This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.
A mural discovered Tuesday by construction crews at the Kenai Municipal Airport is bringing back memories for the former high school students who helped create it four decades ago.
The mural, which depicts peninsula icons, like a Russian Orthodox Church, a dog musher and a fishing net with crab, was designed and painted by an advanced art class taught by Renae Larson at Kenai Central High School in the spring of 1977, according to Clarion archives.
Babbi Goodwin was a senior at Kenai Central when she helped create the mural as part of her advanced art class with Larson. She said she took all of Larson’s classes when she was in high school.
“I had Larson four hours a day my senior year,” Goodwin said. “I was kind of her pet student. (Larson) was really an inspiration to me.”
Goodwin said she helped paint the Russian Orthodox Church and a ptarmigan.
“I thought ‘I can’t paint a bird,’” Goodwin said.
Seeing the mural unveiled this week was a surprise, she said.
“It’s so sad,” Goodwin said. “I know they want to make (the airport) modern, but it’s so neat to see my art and my class’ project. But I understand it needs to modernize.”
Kenai resident Melanie Beverly was also a student in the advanced art class that created the mural. Beverly said she doesn’t remember a whole lot from the experience, but said many of her friends in the class were responsible for the designs.
After searching her high school yearbook, Beverly said she found a note from Larson thanking her for her work at the airport.
“The airport is super,” Larson wrote in Beverly’s yearbook.
The design for the mural was a year in the making. Basic graphics were done by Brad Ambarian, along with designs submitted by Gary Cason, Dawna Kinne, Mike Lindhartsen, Bill McWilliams, Sheryl Rhodes and Becky Roberts, the Clarion previously reported. Twenty five other art students assisted in the making of the mural.
The idea for the mural came from The Greater Kenai Chamber of Commerce, which approached Larson about the project after students of hers executed another mural in the fall of 1976 on the front of Kenai Central, according to Clarion archives.
The mural was discovered Tuesday when crews working on the latest airport remodel removed siding on the building’s facade. The artwork had been covered by metal panels after the airport expanded in the 1980s. Built in 1966, the airport has been remodeled three times — in 1983, in 1988 when the restaurant and lounge were added, and in 2004, when sidewalks, entryways and parking lots were updated.
The current remodel, which began in October, will redesign areas throughout the airport, including the interior, roof and entryway, in an effort to enhance passenger experience, according to Clarion files.
Mark Blanning, with local engineering firm Wince-Corthell-Bryson, is working on the current airport remodel. Blanning confirmed the project does include a complete exterior remodel that would incorporate new siding.
Kenai Airport Manager Mary Bondurant said she remembered there was a hidden mural on the north end of the building, but not the south end. She said the mural wasn’t discussed during renovation plans.
“It’s been great talking to people who were there and helped with the mural,” Bondurant said.
Despite plans for renovation, members of the community are hoping the mural can be saved in some way.
“I would like to see (the mural) stay,” Beverly said.
Jerry Faulkner, who graduated from Kenai Central High School in 1977, also said he’d like to see the mural preserved.