Nine years from now, a time capsule buried in the Andy Kirk Courtyard at Chugiak High School is to be opened.
Inside will be items describing what the school was like in 1976, America’s Bicentennial Year. Among the items will be a film of the dedication ceremonies.
The time capsule was the brainchild of Kirk, who had been a history and social studies teacher at the school since it opened in 1964. He retired in 1989 and passed away nine years later.
Naming the courtyard on the Chugiak campus in his honor recognizes the legacy of a well-liked teacher and coach. What he did outside the classroom made him even more special. A free-thinker who encouraged students to explore all facets of life and society, he was a strong advocate for sports. A pole vaulter when he was in school, he inspired track and field competitors he coached over many years. He developed cross-country trails in the Birchwood area and built Alaska’s first steeplechase track at the school. Even though the school in its early years was by far the smallest in the Anchorage School District, many of his athletes claimed state championships.
Kirk was born Aug. 7, 1928, in Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in architecture but after serving in the military earned a master’s degree in teaching. He had traveled around Europe, visiting and photographing historic sites. He came to Alaska in 1958 to teach sixth grade at Chugiak Elementary. There he met and married Virginia (Jinny) Search. They were to have one son and three daughters, all of whom graduated from Chugiak High School and went on to have successful careers.
Jinny Kirk continues to live in the log home they built on a Chugiak hillside, at the end of Bending Birch Road. The road’s name came from the Robert Frost poem that begins, “When I see birches bend from left to right…”
Now retired from teaching, Jinny Kirk founded the Chugiak-Eagle River Historical Society.
In a space at the Elsie Oberg Community Center, which is the original Chugiak Elementary School building, it houses memorabilia from Chugiak’s past. Included are photographs and old newspaper files, as well as personal mementos. The society annually publishes calendars featuring historic photos which it sells as a fund-raiser. Volunteers help sort through and record items that have been donated to preserve the history of Chugiak-Eagle River.
Kirk’s interest in expanding activities outside the classroom was displayed at the community’s first school. A hillside alongside the original school building he saw as good for sledding and skiing and the playground below it afforded room for outdoor activities. He organized a winter celebration for the children. When Eagle River Elementary opened he invited those students to participate and named it the Chugle Carnival. Then when Birchwood Elementary opened, he expanded it to the Chubirgle Carnival, and when Homestead Elementary was built, it became the Chubirglestead Carnival.
At Chugiak High School in 1978, he saw a need to combat February cabin fever and instituted the Wacko event. Wacko is the acronym for Wild and Crazy Kids’ Olympics. Students were encouraged to wear silly clothes and take part in such events as a raw egg toss, tug-of-war and various relay races. The day was designed to have fun and for as many students as possible to participate. It continues as an annual event.
Kirk’s fellow social studies teacher Terry Jorgensen once described Wacko’s purpose for a newspaper article written by David Morse, a teaching colleague, and sports reporter:
“Wacko is not about winning. It’s about having fun, being positive, laughing at yourself and others in a good-natured way, not winning.”
To encourage students to exercise in the outdoors, Kirk organized the Century Club. Bicyclists were encouraged to accomplish a Century by biking 100 miles in 12 hours, or a Double Century by covering 200 miles in 24 hours. He led groups of students as they participated, accompanying them on rides. It was a popular event and each year many students were awarded with Century trophies and patches.
To mark America’s Bicentennial in 1976, Kirk arranged for a time capsule to be buried in the courtyard, an open area created in one of the succession of additions to the original building. A 20-gallon can was painted red, white and blue. In it was placed items showing what the school was like that year: yearbooks, photos, a copy of a local newspaper, and a movie of the dedication ceremony taken by teacher Tom Cresap. Dignitaries included legislators Rick Halford, who provided the capsule, and Randy Phillips and Sam Cotten—both of whom were Chugiak graduates.
The time capsule was re-buried after vandals attempted to dig it up several years ago. The prank reportedly was thwarted by darkness just as they reached a corner of the container. The capsule was exhumed and reburied in the courtyard during still another expansion of the building. It is marked with a plaque with instructions to dig it up in 2026, a half-century after its original placement.
A regular practice of Kirk’s was to draw a puzzle on the blackboard in his classroom, challenging his students to decipher it.
Nearly half a century later, a former student attempted to replicate one he still recalls and is pictured here.
The solution, he said, is “two corpuscles loving in vein.”
The puzzles cleverly illustrated both Kirk’s wit and his desire to challenge students to think outside the box and ignore the obvious while using logic to come up with a solution. That they were remembered long after high school days were over is a testament to his ability to teach. In current recollections by students on Facebook and elsewhere, Andy Kirk clearly is a favorite among past Chugiak faculty.
Kirk was a personal friend of this writer who owes him credit for a policy of refusing to again print anonymous letters to the editor. When one critical of Kirk appeared, the teacher’s angry response could not be allowed to be published in a family newspaper. His point, however, was both appreciated and effective, accomplishing the desired result.
Proud of his school and his community, Kirk was disappointed with changes that came with growth. He once vowed to move should a traffic signal ever be installed here. When three were eventually erected on the Old Glenn Highway, he expressed sorrow but said he had changed his mind. It was not a place he wanted to leave, after all.
It is a place, though, that was very sad to see Andy Kirk taken from at the age of only 68. Thankfully, his legacy lives on. He will never be forgotten by the thousands of students who benefitted from lessons he imprinted on willing minds.
Next week we will conclude this series of articles on noteworthy residents, even though there are enough potential subjects to fill the rest of this new year and beyond. At the risk of proving that alliteration is the tool of the illiterate, one of our most colorful fillies will fill the finale—Chugiak Candy Kitchen owner Nora Collett.
Lee Jordan has been an Alaskan since 1949, moved to Chugiak in 1962 and in 2016 moved back to Anchorage. An Alaska history buff, he enjoys writing about the place where he did not want to be sent, but came to love. He has written four books on Alaska history and has a blog at www.byleejordan.com.