By Joseph Robertia
The story of the beginning of Kenai Peninsula College could easily be an example of the butterfly effect, as the hard work of founding director, Clayton Brockel, has resulted in significant changes to the educational landscape of the Kenai Peninsula since the college’s inception 50 years ago far beyond the impact of just one man.
In an effort to commemorate the founding of the school on July 1, 1964, and to honor the dedication of the recently deceased Brockel, a small ceremony was held July 1 by KPC staff. The college raised a U.S. flag presented to the school by Brockel’s wife, Jean, which was given to Brockel when he was discharged from the Navy after World War II.
“The flag will be lowered at 8 a.m., July 2, and will be placed in the KPC time capsule with instructions for the flag to be flown again on July 1, 2064, to honor our 100th anniversary and our founder,” said current KPC Director Gary Turner, on the day of the event.
Gone but not forgotten is a phrase often applied to the departed, but in Brockel’s case the saying exceeds the cliché, as his legacy will endure for years to come, according to Turner.
“It’s one thing to be a college director, but not too many people are college founders,” he said. “And creating KPC was no easy thing. There was a lot of controversy over locations, struggles for funding and getting the word out, which Clay did by traveling from Hope to Homer at a time when there wasn’t much of a road to speak of.”
Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology at KPC, has taught at the college since 1973 and has seen his share of directors, and said that Brockel was in a class of his own. And unlike more modern college planners, Brockel had no 20- to 30-year development plan to follow in the inception and growth of the college. He just cannonballed into the idea.
“(Brockel) did this before feasibility studies and long-range planning. It was a time when people said, ‘We should do this,’ so they did,” Boraas said.
Brockel did it well, too, Boraas said, wheedling money for the college when it was needed without antagonizing the other educational institutions or the legislators that were often competing for those same funds.
It wasn’t easy, said Brockel’s wife, Jean, herself a former KPC adjunct instructor. She remembers a lot of times of strife, especially during the early years.
“There were a lot of down times, when he felt like he was banging his head against the wall with the usual bureaucratic stuff,” she said. “But in his mind, the potential was always there for something, and that that something would be good. Clayton was a true believer in education and believed it was the key to anything and everything.”
Boraas remembers Brockel driving around in “Ol’ Blue,” his 1963 Chevy Biscayne, to do college business.
“Clayton had a unique style,” Boraas said. “We didn’t have a lot of meetings. He’d drive — not just with me, but with others — and he’d think and talk one on one while driving.”
Brockel often used his car to find staff for the school, people like Boraas, as well as naturalist and art instructor Boyd Schaffer, playwright and English instructor Lance Petersen, and associate professor of English David Forbes.
“We had a lot of really good instructors that he hired directly or under his watch, and once hired he’d let them do their thing,” Boraas said.
Picking good people didn’t just provide diversity to the faculty, it gave the budding education institution some gravitas at a time when it desperately needed it.
“It was the key for a growing college when a few bad teachers could have caused a bad reputation,” Boraas said. “It wasn’t a given we’d have this college. There were a lot of times it could have gone downhill, so I can understand how proud (Brockel) would be to see it in its current state.”
In addition to Brockel’s 48-star flag, the KPC time capsule — to be sealed into the wall of the Brockel building later this year — will also include newspapers, air and water samples, and other KPC-related materials, such as current course schedules from the Kenai and Kachemak Bay campuses, commencement programs for the current year, the original 1964 telegram from the president of the University of Alaska stating the Board of Regents had unanimously approved the request for a community college program on the Kenai, letters written by current students and staff to those of the future, a copy of Lance Petersen’s book “The KPC History: The First 30 years,” as well as a new book “Keeping the Fire Burning: A 50-Year History of KPC,” by Clark Fair and Tony Lewis, which is presently being printed.
Jean Brockel was presented with the first “proof” copy of the new KPC history book during the July 1 commemoration service.
There will also be an original copy of the script of the play “The Ballad of Kenai,” a theatrical production recognized during the 1981 National Festival of American Community Theater, considered by many to be the magnum opus of peninsula performing arts.
Since the college’s 50-year anniversary coincides with that of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, a commemorative coin set also is being minted — in silver and copper with unique serial numbers — to commemorate the occasion, which will be formally celebrated July 14 at the college.
The coin idea was conceived by Tom Dalrymple, an assistant professor of accounting at KPC and a coin aficionado. Cam Choy, KPC assistant professor of art, sculpted wax casts of the likenesses of Brockel for one coin. The other two will feature Harold E. “Pom” Pomeroy, who was appointed as the first borough chairman (now mayor), and Sterling S. Sears, who served as the initial superintendent of the school district.
“Number 100 in the set will go into the time capsule,” Turner said.
The other coin sets will be sold through the KPC bookstore with profits funding the art student scholarship.