May 15, 2021

Afton residents pitch in for city beautification

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From the splash pad, to the new Wi-Fi Center, the City of Afton continues to grow.

The tobacco mural, which was once a stunning addition to the town in the early 1900s, had almost completely faded away. But now, with a little teamwork from the Afton Community Club, and a little elbow grease from East Union Art Teacher Sherresse Buzard and the East Union Art Club, the mural has been restored.

The Afton Community Club came up with the idea to revive the mural, located at 105 W. Kansas St. on the west wall of Krantz Plumbing and Heating. The mural featured an old advertisement for Bull Durham Smoking Tobacco, but over the years, its quality had declined considerably.

“The bull was really hard to see, so I think they had to redo the bull, but had old pictures of other murals that were painted to go off of,” Afton City Clerk Toni Landers said. “It was real faded and the top part was gone. You could barely see the smoking tobacco. But you could tell that it was just a really cool little mural.”

Mary Hill, of Afton, was in charge of the restoration from the community club side and worked together with Buzard and the art club, Landers said.

“[Buzard] had to freehand a lot of that,” Landers said.

But according to Buzard, she had a lot of help with the painting process.

“Akins loaned us a scissor lift,” Buzard said. “Without that, we would have been a lot later in finishing it.”

A portion of the paint was purchased through a grant from Keep Iowa Beautiful and Diamond Vogel Paint’s 2020 Paint Iowa Beautiful program. And as for the rest of the paint costs, the Afton Community Club paid the difference, Landers said.

Several community members labored through the summer heat to complete the restoration, which took about two months. Several East Union high school students stopped by to assist, many who are involved in the art club, Buzard said.

And apparently, approximately 100-year-old brick doesn’t make for an easy canvas.

“The brick was really difficult,” Buzard said. “Mary [Hill] got up there, and got some grout and filled in some of the worst areas.”

Several positive comments on social media have been circulated on the subject, with only a few pushbacks, due to the mural’s tobacco theme, Buzard said.

But the overall community response to the mural’s restoration seems to be one of approval.

“We’ve had a lot of good comments,” Landers said. “I have not heard any negative, but I believe somebody did say that somebody thought there should be a disclaimer ad somewhere on it. They’re not even in business anymore. We’re not promoting smoking. It’s history. We’re just restoring something.”

“It was nice to have the community support,” Buzard, who has taught at East Union since 2014, said. “It feels good. I think people appreciated seeing the town get a little boost. It was a nice little project to get the town involved together in.”

Another Afton city project is the new pocket park, which lies east of Harris Apartments, located at 125 E. Kansas St. The project began in March and has just now been completed.

The owner of Harris Apartments, Sandra Harris, allowed for full use of the space for the park through a verbal agreement, as a portion of the land is on her property, Landers said.

“She told us, go for it,” Sandy Ralya, of Afton, said.

Funding for the park was received from Build with Bags, a $5,000 grant from South Central Iowa Community Foundation, paid for in part by the City of Afton, and mostly funded by private donors, Landers said.

“And we have a group of us who went through Wellmark Healthy Hometown,” Landers said.

Healthy Hometown, powered by Wellmark, provides communities with healthy strategies and techniques. The organization audited the City of Afton several months ago, and the pocket park was deemed a healthy addition to the town, Landers said.

Build with Bags, the organization that provided the benches and the trash receptacles for the park, uses recycled bags to create their products. But just how many bags go into a bench like that might come as a bit of a surprise.

Each bench was made from 10,600 recycled bags, Ralya said.

Her husband, Mike Ralya, laid out the design for the park, while both of them took part in keeping the plants watered and well-cared for.

“We’re just real excited about it,” she said.

With the generous grants, the community members volunteering to both grade the park with a tractor and donate and haul gravel, and all the gifted plants and money, the park began to fall into place, Ralya said. Even the bricks in the pocket park were collected and refurbished from other places in Afton.

“People [were] just pitching in like crazy,” Ralya said. “It just became a rolling stone. So now, we’re trying to find a name for the park that will reflect that. It’s the town park. We really hope people will enjoy it.”

“It’s just kinda a place to sit and relax or just walk through and look at the plants and shrubs,” Landers said.

The park, which was scheduled to be completed Tuesday, contains two stone walkways, two new benches, flowers, mulched landscaping, and a newly planted tree.

“We love Afton,” Landers said. “We want people to enjoy Afton when they come. We try to make our town as nice and clean as we can, and have things to do for kids and adults.”

Future plans for the City of Afton include the possibility of new trails being put in, planters for around the park, a sewer lagoon project, and bike racks to go in around Afton City Park.

“We have a good group of residents that help volunteer,” Landers said. “So we’re lucky.”