With late afternoon warmth settling in, maze-goers gradually trickle in like an unfastened water faucet and sophomore education major Idanea Gomez shelves her history book underneath the counter to attend to customers.
So far, it's the busiest day of the season, which started the weekend before. She manages the token booth at La Union Maze, located at 1101 South Highway 28. For the second consecutive year, she sells tickets for various attractions at the popular autumn activity.
Many college students like Gomez juggle a job while attending school. Although the job is seasonal, Gomez said the work environment is worth coming back each year.
"My mom and my sister work here, so I do this with them. It's fun," Gomez said. "You get to meet a lot of people."
"There are kids here that have been with us five or six years," Sondgeroth said.
The maze opened Sept. 25, and it remains open until Nov. 7. La Union Maze includes two mazes, smaller entertainment attractions and snacks such as roasted corn. This year's maze is themed to commemorate American troops.
After five years of employment at the maze, Alex Gonzalez, junior mechanical engineer major, said he returns each year because of the overall employee morale, schedule flexibility and pastoral atmosphere.
"If you put the effort in, it's more fun than it is work," Gonzalez said.
The Sondgeroths rely mostly on the help of friends and family to find dedicated employees. Lucy said it takes about 25 employees at the beginning of the season to man the maze but that often increases to 35 at midseason.
"We hardly ever take walk-ins," Sondgeroth said. "We rather know who they are, or know somebody who knows who they are."
Gonzalez was an exception to the family and friend prerequisite.
He originally asked owner Robert Sondgeroth if he accepted volunteers at the maze. Robert took his information and called him back. On his first day at the maze, Gonzalez was asked to clock in. The maze became a job.
"He told me to clock in and clock out. I was just expecting to volunteer and he started paying me," Gonzalez said. "It made it more worthwhile."
Gonzalez, who was hired as a sophomore in high school, said he wanted to work at the maze because it looked fun, and it was a chance to acquire experience.
"I never expected to be there that long," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez said five years later, he still enjoys working like he did in the beginning. He prefers to roast corn to the other tasks. He said it challenges him because it is fast paced and detailed.
"You got to figure out a way to get a process done," Gonzalez said. "It requires the most thinking. It's most stressful."
Gonzalez said the job is fairly easy to carry while going to school, but as he gets further into his studies, his hours at the maze dwindle.
Gomez, who was referred to the maze by her mother, who knows Lucy, said it is not a bad job to have while going to school. It can only get difficult for her because she also works at the Academic Advising Center and must manage her time wisely.
"I can bring my homework here (the maze) and get ahead. If not I do it all Sunday," Gomez said.
Gomez said the maze is flexible with student workers.
"They're flexible with us because they take a little part of their lives to help us. We have to be flexible with them too," Sondgeroth said.
Managing such a large staff requires patience, organisation and flexibility, Sondgeroth said.
"It gets a little hectic. Robert and I are like, ‘who's where? Who's on first? Who's on second?'" Sondgeroth laughs.
Sondgeroth said it's important to accommodate their employees because the job can be exhausting and tedious.
"If we're not terribly busy, we don't mind if they have a book to read," Sondgeroth said.
The Sondgeroths emphasize the importance of being alert and customer service to employees.
During the day, families and their children frequent the maze. A different crowd – high school students, college students, young couples and more – dominate the evening. The crowds change the atmosphere for employees. The evening is usually busier.
"They're more relaxed because they're not dealing with so many kids," Sondgeroth said. "On the other hand, they have to be alert about trouble (since) you have an older crowd."
The Sondgeroths station employees – young and old – at every attraction, depending on responsibility. Emmanuel Medrano, freshman pre-engineering major, has worked two weekends so far. He has worked at the rubber duck race station, pedal car race and as a corn cop.
He said it can be difficult at first, but it gets easier. As a corn cop, he had to help lost families get out of the maze. He admits he is just getting the hang of the maze.
"You recognize some spots, but during the night, you get lost pretty easy," Medrano said.
Medrano also brings books to study during downtime or when he's not walking through the maze.
Gonzalez said it takes at least two weekends to learn the ins and outs of the maze.
"At the beginning everybody's a little lost but that comes with the territory," Sondgeroth said. "Once they do it a few times, they have a sense of where everything is. Something about a young mind that figures things out fast. I would be lost in there forever."
Job stations include mazes (difficult and novice), the Hill, the Big Jumping Pillow, the Pumpkin Patch Trolley, Cow Train, Pedal Cars, Target Practice, Duck Races and more.
"If your kids are not dirty when they leave here they didn't have fun," Sondgeroth said.