are decided, they will be posted on the corn maze Web site, heckofacornmaze.com.

One happy customer, Chris Sowa, and her family enjoyed their afternoon at the farm.

“It was great,” she said. 

Chris, her husband, and their two young children enjoyed collecting colorful popsicle sticks at each of the 10 checkpoints within the maze. 

Collecting all 10 meant they could enter a raffle for a gift card from Super Wal-Mart.

“I thought the popsicle sticks were a great idea,” Chris said.  “It really kept the kids interested.”

So far the Hecks have received many positive reviews on their corn maze.

“Kids and maze connoisseurs said it was a very good maze,” Annette said.

Annette and her family appreciate all of the help that others have offered them.

“I could not have done it without the help of lots of people, many people in the community,” she said.

Annette is proud of how well her family has worked together and how much they have accomplished.

“We really couldn’t have done it without it being a whole family effort,” she said.