When students returned to Cannon Elementary School late last week, they were in for a big surprise.
During breakfast Thursday morning in the cafeteria, the children were greeted by apple and corn-on-the-cob characters carrying books, a banana on a skateboard, a smiling peach and a bunch of grapes, and everyone’s favorite — a flying carrot.
The colorful mural of cartoon-like fruits and vegetables is the creation of Kevin Kagels of Westville. He hand-sketched and painted the cheerful scene at the urging of his wife, Debi Kagels, who is Cannon school’s cafeteria monitor.
“He envisioned what the fruit was doing,” she said.
Kevin started sketching the characters freehand in the evenings on an old, painted-over, 20-foot-long blackboard that hangs in the cafeteria. Principal Kim Pabst said she covered the area with paper so the children wouldn’t see the work in progress and ruin the surprise.
“He came in and drew the fruits and vegetables by hand, and we had to cover it so the kids wouldn’t see it,” Pabst said. “It was revealed the first day they came back at breakfast.”
It was slow-going at first until Pabst invited Kagels to work on the mural during Christmas break. After about 20 hours of work, the mural — which includes the message Healthy Meals Are A“Peeling” — was complete.
“It was Deb’s idea,” he said of his wife. “She asked me if I would be willing to paint on the wall in the cafeteria.
“I didn’t do this for any acknowledgment. I did it for the kids,” he said. “I did it so the kids would have something to look at and enjoy.”
Before Kagels’ mural brightened up the cafeteria, Debi said “the whole room was beige.”
As for his artistic abilities, Kevin gave credit to his father, Dick Kagels, and to God.
“My dad was an excellent painter, and he tried to pass that on to us kids,” he said of him and his siblings. “I just wanted to pass that blessing onto others.
“My main incentive was to share the talent that God has given me and what my dad taught me, and to bring some joy to somebody’s heart and to make a kid smile,” he said.
His wife Debi agreed. “It’s a God-given gift.”
At lunchtime on Tuesday, a group of kindergartners shared their enthusiasm for the mural by pointing out their favorite fruit and vegetable characters.
“I like the carrot. He’s trying to eat the grape,” Zevin Rouse said.
Ariel Williams said she liked the apple character, with its long eyelashes and pink lipstick.
Emilio Rangel said the bunch of grapes was his favorite because “they’re good for you.”
Even Pabst said her 2 1/2-year-old son, Tucker, has seen the mural and picked out his favorite vegetable character.
“When he eats carrots, he talks about the flying carrot,” she said. “That was over Christmas break (when he saw the mural) and he’s still talking about it.
“If it made an impression on a 2 1/2-year old, I hope it makes an impression on our grade school kids,” she said.