Grieving husband plants 4-mile ribbon of sunflowers

'Sunflower strip" pays tribute to woman who passed away.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. - Wisconsin State Road 85 has always been a pretty drive, but never has it shined like now.

"It's a 'wow' when you see it," says Jill Schoen, whose stepfather is responsible for the object of so much attention.

A few miles southwest of Eau Claire, where corn and soybeans normally kiss the edges of the road, now stands a 60-foot-wide sunflower strip – four-and-a-half miles long.

"She's always loved flowers, but sunflowers were her favorite," says Don Jaquish, who planted the sunflowers as a tribute to Babbette, the wife he lost last November to cancer.

Looking out from the porch of his white farmhouse, Don says, "They fit her personality. She'd walk into a room and her smile would light up a whole room."

The tribute crosses five farms. Neighbors opened up their land, telling Don to pay whatever rent seemed fair.

"They all loved her," Don says. "There wasn't anyone that ever met her that didn't love her."

The seeds will be harvested and sold to support other cancer patients. Babbette dreamed of that very notion, after convincing Don to plant a field of sunflowers four years ago.

Her smiling face now graces the bags in which the sunflower seeds will be sold as bird seed.

"She was a pretty modest person and I'm not so sure she'd want her picture on the bag," smiles Don, "but she's such a beautiful woman. She didn't really know how beautiful she was, inside and out."

The kind of woman who would leave her husband with a letter, discovered in a folder four months to the day after her death.

"You move on and live each day," Babbette wrote. "Feel me in the morning air, and when you wake up and make your coffee. I will be there always."

And for a few splendid days, she is also there in the sunflowers.

"I couldn't fathom,until I actually saw it how beautiful it is," says Jenny White, another of Babbette's daughters.

From the power poles at Cemetery Road, all the way to Luer's Grocercy Store – love is in bloom.

"What we had is as good as it gets," Don says.


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