Filed on November 11, 2014 by Jon Wysochanski
[John Betzel harvests sunflower seeds along Interstate 90 in Avon]
AVON -- In many ways, the sunflowers mirrored the life of the child in whose memory they were planted: They bloomed into beauty, but faded away far too soon.
The hundreds of thousands of flowers that grew along Interstate 90 over the summer  served as a visual reminder that Maria McNamara, a 7-year-old Avon Lake child who died in 2007 from a brain tumor, lives on in the spirits of those still searching for a way to treat pediatric brain tumors known as gliomas.
Planted in June between Jaycox and Center roads by the Prayers from Maria Children"s Glioma Cancer Research Foundation, the 250,000 flowers inspired passers-by who came in droves to walk among them.
The foundation"s executive director, Rachel Stalzer, said more recently people expressed sadness when they drove by the field and saw the dead flowers no longer pointing to the sun, a shell of their former glory withering under the backdrop of gray November skies.
Ed McNamara, Maria's father, said the flowers were a reminder that all the children who die of cancer are not forgotten. He and his wife, Megan, started the foundation after Maria"s death in 2007.
[Ed McNamara gave sunflower seeds planted in her memory, to Nolan Marvin, 4, of Spencer, at the harvest of sunflowers. Nolan is the grandson of John Betzel, who is harvesting the sunflowers.]
"They quickly came up, everyone fell in love with them and they made people smile," he said of the sunflowers. "Like children they made us laugh, smile, cheer and cry at times, but they left us too early."
The story isn"t over. Seeds were harvested Monday by Avon farmer John Betzel, who has volunteered every step of the way, including planting seeds, to help spread the foundation"s message.
Betzel said the seeds will be dried and packaged at Wensink Farm Seeds in Monroeville. From there they"ll be distributed to lawn and garden stores in the area. Proceeds from the sale of the seeds will go to the foundation"s continued work to secure grants to fund pediatric brain cancer research ...
The foundation has awarded grants for children"s brain cancer research for the past three years. In 2012 and 2013 it awarded $100,000 grants to researchers at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
This year, it awarded its largest grant of $250,000 to Case Western Reserve University researcher James Basilion, who is exploring the use of nanotechnology to develop a more-targeted chemotherapy delivery system to combat pediatric glioma tumors.
Stephanie Waldrin, the foundation"s director of administration, said sunflowers weren"t the only thing planted in August.
"We are planting hope by funding research," Waldrin said ...
For more information on Prayers from Maria Children"s Glioma Cancer Research Foundation, visit prayersfrommaria.org.
Contact Jon Wysochanski at email@example.com