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A labor of love: Skipper Russell’s Cold Mountain Corn Maize raises support for cancer research

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Bright yellow sunflowers ring the edges of Skipper Russell’s Cold Mountain Corn Maize in Canton, a memorial to his wife, Frances, who lost her battle with renal cell and thyroid cancer this February.

Frances loved sunflowers. A photo of her smiling with a cluster of the blooms in her hand hangs above the corn maze’s ticket stand. Russell chokes up remembering her this way. The two had only been married for five years, but were friends for 30.

This year is the third year his five-acre corn field has welcome families to wind their way through the labyrinth of stalks and husks, but the first year that its focus has been to help raise awareness and fund cancer research.

“It won’t bring my wife back, but it’ll help somebody,” Russell said.

The maze features the shape of a ribbon and a star of hope — symbols of the American Cancer Society. The ACS is the nationwide community-based voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by preventing cancer, saving lives and diminishing suffering from cancer through research, education, advocacy and service.

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Russell came up with what he wanted this year’s maize design to be and contracted with a company for a computer rendering that would show him which stalks of corn to spray out to create the maze. The design process takes about two months.

Russell celebrated his wife’s memory by bringing family members, including all of Frances’ children and grandchildren, as well as local ACS staff together Sept. 26 for hot air balloon rides over the maze for a bird’s eye view.

“This is a healing process,” he said.

Since Frances’ passing, Russell has aimed to connect with those who have lost loved ones to cancer. Partnerships such as the one between himself and the ACS, “let’s them know that there’s lots of support and they’re not alone in dealing with this,” he said.

Russell is donating fifty cents from each maze ticket purchased to the ACS.

“Skipper’s personal mission to educate the community about cancer and how we as individuals can help eradicate this disease is truly heartfelt,” said Amy Hendricks, Community Manager for the American Cancer Society.

To navigate their way through the maze, participants must choose a themed field guide of questions. There are several guides to choose from including cancer education, scriptural, American history, sports, corn, Halloween and entertainment.

Tickets are $4 for ages 5 to 11 and $6 for ages 12 and up. Group discounts are available. The Cold Mountain Corn Maize is located at 4168 Pisgah Drive in Canton. The maze is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 1 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The maze also will be open from 4 to 9 p.m. Oct. 29, 30 and 31.

For more information or directions, visit or call 828.648.8575.

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