A pumpkin plant bearing six large pumpkins cropped up in the Central United Methodist Church yard in Linwood. The plant started growing from a discarded pumpkin seed, presumably from the church's annual pumpkin patch last year. Associate Pastor Dave Delaney thinks the plant is a sign, though - one from above.

Chuck Headley was a man who was a little rough around the edges. A Marine, police officer, and volunteer firefighter, Headley was the type of man who may have appeared intimidating to some. Everyone who knew him, however, said he had a huge heart.

Headley passed away in June at age 71 from a number of conditions.

Headley's heart was visible to all in the manifestation of the Central United Methodist Church's pumpkin patch, which he was devoted to until his death.

Delaney said that Headley was involved in the pumpkin patch since its inception 10 years ago. The pumpkins that have started growing spontaneously in the church yard, he thinks, are a sign that Headley is still looking down on the church.

Headley was so involved in the pumpkin patch because he loved children, and the proceeds from the church's pumpkin patch go towards funding youth mission trips.

"He just had a special place in his heart for children," Headley's wife, Barbara, said. She and Chuck used to teach Sunday school at the church.

The proceeds from the pumpkin patch have allowed the church to send kids to Uganda, the Appalachians, and Louisiana, among other places, to do mission work - solely funded by pumpkin money.

"One of the things that was true about Chuck, first he loved all the kids," Delaney said. "He also wanted the kids to give back like he gave back. He wanted to use his life as an example."

The church uses a program called Pumpkins USA for their fundraising pumpkin patch. A self-proclaimed world's best fundraiser, Pumpkins USA provided the church with more than 22 tons of pumpkins this year, at no cost.

This year, the church hopes to raise close to $20,000. Since the first pumpkin patch, the church's youth missions have been removed from the church's regular budget line.

Headley worked in the pumpkin patch the whole time. Delaney said after Headley suffered a major stroke about five years ago, he was back at church in a wheel chair, wheeling communion down the aisle.

"Here is a man that should be home in bed who came to church," Delaney said.

Headley employed the same attitude while working the pumpkin patch, Delaney said, adding that Headley would "stand in the rain and cold and blistering heat selling pumpkins for our kids and telling whoever came about the mission."

Last year, when Headley was on intensive dialysis and using a breathing machine, he could be found in the pumpkin patch selling pumpkins, Delaney said.

"They told him that he probably wouldn't make it to 60, but he did," Barbara Headley said. "He was a really strong, determined person. He said God didn't want him yet because he had work to do here and that was for the children."

Since Headley's passing, Delaney said, so many people have volunteered to sell pumpkins during the day - when Headley would have done it - that they have more people than slots to fill them. This is a reflection on Headley's legacy, Delaney said.

"He had a very tough exterior, often times he came on kind of strong and people were afraid of him, but once you got to know him, he had a good heart," Barbara Headley said.

Contact Devin Loring:

609-463-6713