WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Labyrinth in Macomb Designed to Give Hope

Jun 3, 2016

A crowd of people gathered at the Lakeview Nature Center in Macomb to create a labyrinth in the prairie grasses to help spread suicide awareness and prevention. 

Everyone involved in the project had a personal connection to suicide as some had lost a loved one while others have struggled with suicide themselves.

A labyrinth is similar to a maze except that there are no dead ends. A traveler can follow just one path to make it to the center and then back out of the labyrinth. Lakeview's design is a circular pattern that leads people toward the middle.

There is a bench in the center for people to sit and enjoy the view.

The woman behind the project is Susan Denecke who said she wanted it created for her son.

“On February 2, [2015], my husband was at work and he got a visit from the coroner saying that our son had committed suicide. He was 27 and living in Springfield,” said Denecke while holding back tears. There was a shakiness in her voice.  

Denecke eventually reached out to Kelly Quinn about creating the labyrinth.

Quinn works with the volunteers to set up the path of the labyrinth in Macomb
Credit Breanna Descourouez / TSPR

With a sketch in one hand and a rope in the other, Quinn guided people around the prairie, placing white flags in the ground every four steps. This marked the area where the grass gets cut to create the path. Quinn said to her, it’s more than just artwork.

“The difference between just going on a walk and walking a labyrinth is there’s a clear start, there’s a goal, which is the center, and then a clear finish when you exit the labyrinth,” she said.

Quinn said the pattern they used is one that follows the path of the stars. It’s one of the oldest designs in the world, dating almost 4,000 years old.

She said this labyrinth, in particular, is a place where anyone can come to walk the path when Lakeview is open. She said she has walked it nearly 10 times since it was created about a week ago.

“It’s so beautiful out there. We went out the other night to watch the sunset, my daughter and I did, and we packed a little picnic to eat in the center, and all the birds were perched on branches out in the rest of the prairie. There were deer out there and it was just so peaceful,” said Quinn with a clear passion in her eyes.

The prairie grass is below knee height but Quinn said she is excited to watch it grow over everyone’s heads.

One volunteer, Anne Dixon, had a special connection to the event. She recently lost her former husband to suicide. She said helping lay out the labyrinth is her way of paying tribute to him.

“This is just the best way for people to kind of meditate and memorialize and you know…just get closer to that realm which I believe they all exist in and can visit you in,” Dixon said as she continued to explain that she studied labyrinths 20 years ago.

The prairie will be open for people to come walk with their family or by themselves. People who don’t want to walk it can use a finger labyrinth, which lets them trace the path with their finger on a tray that lies in their lap.

Karen Peitzmeier placing flags down for the labyrinth.
Credit Breanna Descourouez / TSPR

Karen Peitzmeier also helped set up the labyrinth. As she placed the flags in the prairie, she said labyrinths are a great way to clear your head, day or night.

“When you walk a labyrinth, it’s a great way to center yourself and understand…kind of what’s going on. Give yourself some space and help calm you,” she said.

Peitzmeier has a labyrinth in her backyard. She said she lost a friend to suicide and has known people who suffer from depression. When she is upset, happy, or needs to memorize something, she walks it.

Quinn said the pattern she used to create the labyrinth is much like that of a mandala. She described a mandala as a square inside a circle, made out of recycled plastic, glass and other supplies she finds.

Quinn pointed out a few of her creations hanging on the walls of Sullivan Taylor Coffee House in downtown Macomb while sipping a cup of coffee. She said she always incorporates glass in her mandalas and when she goes to the beach, she collects broken shells to use in her pieces. She said a mandala is a metaphor for a journey.

One of Kelly Quinn's mandala pieces that hangs on the wall of Sullivan Taylor Coffee Shop.
Credit Breanna Descourouez

“Going into the labyrinth, going into the center is, in a sense, going into the heavens or the cosmos or the afterlife. And then there’s the journey back out again which is rebirth or reincarnation or regeneration,” she said.

Quinn said labyrinths are now found in prisons, hospitals and even businesses because people have seen the positive effects of walking through them.

In October, there will be an event called, “Walking out of Darkness.” Denecke said the idea is to allow people to gather and discuss suicide. She said their goal is to raise $3,000 for suicide awareness and prevention at the event. There will be a separate fundraiser, with a goal of $5,000, to pay for the labyrinth itself.

Quinn said once she puts the Lakeview labyrinth on the worldwide labyrinth locator, it will be the biggest in the country.