It’s safe to say that losing a loved one is never easy, but it’s even harder when a parent loses a child.

Back in January, Licking residents John and Cherie Kissiar lost their 29-year-old son Bret to cancer. In dealing with the gut-wrenching experience, the couple looked for means of finding solace and relief in a dismal situation.

The result is Kissiar Sunflower Patch, where thousands of sunflowers are in bloom in a large lot on the Kissiar’s property on Main Street. Visitors can “adopt” sunflowers and place specially-designed cards on them bearing notes in memory of lost loved ones.

“It’s a way of coping with things,” John said. “It chokes us both up in different ways at times.”

There is no charge for people to visit the patch, but donations are gladly taken in the facility’s “general store” for the cards, souvenir T-shirts and other items that are available for minimum donations. All proceeds go toward sending terminally ill children and their families to Disney World or some other destination of choice.

Sunflower adoption cards

Sunflower "adoption" cards at Kissiar Sunflower Patch in Licking.

“The idea is to give the kids something to look forward to,” John said, “and their parents something to look back on and smile when it’s all done.”

Why sunflowers?

“I think sunflowers give hope,” Cherie said. “And they say that when you’re dealing with grief, you go through five stages. My anger stage has created this.”

There are already close to 100 cards hanging on flowers in the patch.

“We had a little girl who had lost her dog,” John said. “And I said, ‘yeah, that’s tough.’ She put a card out there for that.”

A Houston-based grief-sharing group visited on opening day and placed many cards on flowers.

“This place is helping people in lots of ways,” John said.

Adoption card and its flower

An "adoption" card bearing a message of love hangs from a large sunflower at Kissiar Sunflower patch in Licking.

The Kissiars moved from Ohio to Licking late last year. Since then, several local businesses and individuals have gotten involved in their Sunflower Patch project by creating products and conducting drives to help raise money for the cause.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, the Licking Chamber of Commerce will host the 18th annual “Toy Ride” motorcycle gathering, with toys collected given away at the city’s annual Christmas parade. The day will also include a 5K run and other activities, with the Sunflower Patch as a hub (and non-bikers can leave toys there).

“The community has really embraced us,” John said. “We’ve had a lot of people volunteer their help.”

“People have really welcomed us,” Cherie said. “I’m from the city, and I’m not accustomed to that. It’s been a big thing for me.

“When you come from the city to a place like this, it’s like going back in time. The people are so genuine.”

The Kissiars hosted a grand opening at the Sunflower Patch on the last weekend of August.

“It’s already benefiting the community by bringing people in,” John said.

“We’ve had people from Springfield and all the way from Joplin,” Cherie said.

Sunflower patch general store

Inside the "general store" at Kissiar Sunflower Patch in Licking, people can obtain sunflower "adoption" cards or souvenir T-shirts or simply leave donations.

The Sunflower Patch is available for photography purposes, like weddings and graduation pictures. The Kissiars have converted the main building on the property (that was recently a restaurant) into their home, and its walls bear large murals depicting things like a jail, the “Buffalo Lick Saloon,” a livery stable and an old gas station. A big painting of a butterfly on one wall contains Bret’s name in a semi-hidden manner, and the Kissiars enjoy having people try to find it.

During winter months when the flowers have died back, adoption cards will be displayed in several possible ways. People are welcome to visit for any reason, whether it’s adopting a flower or simply enjoying the beauty of thousands of sunflowers.

Sunflower patch

Hundreds of mature sunflowers face east at Kissiar Sunflower Patch in Licking.

Plans are being made to expand the operation in the future.

“This isn’t an amusement park,” John said, “but really, there’s something here for everyone. And you hear a lot of stories from people who come here. Everyone has a story about their loved ones.”

John’s family goes back several generations in Texas County. His father, Donald, grew up in Licking and went on to become a Southern Baptist preacher, while his uncle Wesley began the local John Deere dealership.

Kissiar Sunflower Patch is located on Main Street in Licking, across from the big old John Deere tractor (that the Kissiars placed there as a landmark). Detailed information is available on Facebook.

Staff writer

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Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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