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The heartbreaking reason a giant minion stands watch in Indiana

From left, Jack Bowling, 10, Noah Fromm, 10,

From left, Jack Bowling, 10, Noah Fromm, 10, the owner Kathy Stark's golden doodle Peaches, and Brook Bowling, 6, peer up at the giant silo painted like a minion in Ossian, Ind., on Thursday, June 9, 2016. The minion features plastic eyes and took 14 gallons of paint to make it happen. Credit: AP / The Journal-Gazette / Rachel Von

Last fall, Kathy Stark sat with her husband Jim in the yard of their family farm home in rural northeast Indiana, surrounded by fields of corn and beans, four and a half miles away from the nearest town, a small community that most people pass through only on their way to somewhere else.

The couple sipped cocktails and looked out across their quiet land, chatting about the weathered barn and rusted 25-foot tall grain silo that towered above them, how both desperately needed a fresh coat of paint.

Then Jim, with his creative mind and enthusiastic energy, turned to Kathy and announced his grand idea: what if they painted the silo like a minion?

The colors would be jarring against the earthy tones of backcountry Indiana, but the silo -- squatty and domed -- was just the right size. Like the rest of the world, the Starks had watched the movie “Despicable Me” and fell in love with the strange, mumbling yellow cartoons. So had their grandkids.

“We kinda laughed about it,” Kathy, 60, told The Washington Post in a phone interview Thursday night.

But the couple never acted. Winter was approaching. The paint job could wait.

Two months later, Jim died. He was 73.

He’d survived a tour in Vietnam, two heart attacks and two heart surgeries, but his body couldn’t ward off lung cancer. They’d had just eight years together, a short marriage after 25 years with other spouses, but it was one filled with adventure. Together they played music, camped and traveled across the country, according to his obituary. She was by his side until the end, when he passed peacefully in their Ossian, Ind., home on Nov. 20 of last year.

It wasn’t until months later, after the first round of holidays without him had come and gone, that Kathy started entertaining her husband’s wacky idea. What if they painted the silo like a minion?

In February, she mentioned it to her daughter, Brandi Groth, then her stepson, Ryan Stark.

“Oh my god,” Kathy remembers her stepson saying. “Let’s do it.”

Soon they were calling up cousin Johnny Johnson and soliciting the help of Brandi’s twin brother, Frank Andersen.

They settled on a weekend, May 14-15, when the weather would be warmer and the ground thawed, and then they started to plan. Between her children and their spouses, Kathy’s blended family had a combined skillset that eliminated any need for professional help. Groth is an architect and graphic designer. So is Andersen. Their cousin, who welds for a living, could mold the minion’s eyes.

“Between all the kids, they knew exactly what to do,” Kathy said.

Groth drafted a rendering of the silo on her computer, calculating the dimensions and estimating they’d need about 14 gallons of bright blue and yellow paint to cover the entire silo. The eyes, she determined, would need to be six feet in diameter if they wanted their minion to be to scale - and they did. Johnson went to work.

When that May weekend finally arrived, the crew and their spouses came from three different states and worked two full days to bring their minion to life. It was cold, and a sharp wind splattered yellow paint across beards, ladders and coats. By the end of day two, the rusted silver silo had transformed into a yellow beacon wearing blue overalls and staring out across the fields from two large, plastic googly eyes.

When it was done, they all huddled together - the siblings, the cousins, the grandkids and the dogs -- to take a picture in front of their minion. For Jim.

It wasn’t long before the gawkers started coming, curious neighbors and shocked commuters who’d heard from a friend who’d heard from a friend that a minion had invaded Wells County, Ind. Like the pull-offs for bear watching at Yellowstone National Park, Kathy’s country road became a parking lot of people stopping for a glimpse of the farm house attraction. The nursing home down the road brought a bus full of folks to check out the minion. The TV stations rolled up. Then the newspaper reporters. Selfies were taken. Tractors couldn’t pass.

Jim’s silo had put Ossian on the map. It had become, in Kathy’s words, a “tourist” destination.

“I’m out here in the middle of nowhere causing traffic jams because of a minion,” she said. “There’s no way we could have dreamt this was going to be this big.”

The crowds have only multiplied. On Thursday, Kathy estimated at least 100 people stopped by the Stark family homestead. Spectators came on their lunch breaks and didn’t stop until the sun set, traveling from towns hours away, from as far as Ohio, from down the road on a riding lawn mower. A little boy brought along his minion kite and asked Kathy’s permission to fly it by the silo.

“The little kids’ eyes just lit up,” she said.

One local man hadn’t heard about the minion until his friend in North Carolina shared the news. By Thursday night, the silo story was trending on Facebook. The Internet had fallen in love.

Kathy said all the attention has prodded her paint crew to complete their minion’s finishing touches: rubber hoses sprouting from the top of its head, for hair.

“We have customers waiting to see it!” she joked. “The tourists!”

The excitement, she said, isn’t just good for her small town of Ossian, but for all the surrounding communities. And it’s good for her, too. Jim’s vision, she said, has brought so many people so much joy.

“I think he’s up in heaven right now,” Kathy said, “laughing and pointing and saying: ’See that silo down there, that’s where I lived. That was my idea. ’”

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