Wisconsin Almost Got a Betty White Corn Maze

We were this close to a fall activity that honors this late screen legend.

Enchanted Valley Acres has unveiled its corn maze design for this fall but it’s not what operators of the farm near Cross Plains had initially planned. The massive maze has been dubbed “On, Wisconsin!” An aerial shot shows a cornfield cut into the shape of the boundaries of America’s Dairyland on the sprawling Dane County property.

For months, the owners of Enchanted Valley Acres had been working on a much different maze design, one that would have had the cornfield cut into the image of Betty White, the legendary actress and animal lover who died in her sleep last year at her Los Angeles home, six days after suffering a mild stroke. White died on New Year’s Eve, just 17 days shy of what would have been her 100th birthday.

White starred in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Golden Girls” and “Hot in Cleveland” and was also a regular on several television game shows.

“I’m a huge Betty White fan,” said Angela Kirsch, who has owned the farm with her husband, Chris, since 2011. “I started watching ‘The Golden Girls’ with my mom and my grandma when I was young. And now my daughter is watching it, too, and she can quote almost every episode. I’ve got my husband hooked on it, too.”

The family wanted to honor White for her lengthy Hollywood career and for her enduring positivity, Kirsch said.

“She always seemed to find humor in things and enjoyed life,” Kirsch said. “She had one of the longest careers ever in Hollywood. She seemed to be a very genuine, sincere, optimistic person.”


 

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White had ties to Wisconsin, which also factored into the decision to pursue a corn maze design featuring her likeness.

White was married to Allen Ludden from 1963 until his death in 1981. Ludden was born in Mineral Point and is buried at Graceland Cemetery in the Iowa County community, about 55 miles southwest of Madison, leading to speculation at one time that White would be buried in Wisconsin alongside her husband. 

Despite months of planning, White’s death and the fact that her estate has yet to be settled ended up derailing the Kirsches corn maze plans.

In a recent Instagram post, the Kirsches noted that they had planned to move forward with the initial maze design, which would have included the message “Thank You Betty White” as well as the image of the actress until less than a week before the initial cutting of the cornfield began this summer. The post stated that plans for the maze design tend to be made one year in advance in order to secure all the necessary permissions.

Here’s how the post started:

“Because she represents all things great – over 80 years in TV industry, sweet person with great values and even better sense of humor! We planned to celebrate her 100th Birthday and donate to an animal charity! We sought out approval from her longtime manager/friend, never thought we’d hear back since he’s a legend himself in the industry, but we DID hear back, and he said YES!!!”

Angela Kirsch said that White’s long-time publicist and manager Jeff Witjas is the person who “wholeheartedly” approved of the plans, and he reassured Kirsch that it would be permissible to continue with the maze design following White’s death.

The Kirsches also grow sunflowers and zinnias on their property in the fall for visitors to walk among and enjoy. For this year’s festivities, they decided to plant the flowers closer to the maze, which is spread out over about nine acres.

“We thought that would make for a really cool entrance, having all these flowers leading up to the corn maze because of Betty White’s sunny disposition,” Angela Kirsch said.

The Kirsches also were working on selecting a charitable organization, likely one that provides service dogs to hospitals or military service veterans, to which they would make donations in White’s honor.

But just days before employees from a company hired to cut the corn maze design were to begin their work, Enchanted Valley Acres received word from a personal assistant and friend of the late actress who stated apologetically that White’s legal representatives advised against any use of her likeness, name and image until her estate is settled.

“My heart just sank,” Kirsch said. “But I’m a firm believer that things happen for a reason. Everybody was really nice about it. Everybody felt bad.”

This forced Enchanted Valley Acres to come up with a new theme in just a matter of days.

“Our corn maze guys thankfully made it beautiful, and we’re excited for the “On, Wisconsin!” theme but still think fondly of what could have been celebrating a great legend,” the Instagram post states.

Photo courtesy of Enchanted Valley Acres

Past maze designs have featured Bucky Badger, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing and a tribute to Wisconsin dairy farmers.

Hirsch said it’s possible the White maze design could be reconsidered once her estate is settled.

“We might,” she said. “It doesn’t lose the specialness, but it loses the milestone of her 100th birthday or celebration of her life right after her passing. They did say we could revisit it, but they just didn’t have a timeframe for settling the estate.”

The Kirsch’s Instagram post closed with this message:

“I also wake up in a cold sweat from time to time, thinking, what if we had already cut the design and then found out… I’d cut out Betty White and say it was my grandma and this year’s theme is to celebrate all things wonderful about Grandmas… and mine, like most, is awesome so it’s true.”

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.