More than 50 years after they formed the city, the group who signed Kenai’s 1963 charter were officially recognized with the Cornerstone Rock, a boulder taken from the beach of the Cook Inlet and placed in front of City Hall.
After months of planning and two years of Kenai Mayor Pat Porter considering the project, the dedication came to fruition on the lawn of City Hall on Sunday with a ceremonial ribbon cutting, followed by a reception in the Kenai Community Library. The rock is affixed with a plaque that lists each Charter Commission member.
Richard Morgan, the last living member of the commission, was invited to cut the rock’s ribbon.
“This is the last thing you have to do for the charter,” Porter joked as Morgan made his way up to the large stone and cut away its cover, unveiling it for the small crowd of residents gathered beneath a protective tent.
The Charter of the City of Kenai was signed by Morgan and seven other commission members in April, 1963, and approved by residents in a May 14, 1963, election with a vote of 132 to 29. It went into effect later that month.
Establishing the charter made Kenai a first class, home rule city. It meant Kenai was free to establish how it wanted its government and council to look and operate, and that council members were given more power when it comes to decision making.
At the time, there was little to no recognition of what the charter meant for Kenai or of the commission members, Porter said.
“Most people don’t look though the charter, but when you’re bound by its structure as a council person, you have a tendency to read it,” she said. “I thought to myself, there is nothing that recognizes their gift to this community… For me, it was really important to have this memorialized someplace.”
City Manager Rich Koch originally allocated $4,600 for the rock, plaque, tent, chairs, heater, ceremony food and invitations.
He said the plaque installation may have cost more than anticipated, but the tent and heater were donated in the end, so the city remained within its budget.
Koch went down to the beach in Kenai to find the perfect boulder along with the city’s street foreman, after which it was hauled up to city hall with a loader.
“We wanted it to be a local Kenai rock,” Koch said, adding that they looked at several contenders before making a selection. “This rock won.”
Kenai Council Member Henry Knackstedt, whose father was one of the original Charter Commission members, said he didn’t expect anything so grand when Porter first introduced the concept to the council in September.
“If (my dad) were here, he would have certainly been honored,” Knackstedt said. “I’m honored for him.”
Several other family members were present at the ceremony to represent the commission, including Peggy Arness, daughter of member Allen Petersen. She said it’s good to see recognition of the commission members, especially since they were all hard working people.
“It was something that had to be done,” Arness said of the charter. “I think it’s very nice that they’re doing this.”
Morgan was working as a construction inspector at Wildwood Station — the military base that was a precursor to today’s facility — when he was asked to chair a corporation committee, he said.
From there, he was elected to the City Council, and then to the Charter Commission, of which he was made Vice Chairman. At the time, the city’s boundaries was one of the biggest issues concerning Kenai residents, he said, and motions to make them reach out as far as Kasilof were initially passed.
Morgan said he was asked to consider being Kenai’s mayor at one point, but he only wished to serve long enough to get the city headed in the right direction.
“I told them no. I declined because I felt I could be more effective as a councilman,” Morgan said. “So I just served two terms, the first two terms of the City Council.”
Of Sunday’s dedication, Morgan said he thought it a very nice gesture, and that he was sure his former fellow commission members would share his feelings.