HENDERSON — The young teacher with a love for art took the year off to get pregnant.

But Mary Lou Goertzen couldn’t stay completely away from work. So she spent much of the time painting a mural that would grace the entrance to her alma mater for the next 54 years.

The mural is a collage of images — a Bible, a corn stalk, books — that depict life at Heartland Community School and in Henderson, a farming community in southwest York County with strong Mennonite roots.

“That was my idea — to do something that reflected images of what a small community is,” said Goertzen, who has since gone on to a life of significant fame as an artist and a war protester.

Now the brightly colored mural she created is in danger of being painted over.

At the school board’s request, Heartland Community School officials surveyed students last fall. About 75 percent said they’d like to see the mural covered. The rest said they’d rather see it left alone.

“We thought this would be an opportunity to promote school spirit,” board President Gary Braun said, reading from a statement drafted by several board members.

“We want a school that reflects the student body and gives them a sense of ownership and pride in their surroundings.”

Some board members would like to see the school’s front entrance modernized, as other parts of the school have been, and worry the mural is outdated.

The board hasn’t set a date to discuss the mural, but it meets again March 9.

Meanwhile, at least one former student worries painting over the mural — “The Community Educates Its Children” — would erase an integral part of the school’s history.

“That’s like the first thing people remember when they think about that school,” said Barbara Dessart of Alameda, Calif.

She thinks the board should survey the community as well. And she wonders whether the mural has historic value as an example of Goertzen’s early work.

As for concerns about the mural being dated, all art is dated, she said.

“Of course, it’s reflective of the time it was painted,” she said.

Goertzen, who now lives in Deadwood, Ore., painted the mural before deciding to leave teaching and pursue art full-time. She since has designed images for popular Block china and has shown her art at galleries across the West Coast.

She also gained fame as an anti-war activist, providing shelter for soldiers fleeing the Vietnam War.

“I’ve spent a lifetime just trying to speak truth to power,” she said.

Goertzen said she would rather see the mural, which she paid for by hosting one-act plays, refreshed with new colors than erased.

But she understands and supports students’ desires for something new, something they can better understand.

Heartland senior Quint Geis said the mural didn’t reflect the school today. He suggested a husky dog, the school’s mascot, be painted over it. Still, he wishes there was a way to preserve it.

“It kind of represents how success can happen in a small town,” he said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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