St. Cloud family’s ‘haunted’ hayrides help support local non-profits

Scaring is caring for Jason Stock. He has always loved Halloween. As a small child, he loved to carve pumpkins. As he grew older, so did his passion for the holiday and so did his knack for scaring. As a teenager, he would try to startle trick-or-treaters by lowering a spider from the roof and dressing in costumes with frightening props.

Mark Cariveau, left, and Tom Schmitt help Jason Stock, center, set up this year’s haunted hayride. Bob Voigt oversees the process in the background. All four men are members of St. Peter Parish in St. Cloud. (Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

So it’s no surprise that, as an adult, Jason, a full-time teacher, husband and father of three, has turned his pranks into a thriving business. About 12 years ago, he purchased a piece of land near St. Augusta, which during the month of October becomes “Harvest of Horror,” a Halloween-themed outdoor experience.

An entrepreneur at heart, Jason says he loves to combine his passions.

“It is so much easier to go to work when you are doing something you love. I love teaching, I love Halloween, I love building things. If I can incorporate all my passions into this one thing, it just feels right,” said Stock, a member of St. Peter in St. Cloud.

The idea started out simple enough: Jason invited friends to the newly-purchased land for a picnic. At one point, he offered to take interested guests on a hayride — a hayrack pulled by a four-wheeler — through the woods and fields.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Everyone wanted to go. And entrepreneur that I am, I thought, ‘Hey, we might have something here.’”

Later that fall, he reached out to a local radio station and asked if they would advertise for him if he gave them a share of the profit. They agreed.

“We couldn’t believe how many people came out that first year. Hundreds. The next year I knew I had to up my game,” he said.

Upping his game meant he needed more help. Jason, a third-degree Knight with Knights of Columbus Council #5548, enlisted the help of his fellow Knights to assist with set-up, takedown, parking, ticket-taking and tractor-driving. In return, the Knights receive a significant portion of the funds.

“I’m Catholic at my core and I knew I wanted to involve the Knights if I could. Eleven seasons later, the Harvest of Horror crew has raised over $90,000 for the Knights of Columbus, schools and other non-profit organizations in the form of donations or educational scholarships to individuals or programs,” Jason said.

Bob Voigt, a fellow Knight, has been helping with Harvest of Horror for about six or seven years.

“It can be a lot of fun,” Bob said. “There is a camaraderie that we develop with other members and also with the public as well. In the final analysis, a big part of why we’re out there is that it allows us to fulfill our core activities and help the community, churches and youth all at the same time.”

Jason also has partnered with the Stearns County Explorer Program, which is focused on teaching young adults between 15 and 21 years of age about the first responder field.

“The Explorers get a great experience with us. We so want to keep this a family-focused event and having their presence helps keep it safe and fun for everyone,” Jason said.

This past year, Jason and part of the team flew to St. Louis to the largest Halloween conventions in the country.

“With thousands of people moving through each year, we really wanted to bring in some new and exciting things. We’ve got 1,000 feet of airline through the woods, around 1,500 feet of wire, animatronics that are controlled by computers, which are intuitive and monitor people’s proximity, lasers that monitor where people are and two zip lines that allow people to fly over guests. We are pretty proud of it,” Jason said. Krista Novak has worked with Harvest of Horror for about 10 years.

“I always loved the Halloween season and when I heard some fellow theater friends talking about it, I just kind of got hooked and said yes when they asked if I wanted to be a part of it as well,” she said.

In a typical season, Krista helps find volunteers, sets up props and helps plan what is new and old for the year. During October, she makes sure everyone has what they need and does “a whole lot of scaring,” she said.

“It is one of my favorite times of the year. Good people and good fun. And, when else can you dress up as a random freaky monstrous creature and scare people just because?” she laughed.

“It is something I look forward to every year, and it has never disappointed me. Every year it’s changing and growing and I’m glad that I am a part of it.”

Some people may say a Halloween-themed event is an unorthodox way to raise funds for a Catholic organization, but Jason says they really strive to be a wholesome family event.

“We try to just keep it good clean fun and not cross boundaries with regard to the spiritual realm. It’s not meant to be evil or anything like that,” he said.

Although, he does warn that there may be some “scares” that aren’t meant for the very young or the very faint of heart.

“We definitely are going for an adrenaline rush, for ‘startles,’ so it may not be appropriate for those of young ages or who have certain health conditions,” he said.

For Jason, this labor of love has become something close to his heart. The first year he started it, he had just begun dating his wife, Tracy.

“I asked her if she’d be interested in selling tickets and she said yes. It was a great way for us to get to know each other and she really enjoyed it, too. My mom helped out at the time, too, so they also got to know each other through working together.”

Jason and Tracy have three children — Jacob, 4, Matthew, 3, and Anna, 2 — and this year, Mom and Dad hope to bring the two older kids to the event one of the nights to shadow them.

“I’m typically working up front and Tracy is in the concession booth. They love being out there and they love being with us, so I’m excited to bring them into this. If you really look at it, this experience has all the things I love — my family, my faith, my friends. I’ve met so many awesome people from my church community, the greater community and from all over. To be able to help some great causes all while having a lot of fun, it’s been a blessing.”

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Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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