Published July 16. 2010 4:00AM Updated July 16. 2010 5:33PM
Griswold - As soon as he plants them, Duane Button waits and hopes the weather cooperates.
Last year, it was so lousy the thousands of sunflowers he'd tenderly cared for in anticipation of the annual Sunflowers for Wishes event bloomed nearly a week late.
This year, it is the opposite. They're early, but he's taking it in stride.
"We're ready, the flowers are ready, so we'll just go with it," Button said Thursday as he watched several dozen people climb aboard three hay wagons for a tour through Buttonwood Farm's cow pasture and sunflower fields.
Eight years ago, at the suggestion of a friend, Duane and his wife Kim planted a few acres of sunflowers in an effort to attract the motoring public's attention and lure them to the family's ice cream stand on Route 165.
What happened next was something neither imagined. Hundreds stopped along the roadside to take pictures of the flowers, with some slipping in for a homemade cone or dish of ice cream.
The Buttons expanded their plantings to 14 acres and began using the event not only as a marketing tactic but to raise money for children with life-threatening medical conditions.
This year is the seventh annual Sunflowers for Wishes event to benefit the Connecticut Chapter of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
"It really is just a magical time for all of us," Kim Smith, development director for the foundation's state chapter, said.
Smith said the Buttons' ability to draw in the community and raise awareness of the group, and at the same time provide an event that enables everyone to get involved, is priceless.
In 2009 the sunflower event raised more than $70,000 in donations, and since it was first held the event has contributed more than $300,000.
It costs about $8,500 on average for each wish to be granted, Smith said. In 2009, the state chapter granted 140 wishes, she said.
Kevin Anthony, a junior and intern with the foundation, told the groups gathered on the hayrides that he personally knows the benefits that Make-A-Wish offers and is grateful for the Button family's contributions.
Four years ago Anthony was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. After going through two years of treatment, he and his family had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, courtesy of the foundation.