Mackenna Wollenburg

Mackenna Wollenburg, a 10-year old student at St. Johns Lutheran School, stands in front of the mural she painted in the school as part of a school project earlier this summer.

For at least one week earlier this summer, Anita Foor didn't have to worry about her 10-year-old daughter's morning routine. Each morning Mackenna Wollenburg woke up earlier than normal, enthusiastically packed her own lunch, got on her bike and rode to school.

Wollenburg excitedly pedaled to St. John Lutheran School in Seward, where brushes and buckets awaited her. For those few hours that followed, she was in her creative space. And nothing could interrupt that accompanying joy.

“We didn't have to wake her up those days,” Foor said with a laugh.

St. John's principal Amber Fiala knew Mackenna's artistic knack before assigning projects for a creative program geared toward the school's fourth- through sixth-grade students. Fiala said its goal is to help students identify strengths and joys and then use them to lead a special project.

The pandemic swept through as those projects were being assigned, closing the program indefinitely.

“It was heartbreaking for me and my students,” Fiala wrote in an email. “We needed to remodel part of our school office to create a room for sick children to wait for their parents. I asked Mackenna if she would like to design and paint a mural for this new space.”

Of course, Mackenna accepted. She'd always been a doodler and aspiring artist even before she entered kindergarten. It was always horses. Then that developed into people, landscapes and scenes.

With the guidance of making something “soothing and encouraging,” Mackenna brainstormed a mural that sick children could look at and feel comfort. In the midst of a graphic novel kick, she incorporated thought and speech bubbles into her plans. Fiala gave her a choice of Bible verses to run with. Mackenna made her choice and mapped out the whole mural, sketching ideas at home.

But before painting, she needed it approved first. Fiala needed to see what the 10-year-old artist, who has grown up preferring art lessons to dance classes, created. What she saw was perfect.

“She worked so hard and did the entire mural by herself,” Fiala said. “I'm so proud of her.”

Over the course of a cumulative week, Mackenna painted deep blue skies, an excited kite flyer on a tree branch, a massive tree with sprawling branches, a young family with their pets and a beaming sun cascading its rays upon all of it.

When she was done, Mackenna backed away and admired it. Everyone did. Above all but the sun, written in the clouds was the verse left to comfort those in need:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Mackenna returned home from that final art session pleased that it all came together the way she envisioned. It was all her concept and now it covers a wall, meant to bring comfort. She's already started looking towards her next painting project, either at St. John's or wherever her talents lead.

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