A-maze-ing memorial

Museum exhibit remembers life of Megan Hurckes

By Laura Bollin

Visitors to the Children's Museum in Oak Lawn may not all have known Megan Hurckes, but a new exhibit may cause them to remember her.

The museum on Valentine's Day dedicated Megan's Maze in memory of the late Oak Lawn girl, who died more than three years ago. The maze, known as a "super perplexus," was designed by San Francisco-based sculpture artist Michael McGinnis. It consists of a clear sphere three feet in diameter that contains things Megan loved, said her father, Jerry Hurckes.

"The perplexus is everything Megan liked," Hurckes said. "It has softball - she played (Westside) softball in Oak Lawn -- aquatic stuff, her name, the mitt. It's all about Megan. We wanted to do something different and unique for the kids and also be a tribute to Megan."

The maze is set up like a softball diamond, and youths manipulate a ball through the labyrinth to "run the bases," explained Children's Museum director Adam Woodworth. The maze begins on the left-hand side of the batter's box because Megan was left-handed. Woodworth called the exhibit "one-of-a-kind."

"It has a baseball bat and mitt that are regulation size for a 10- year-old girl," he said. "When (McGinnis) was developing the maze, he had questions like if she was left-handed or right-handed, because that mattered to him. It also has dolphins, a whale, a seahorse and starfish, because Megan was thinking about becoming an oceanographer when she was older.

"When you start the maze, you are actually manipulating the ball through her name in purple letters. The mitt and bat are orange because those were her favorite colors."

A special touch was added by McGinnis. A small, dime-sized dot at the start of the maze represents one day of Megan's life, relative to the length of the maze. A plaque at the base of the maze features Megan's photograph and lets visitors know the maze was donated by the Weglarz Family and the Megan Hurckes Scholarship Fund.

Woodworth said Megan's parents, Jerry and Mary Ann, and family friend Mark Weglarz worked together to develop the maze, which took three years to plan and build. Weglarz saw smaller versions that McGinnis sold online, and saw that he had created larger versions for other museums and private collections.

Woodworth said the exhibit is geared for children 6 years and older, though younger children can manipulate the maze with a parent's help. Woodworth said the maze will help children develop critical thinking skills. He is planning to create a Megan's Maze section at the museum to feature tabletop and wooden mazes for children to explore.

Megan Hurckes was 10 when she was involved in a fatal ATV accident while vacationing with her family in Kingston, Wis., during Labor Day weekend in 2009. The Hurckes family has since memorialized Megan in multiple ways, including a scholarship fund in her name and an annual bowling outing held on her birthday.

"Losing a child is very, very tough," Jerry Hurckes said. "You go through a lot of emotions, and you want to do something where your child will always be remembered. This way, it was a win-win for everyone: the community, the museum, the kids, and our family. We wanted to give back to the community that has donated to the scholarship fund.

"This exhibit is permanent. It will always be dedicated to Megan. It's awesome, a nice, warm feeling. My daughter will be remembered by many children who never knew her, but they will be playing Megan's Maze."