Sarah Stultz: Be a part of the effort to spread sunshine

Published 8:15 pm Tuesday, September 15, 2020

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Nose for News by Sarah Stultz


My love of sunflowers began in 1990 when I was 6 years old.

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My dad always had a big garden in our backyard, and that year he let me plant some sunflower seeds in the garden.

Little by little, one sunflower stalk emerged from the soil and grew taller and taller until soon it towered over me.

One evening, my dad must have noticed the sunflower was blooming, so we ran outside to the garden to look and take a photo. I was in my nightgown getting ready for bed, but that didn’t matter. I was elated that the flower was blooming and that I was able to stand next to it for a photo at the edge of the garden.

I dug through a few boxes of keepsakes and found the photo Monday evening as I awaited the opening of a special sunflower field here in Albert Lea. It brought back a lot of great memories to see that photo.

The field I’m looking forward to going to this year is organized by Fish Sunflowers on the property of Jared Dawson, who is from the area.

Many people know Jared as a teacher at Southwest Middle School, who is also involved with some real estate development off of Bridge Avenue in northern Albert Lea.

Jared is the cousin of a man named Johnny Olson, who has set out to spread sunshine throughout Minnesota on his own dime and his own time.

Johnny has organized and planted a dozen sunflower fields throughout the state, the last of which is slated to open for the public in our own community on Wednesday.

He has dedicated each of the fields to causes such as caregivers, educators, pets, high-risk patients, miscarriages and infant loss. The Albert Lea field holds a particularly special place in my heart as it is dedicated to families who have lost children due to illness or accident.

The Albert Lea area has suffered many painful losses of children in recent months and years. In the last month alone, there have been three children who have passed on, and it is the hope that the field will be a place to honor the grief of all of the families in the community who have experienced this loss and to provide a space for quiet and healing.

As someone who lost a child four years ago, this was especially touching. As the years pass, the grief eases, but it is still tender.

It lifts up my heart to hear others speak of my daughter even after the time we’ve been apart, and I know it does the same for others who have lost children in this community as well. 

I’m already inspired, and as I type this I haven’t yet been to the field.

What’s even more touching is that the field is open to the public free of charge, with no donations accepted, simply as a way to give back to the community and to honor those who have gone before us -— along with those who are still left behind.

I hope people take advantage of the opportunity to check out the field with family or friends and to take a few photos over the next week or so.

With all of the chaos in the world this year and the challenges our little community has faced, we could all use a little more sunshine.

To Johnny and Jared, thank you for spreading the sunshine. I hope we can each carry that on in our own way in the future.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Wednesday.